PAINT LICK — This tiny Garrard County community was wrapped in gray, rainy mist most of Monday, but inside the new Paint Lick Community Arts Center, everything was ablaze with color.
Students in the morning oil painting class were bent over their work, laying down fields of color under the experienced, always encouraging eye of Hal Davis.
Davis, 69, who owns the arts center with his wife, Yvonne, 77, offered some pointers to the oldest student, Helen Starnes, 86. Next, he turned to the youngest, Joey Roush, 14, a home-school student whose painting depicted an old barn beside a dirt road.
"I think you've about got it," Davis said. "But before you finish, work some white into the sky to open it up a little. And remember, just barely touch it."
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Joey did. And the sky in his picture opened up.
The community arts center opened a little more than a month ago in a former bank building, and brilliant colors have been opening up all around Paint Lick ever since.
It's all because of Hal and Yvonne Davis, a retired Indiana couple who happened to stop here during a visit to Kentucky last year. They quickly decided that Paint Lick was the right place to live out their dream of bringing the arts to a small community.
Now, Hal teaches painting and Yvonne teaches piano when she isn't substituting as a piano player at some nearby churches. They've also lined up additional teachers from around the area to help with other classes, enabling the arts center to offer a little bit of everything, from painting and drawing to weaving, origami, pottery, printing and basket making.
"Hal and Yvonne are special people," says Karla Sefcak, another student in the oil painting class Monday. "They've added so much to Paint Lick that it's been like a good marriage, for want of a better term. It's been very positive for them and very positive for the community."
The story goes like this. The Davises, retirees from Hanover, Ind., were headed for Danville in August 2011 to see works by famed Centre College glass artist Stephen Powell. Checking a road map, they noticed Paint Lick, located on Ky. 52 at the Madison County-Garrard County line.
They stopped, mainly with the idea of mailing a card to someone they knew who would be amused to get a note with a Paint Lick postmark.
The Davises looked around Paint Lick, chatted with local folks and learned that the First Kentucky Southern Bank soon would be leaving its building in the middle of town.
Sometime during the conversation, Yvonne glanced at the building across the street and told Hal, "wouldn't that be a great place for a community arts center."
Hal Davis, a retired elementary school art teacher, had long dreamed of opening an arts center in a small town, and helping residents learn about and be enriched by the arts.
Back home in Indiana, the couple couldn't get the idea out of their minds. One day, Yvonne asked Hal what he'd really like to do if he could do anything to he wanted.
"Move to Paint Lick," he replied.
So, early this year, the Davises bought the old bank building, made the second floor a living space and converted the first floor to an arts center. More than 300 people turned out when the Paint Lick Community Arts Center had its grand opening in October.
The new arts center is just one of several developments recently in Paint Lick. A custom meat-packing firm opened recently, a convenience store is planned and a marketing and website design operation is going in.
"We have a bit of a surge going on, and it's really great," says Mark Gumbert, who runs Copperhead Environmental Consulting Inc. in Paint Lick. Gumbert noted that only a year ago roughly half of the buildings in Paint Lick were empty, following some business closings, flooding that struck in 2010 and other setbacks.
Paint Lick still faces some uncertainties, including plans to reroute Ky. 52 so it no longer passes through town. That could reduce the traffic that rolls through town every day, but it also could leave Paint Lick isolated and out of the mainstream.
The Davises, however, say they're nothing but happy with their move to Kentucky.
"Everyone here has been so friendly and welcoming, we felt like we were home the moment we landed here," Hal Davis said. "This is something we wanted to do for a long time. And I think there were people here who were just praying for something like this."
Adds Yvonne Davis, "We were drawn here. We believe that it was God's will that we should be here."