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Farewell to Italy

Sometime in the next couple of days, Rita Zaudke will say goodbye to the last year of her life.

A few tears undoubtedly will be shed.

Zaudke is getting ready to part with five large-scale acrylic paintings of the quaint villages known as Cinque Terre in the Liguria region of northwest Italy. They will be part of a 40-work show of watercolors and acrylics the artist has painted over the past decade.

The show at CityArts will open on April 9 with a public reception from 5 to 8 p.m. It will remain on view through April 26.

Painting Cinque Terre (pronounced chink-weh tehr) has been a labor of love for Zaudke, who was born in Trieste, Italy, but has lived most of her life in Wichita.

Though she has traveled extensively in Italy the past 10 years with her husband, Jim Elgin, it wasn't until 2007 that she visited Cinque Terre determined to capture its beauty on canvas. Camera in hand, she documented from every angle the brightly colored buildings built on the side of a rugged mountain.

"It was important to me to get the unique perspective you can only get from walking the Via del'Amore," which is the mountain path above Cinque Terre that connects all five villages, Zaudke said. "Every turn held a beautiful scene that you could paint."

But Zaudke wasn't content to paint merely a cobblestoned street here or grouping of stone buildings there. Her intention was to paint vast panoramas depicting each village as realistically as possible.

Back at home, with photographs, maps and reference books at her side, Zaudke mapped out each 30-inch by 40-inch painting on the floor, using a grid and string to ensure that the scale and perspective were accurate before she began sketching.

When it was time to paint, Zaudke did something daring: She abandoned the watercolors she had become familiar with the past 25 years and decided to use acrylic paint instead.

"I noticed that paintings done in acrylics were a lot bolder and richer," she said. "Sometimes you want that and sometimes you don't. For these paintings, I wanted them to be vibrant and exciting to look at."

Each painting took Zaudke a little more than two months to complete, and after a year devoted to the project, the artist finds herself a little sad about the possibility of turning over possession to someone else.

"There's a big part of me that doesn't want to see them go," she said. "But artists cannot become attached to everything they do."

The Cinque Terre series will be for sale, priced at about $4,000 each. That's expensive, but Zaudke harbors some hope that someone — maybe a business — will buy all five to keep the series together.

"They are somewhat unique because I have heard from various people I know that no one has really done this before — painted all five on such a large scale quite like this."

More moderately priced prints of the five pieces also will be available for purchase.

Also for sale during the CityArts show will be about 35 other paintings, mostly watercolors, that Zaudke has created from her Italian travels. Among subjects depicted are the Duomo in Florence, the ancient village of Civita di Bagnoregio, Juliet's balcony in Verona and St. Mark's basilica in Venice.

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