February 26, 2015

Paintings bring local restaurant alive

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By Jacob Allen
The Williamston Post

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Mike Shaw of Williamston, 68, stands in front of some of his paintings inside Ellie’s Country Kitchen.

In the dusty attic of his grandparents’ house Mike Shaw, 68, found inspiration that would stick for a lifetime. The attic is where the Williamston resident and employee of 28 years at Ellie’s Country Kitchen discovered his passion for art, specifically painting.

“My great grandfather was an artist and so was my great grandmother. I think I got it from the family,” Shaw said. “I remember going to the old attic at my grandparents’ house and being intrigued by the oil paintings my great grandparents did.”

Shaw is originally from Lansing and has been painting since he was a kid. He is a dishwasher at Ellie’s Country kitchen in downtown Williamston. He compared the work to a farm on which everyone works together to get what needs to get done, done. Shaw has taken a few art classes at Lansing Community College and now finds many of his paintings hanging up at his place of work.

“I always wanted to paint. I always had that urge to paint. It’s like the urge some people get to play a musical instrument, same type of feeling,” said Shaw. “I would paint when I found something I wanted to preserve on canvas. It has become one of those things you keep dabbling in. I’m a dabbler. I don’t think of myself as a great artist or anything.”

According to the owner of Ellie’s Country Kitchen of 28 years, Brian Stiffler, Shaw’s paintings are catching attention. Many customers have asked Shaw if they could purchase the paintings. He has always refused. Shaw has also refused any form of payment for the paintings from his boss. It all got started when the restaurant was repainted and the walls looked bare.

“His first paintings were of an apple pie and flowers. He did those two first and we hung them up,” Stiffler said. “Then I said the walls look bare and we need more paintings. All of a sudden he started bringing in like a painting a week.”

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Shaw says it takes around eight hours to complete an average painting, such as the ones hung up in Ellie’s Country Kitchen. The mural of downtown Williamston inside the restaurant took him around two months to complete. Shaw has a unique process he uses every time he paints.

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The mural of downtown Williamston, painted by dishwasher Mike Shaw, took around two months to compete.

“He is very particular. He has to photograph everything. He can’t paint something without a photograph,” Stiffler said. “If you look at the original photograph and his painting and you take a step back, you are amazed. You think he copied it somehow because it looks so much like the real thing.”

Shaw does most of his painting at home and says his favorite subjects are water scenes, such as the ocean or Lake Michigan. Shaw has received positive feedback from Stiffler, customers and his co-workers.

“Everybody that comes in here usually asks about the paintings,” said Teresa Abuja, who has worked at Ellie’s Country Kitchen since September. “I think it fits the décor because we are in a small community with a lot of farming going on. I like looking at them. ”

Living and working in such a small community, Shaw made it a point of emphasis to use his art to help the community stand out.

“I thought we should have something to individualize us as a restaurant and as a community,” Shaw said. “We made the restaurant into a place for the people that live here.”