Donna Elliot grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, spending weekends and summers swimming in lakes and rivers on her uncle’s property in the Ozarks.
“Such things were second nature to me and I felt at home in any outdoor environment,” the Idyllwild resident said.
This love of nature led to Elliot’s love of hiking, and rock and mountain climbing. She also was introduced to exploring caves.
“Being outdoors is a tonic, a place to reflect and refresh one’s spirit,” she said. “How can you be sad or upset when surrounded by all that is beautiful, serene and inspiring?”
Elliot bought her first camera as a teenager and immediately began capturing nature through its lens. She spoke of photographing flowers, mountains, streams and wildlife.
“I visited stunning places and wanted to record what I experienced there,” said Elliot. “As my various art forms expanded, each still reflects my love of nature. Nature is my inspiration. Its colors, its simplicity, its complexity, its raw beauty, its tranquility or its wildness.”
While photography was Elliot’s first love, she began to experiment with other art forms. She began making greeting cards and then moved on to painting with alcohol ink.
“I loved the vibrancy of the colors and the unexpected results,” she said.
Elliot also makes textile art, mainly in the form of felted and nuno-felted scarves and wall hangings. Her latest creative outlet is photo artistry, which she described as the creation of art by layering many photographs, images and graphics in Photoshop.
“This medium speaks to my imagination in that you can truly express on paper what is in your mind,” she said.
Elliot mainly creates textile art during the winter months, as she said that the labor-intensive process keeps her warm. She is currently making greeting cards in preparation for art fairs during the summer, while continuing to photograph the world around her. Elliot also continues to climb mountains, saying that is what originally brought her to Idyllwild.
“Through the Sierra Club rock-climbing section, I discovered Idyllwild as a climbing haven,” she said. “A group of us spent most weekends in Idyllwild. It was an exciting time to be a climber as the sport was evolving with some of the most well-known names in climbing putting up new routes both in Idyllwild and Yosemite.”
Elliot and her husband, fellow artist and climbing enthusiast Neil Jenkins, bought a home in Idyllwild in 1999, but rented it out. Her career in health insurance had taken her to England, Singapore and Dubai. After both she and Jenkins retired in 2007, they bought a 24-foot RV and lived in that while traveling in search of climbing adventures.
“We finally moved into our house in 2011 and spend most of our time here, while still going abroad for adventures, as well as to the Sierra Mountains and other states for hiking and climbing,” she said.
Elliot has become deeply involved in the Idyllwild community. She has served as president of the Art Alliance of Idyllwild since 2015 and has volunteered with the Idyllwild School PTA smARTS program, where she teaches art.
“It is so fulfilling,” she said. “Children are the ultimate creatives with few boundaries and inhibitions. Some of them go on to the Idyllwild Arts Academy and it is rewarding to witness their talents expand as they discover their own niche in the world of art forms.”
Elliot said that the Idyllwild business community has been affected financially by road closures after the recent storms and in the aftermath of last year’s Cranston fire. She said the community has increased its social media outreach to encourage visitors to use the roads that are still open.
“It is a town that thrives when tourists visit,” she said. “We have so much to offer in the way of boutique shops, outdoor activities, fine dining and great inns.”
Elliot’s work can currently be seen through July in the Artscape exhibit at the Riverside County Administration Center in downtown Riverside.
For more information on Elliot, visit www.peakdancers.com.
Patrick Brien is executive director of the Riverside Arts Council.
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