Think of an iconic North Carolina place and you’ve likely seen it in an Elaine O’Neil textile art creation. From Grandfather Mountain to Bald Head, she depicts beloved North Carolina locales and artistic traditions such as pottery, literature and music in her whimsical textile collages and calendars.
IN 2013, the longtime volunteer created her fourth calendar in support of UNC Lineberger while the creations for her first calendar hang in the hallway to the North Carolina Cancer Hospital.
The noted artist’s association with UNC Lineberger goes back a number of years. She recalls, “I first heard about UNC Lineberger from my friends and neighbors, Drs. Kathy and Tom Shea. I had exhibits in the hallway of the old Gravely Building where patients were treated before the new cancer hospital opened.”
She created a collage in memory of her friend, Nancy Mills, that now hangs in the breast imaging clinic in the North Carolina Cancer Hospital.
Kathy Shea suggested the idea for the calendar to Elaine. “We have a number of her early pieces. Several years ago, I received an art calendar. I looked at it and said, ‘This is nowhere near as beautiful as what Elaine does. Her work really lends itself to a calendar format.’ Around the time the cancer hospital was being built, it occurred to me that a calendar would be a wonderful fundraiser, so I talked with Elaine. I hooked her up with the development team at UNC Lineberger, and it took off from there.”
The Maine native moved to North Carolina in 1996 with her husband, Glenn, and their three sons. “We wanted to be in a college town with its vibrancy and the energy of people learning. We also wanted more sunshine and opportunities for our kids.” Her work is exhibited and sold nationally in galleries and online.
Elaine’s love of fabric and textiles goes back to her childhood and the influence of her mother, a home economics teacher, and her grandmother, a seamstress. “Their love of cloth, of fabric, is something they shared with me.” Her passion led her to the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science.
“There I learned color and composition and principles of design. It was heaven to be in the midst of all that.” Elaine met her future husband, Glenn, during an internship before her last semester. “We fell in love, I finished my final semester, and we were married a few months later.” She worked in design and in fabrics after graduation, explaining, “I did all kinds of things, designing gardens, designing kitchens, furniture, and then I did slipcovers, draperies and kept my hands on fabrics that way.”
The calendars reflect her training and her creativity and are an ongoing process of collecting ideas. “I have a list and a thick notebook/sketchbook of great things in North Carolina. I jot things down whenever I visit a place, read about it or get a suggestion from someone. I try to include beach and mountain places and cultural things, things that North Carolina is known for. I focus on those places that we all emotionally connect to. I often work from pictures that I took or someone else did.”
Next comes design. “Design comes first, then I go to my fabrics and make a color palette the way a painter does.” Making the calendars takes approximately three weeks.
She says, “The calendar is such a special project. I just want to make people smile and remember the happy times when either they were at that place or doing something similar. For example, a beach memory, whether you were at Bald Head or not, it doesn’t matter, but maybe it will conjure up some memories or some happy times.
“That’s what been rewarding about the 2011 collection hanging in the cancer hospital hallway. I’ve gotten emails from patients who said that when they sit on the benches, maybe when they’re waiting for a ride, they look at the pictures and can find something to relate to. I got an email from a man who loved the NASCAR piece. There’s something there for everybody. It makes me feel good that it does make people smile. It makes them feel better just for a little bit.
“We all have had so many people whom we love be affected by cancer. And every single one of us can relate to how that feels, how scary it is, or how painful it is. What they do at UNC Lineberger is just mindboggling, and I’m really lucky to have a teeny way to be involved with all the great work that goes on there.”
Elaine and Glenn have three sons: Hayden, a member of the US Coast Guard who is stationed in Charleston; Conor, a student at East Carolina University; and Fletcher, a student at UNC-Charlotte.