In our youth, we’re able to express ourselves creatively through classes at school. But then, such as in the case of Independence resident Sylvia Wilane, those artistic endeavors are put on hold for decades.

Somewhere inside each of us, there is an artist.

In our youth, we’re able to express ourselves creatively through classes at school. But then, such as in the case of Independence resident Sylvia Wilane, those artistic endeavors are put on hold for decades.

About seven years ago, Wilane, 73, had retired, and she was looking for an activity to fill her time. China painting presented itself as an opportunity since several of Wilane’s friends already belonged to a local class.

When Wilane attended Northeast High School, she entered an art contest all four years through Emery, Bird, Thayer & Company department store in downtown Kansas City.

“I loved art,” Wilane says. “I can’t say I was very good at it, but every year I entered.”

Her senior year, she finally received a gold star. Her mother framed that piece, and Wilane still has it after all these years.

But life happened, and Wilane “never touched it again” – until her retirement.

Wilane is the current president of the Heart of America China Painters group in Independence, which belongs to the Missouri World Organization of China Painters. The Independence club has just 13 members who range from their 50s into their late 80s, and Wilane is hoping displays like the one at the Trails West Branch will heighten people’s awareness of the art form.  

Different art councils across the United States have described china painting as a “dying art,” a statement with which Wilane agrees. Many of the china factories once readily available across the country are closing.

“People think it’s too hard, and they don’t have the equipment,” Wilane says. “Young people who are married have families. They don’t have time.

“This is something for retired people – it’s my hobby. It keeps me busy and active.”

The Missouri World Organization of China Painters is hosting its next statewide convention at the Hilton Garden Inn in Independence next March, and Wilane says the general public is invited to come view the different pieces that’ll be on display.

China painting does require a kiln, but Wilane’s art class has one available at Christ United Methodist Church on 39th Street near Phelps Road.

When pieces are painted, it’s not just a one-time process and it’s over. China paintings sometimes require up to five or six firings in the kiln, Wilane says. Some artists paint the images freehand, but other pieces have patterns that can be traced, and the tracings later “burn off” inside the kiln.

At this year’s Missouri State Fair, several local china painters entered pieces, including Wilane, and Independence resident Helen Ferris took second place in the “animals, birds, fish and insects” division.

At her first class, Wilane had no art supplies. The women in the club sat her down with a cup,  and she painted chickens on it.

Now, Wilane says, her home is filled with her china paintings, some of which are just several inches tall. She also enjoys scouting for china at thrift stores and antique malls “for little or nothing.”

“Come and see what we’re doing because all of us have so  much stuff,” she says. “I was given my paints and my palette and a lot of stuff to start me out with, and then you go to these conventions and seminars and pick up stuff.”