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True Partners In Art And Life: Echo And Ron Ukrainetz
Montana Senior News, October/November 2013
In the Pulitzer-Prize winning musical, Sunday in the Park with George, lyricist Stephen Sondheim ends his story of painter Georges Seurat with words that Echo and Ron Ukrainetz live by: “Order, design, composition, balance, light, tension, and harmony.” Like artists everywhere, who also happen to share the same mailbox, Echo and Ron strive to bring an aura of order, balance, and harmony into their marriage and artwork.

With her lush jewel-toned and sepia batiks depicting native peoples as well as birds and Western scenes, Echo has quickly earned a well-deserved reputation as a fabric artist. She taught herself this ancient art form in the early 1990’s and kept experimenting until she reached a point five years ago when she realized people would happily pay for her creations.
“Some pieces have up to 18 or 20 values from different dye baths. It’s always a surprise to see how things turn out,” remarks Echo. “So much can go wrong. I think I’m taking a trip to France but end up in Italy.” Which, more often than not, turns out to be a good thing for Echo’s growing list of collectors.
Ron, on the other hand, has long been known statewide and internationally for his paintings of vibrant landscapes, wildlife, and intimate depictions of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. Even when he worked as an aircraft electrician for the Montana Air National Guard, Ron found his cartooning and painting skills in demand. As he says, “the whole base knew I painted and sketched. I was doing caricature portraits of guys as they’d retire. It could have been a full-time job.”
The Ukrainetzs, who also count themselves fans of Georges Seurat, agree that maintaining a sense of order and balance in their everyday life can often seem harder than reflecting those qualities in their artwork. Considering how involved each is in the Great Falls community, both artists are extremely prolific. Echo teaches full-time at Great Falls High School, a job she has held for 18 years. Ron, a living historian with the Lewis and Clark Honor Guard, participates in reenactments, teaches art workshops, and builds his own frames in addition to creating his award-winning paintings.
Fortunately, harmony prevails over tension in their life as husband and wife and as artists. Anyone who knows Echo and Ron can see how much they love and respect one another. Which certainly comes in handy since they critique each other’s creations honestly and objectively.
“We’re both sensitive to the other’s feelings. If we see something that doesn’t look right, we tell each other and listen in a respectful way,” says Echo. “I’m very lucky. I live with my mentor and he is so supportive. When I’m ready to throw a piece away, he encourages me to keep working on it. Once, when I brought one of those pieces I’d struggled with to a gallery, it sold the same day.”
That stunned Echo but not her husband, who is equally grateful to have an in-house art critic.
“If I’m working on something she’ll tell me how she feels about it. I help her with composition but not with her drawing. That’s her soul and I won’t touch that. I’ll offer suggestions if asked or if I see something that doesn’t work for me,” adds Ron. “We’re considerate of each other’s feelings but open in what we have to say. We usually take the advice offered. I’m not that good to ignore hers. Plus Echo is a redhead; I’m not that stupid. We laugh a lot together and that helps. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
However, when it comes to their particular mediums, the Ukrainetzs definitely take seriously their quest to convey a sense of tension, or contrast if you will, between colors, lighting, and composition. These native Montanans would be the first to tell you that is what intrigues viewers about a piece of art.
What also intrigues people unfamiliar with Ron and Echo’s backgrounds is learning how they came to be married. They met during their C.M. Russell High School years in the school art club and dated back then. However, after graduation they went different ways. Each married someone else and eventually divorced. It seems fitting that they reconnected through a Great Falls art show where Echo bought one of Ron’s eagle prints 25 years after they had last seen each other.
“I wouldn’t take any money for it; she was a single mom. But she told me I needed the ten dollars more than she did,” recalls Ron. “She threw the money at me anyway. It took a year for me to call her but I knew I’d meet up with her again. I just felt it. The following year, 1993, she came to another show and we visited. I agreed to teach a session for her art class in high school and things took off from there.”
After they married, Ron helped raise Echo’s two sons telling them, “I’m not going to be your father. You’ll have only one father. But I will be the best friend you’ll ever have.” And then he proceeded to do just that as he also pursued his interests in plein aire and studio oil painting as well as engraving on clayboard, which he glazes with acrylics.
Ron has received so much recognition for his artwork, the list is too long to include here. Some highlights include Paint the Parks Top 100, PaintAmerica Top 100, plus multiple Best of Show Jurors’ and People’s Choice Awards at the Western Heritage Art Show. When it comes to what he is proudest of, though, neither awards nor accolades figure into the design of that picture.
 “I’m deeply humbled by the awards but it’s the friends I’ve made—other artists, gallery owners, customers—that mean the most to me. I’m proud to be called their friend. That wouldn’t have happened without this career,” says Ron. “And I’m enormously proud of Echo. Her batiks have gotten into major art auctions throughout the state including the Russell. It has just been amazing.”
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