The Cambrian

Waxing enthusiastic about art

Lynn Rathbun paints in her tiny, tree-house-like studio.
Lynn Rathbun paints in her tiny, tree-house-like studio. CAMBRIAN PHOTO BY KATHE TANNER

Lynn Rathbun of Cambria often seems the epitome of a reserved, even shy, artist, who’s reluctant to speak out in public and loathes being the center of attention.

Yet, there she was being lauded during the packed-house opening Friday, July 9, of her new exhibit in the “Whispers and Shouts” show at the Allied Arts Association Gallery. She blushed when association President Stephen Kellogg read Rathbun’s self-created profile, and she spoke softly after being introduced.

Then someone asked Rathbun about her newest adventure in art, an age-old technique called encaustics, which involves layering melted bees’ wax and finishing it off with a resin-based medium, which can be tinted or not. The finished artwork — which can include photos, leaves, blossoms or other items — eventually hardens into a surface that can look very much like ceramic.

As she spoke, Rathbun’s passion for the technique bubbled over. “I find the process very liberating because you have to work very fast,” she told the crowd, “and if you don't like what you did, you just scrape it off and start over.”

She spent the next 15 minutes enthusiastically explaining the process to her enthralled audience.

And by the end of the reception, six of her artworks had sold, most of them encaustics.

What she did

Rathbun was born in Washington, D.C. As the daughter of diplomats, she was educated in England, Italy, Switzerland, Lebanon and on the U.S. East Coast.

She became a biological technician at New England Regional Primate Center and National Zoo and at the Florida State Museum. But she worked concurrently as an artist, doing illustrations for scientific publications.

She and biologist Galen Rathbun married in 1978 and moved to Florida. He headed up the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s manatee program; she raised chickens, geese and purebred Nubian goats. And she painted.

The couple moved to Central Coast in 1985 and mostly through his work, have researched — and painted — in Australia, Indonesia, South America, Palau and Namibia, among other exotic spots.

What she does

Her art reflects her diverse lifestyle, and includes many places she loves, from her garden and favorite Central Coast settings to travel destinations and even a room in her sister's Lombardy farm house. Rathbun also has branched out into portraits and commissioned work.

Of her artwork, she said, “I love experimenting and changing back and forth between mediums because the process always teaches me something and makes the new work fresher. My goal is always to learn, improve and have fun.”

Creating art isn’t optional, Rathbun said of her compelling vocation — “I paint because I have to.”