Julia Allspach passes down the art of china painting
Looking back on a lifetime of drawing and painting, Julia Allspach can’t estimate how many different artworks she’s made. While her home is adorned with tiles, vases, plates, Christmas ornaments, lampshapes and tea serving sets, she’s reluctant to say which one is her all-time favorite. Perhaps that’s because for Julia, a stickler for details, the “perfect” piece is still waiting to be made.
Even people who don’t know Julia’s name have probably seen some of the works made during her five-year career as a commerical artist for The Vernon Co. in Newton, Iowa. While employed there she worked on promotional art and calendars for brands including KFC, the logo for Ditch Witch construction equipment and flags for Walt Disney World Resort. She recalls working on a building drawing for client Texas Instruments, that, naturally, insisted on precision in the final product.
“I was 25-thousandths of an inch off,” Julia, ever the perfectionist, recalls, adding the project was a success. “I would have worked there even if I didn’t get paid. I enjoyed it.”
After, Julia’s late husband, Larry, was injured while working a horse on their ranch, the family moved to Callao in 1972. It was there, during an afternoon art class with her neighbor, that Julia’s artistic eyes were opened to the world of painting porcelain.
“I’d worked with paper before, but this paint is like toothpaste,” the Macon Electric Cooperative member says. “With this, you can get more detail in the highlights and shadows and lots of different colors.”
Porcelain, also called china, starts as a blank canvas, typically in the form of decor or tableware. Using dry pigments mixed with mineral oil, Julia paints her designs by layers, firing the piece in a kiln and cooling it each time before the next layer can be applied. Most of Julia’s work requires four layers of painting and takes at least a few days to complete. If it isn’t up to the artist’s standard, then rust remover is used to erase the painting in a process called wink and it’s back to the drawing board.
“They called me ‘the queen of wink,’ ” Julia adds with a smile. “If I didn’t like it, it went.”
Her attention to detail was recognized multiple times by the World Organization of China Painters, whose panel of judges award the year’s best work at an annual show. Julia not only won a coveted Best of Show award but also several of her pieces were given a temporary home at the WOCP’s Oklahoma City-based museum alongside works by masters of the craft including Miguel Jiminez, Helene Apfelbaum and Sakae Sawyer.
Julia’s favorite subjects to paint are roses, but she’s also found inspiration in the form of wildlife and portraits, particularly those of her three daughters in their wedding dresses. The source of joy she found in painting came not from the awards and recognition, but rather the friends and memories she made during 50 years of classes, shows and monthly club meetings and demonstrations.
“The first bunch of old women I painted with, I enjoyed them because they told stories about the Great Depression,” Julia recalls. “They were an interesting bunch.”
When the Allspachs moved to Bevier in 1982, Julia and her group joined the WOCP and spent the next four decades trading new techniques and tricks they’d learned through trial and error. During one session, Julia found what would become one of her favorite materials, raised paste base, which when applied gives the art a raised, 3D texture.
Other painting sessions — and teaching opportunities — came by chance. When several of Larry’s coyote hunting buddies found themselves snowed in at the Allspach home, Julia entertained their wives by teaching them her craft. When the snow had melted, they all went home with their own handiwork.
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2022, Julia thought she might no longer be able to paint. These days it takes a little longer to finish one of her signature roses, but the spark of creativity burns bright behind her brush. Although there are fewer painters practicing now than when she started, the artist is hopeful she’ll find an eager pupil. Her grandson, Cameron, has shown some interest and talent. “He’s a perfectionist,” Julia adds with a smile, knowing perhaps just where her student learned that particular brushstroke.
For more information on Julia’s pieces, contact her daughter, Lonnie Graham, at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find a china painting club or class near you, visit www.wocp.org.