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One hundred china plates decorated with paintings of state flowers soon will be part of dinner service at the residence of the vice president of the United States, all painted by Indiana artists, including one from Northwest Indiana.

The Indiana World Organization of China Painters is creating the plates at the request of second lady Karen Pence. Each of the country's 50 state flowers will be featured on two hand-painted plates — North Carolina's dogwood painted by Sherron Pampalone, of Crown Point.

"They'll be used for receptions and dinners at the vice president's house," Pampalone said recently as she prepared to ship her plates. "It's a chance to be part of the nation's history."

"Hoosier china painters are gifted artists and I am thrilled that they want to contribute their time and talent to painting china plates for the vice president's residence," Pence said in a statement announcing the program in August.

'A lasting testament'

The project continues a relationship between Indiana WOCP and Indiana governors that started during the tenure of Gov. Frank O'Bannon. The group painted Indiana wildflowers on 30 full place-settings and 30 service pieces that it presented to first lady Judy O'Bannon in 2001.

"That's what started it all," Pampalone said. Twelve years later, after now-Vice President Mike Pence became governor, "Mrs. Pence wanted to meet the artists. She's an arts advocate and brought the china out of storage."

A reception with Indiana WOCP members led to a project to paint 150 bowls with the state flower — the peony — to be sold to raise money for the First Lady's Charitable Foundation. Seventy-eight painters, including Pampalone, participated in that project and attended the foundation's inaugural luncheon in 2014, where Pence presented a donation to the Riley Children's Hospital art therapy program.

Now, 41 artists are making a contribution to the Pence's current home. The painters drew their assignments randomly, with some doing two states. They were given instructions, but left to paint the plates on their own.

"Each plate will be one of a kind but yet part of a collective work," said Ellen Wilson-Pruit, Indiana WOCP president and a Martinsville resident. "Our painting is permanent once fired in the kiln. This means that these plates will be a lasting testament to the commitment to and appreciation of the arts by the state of Indiana and our nation."

'Building the colors'

Pampalone, a member of the Bloomington chapter of Indiana WOCP because there are none in the Region, worked on her plates in her Crown Point home, firing them four times.

With each round of painting and firing, "You build layers of color," Pampalone said. "You're building the colors up constantly. To get the really dark colors, you keep adding and adding."

Pampalone, who is also a member of the Duneland Weavers Guild, received her introduction to the art of porcelain painting at a class in Merrillville.

"It was actually very frustrating at first," she said. "You're painting on a slick surface and firing between each layer of color."

Since then she has studied porcelain painting "all over the country," learning the various styles and techniques. The state flower project was Pampalone's first time painting on Lenox china, a type of bone china. She tried different colors and did several test firings before beginning the final versions.

While time-consuming, Pampalone said she doesn't think about the time involved, with each piece a unique project in itself.

"I just keep working on it until it's done," she said.

The plates will be displayed March 16 and 17 at the Art Sanctuary in Martinsville, Indiana, before being shipped to Washington.


Transportation reporter

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.