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McLeron paints with needle, threads

Lee McLeron has worked on this needle art for the past few months. (Dan Pelle)
Lee McLeron has worked on this needle art for the past few months. (Dan Pelle)

Lee McLeron’s creations include geometric designs, abstracts, butterflies, flowers and foliage. Her tools are needles and her palette overflows with many types and hues of thread.

One piece, a rendition of Mount St. Helens that at first glance looks like a painting, was selected by the Embroiderers Guild of America to travel to galleries and museums across the country.

“I guess you can say that I paint with thread,” she said.

McLeron was born in Creston, B.C. By the age of 4, her Scottish grandmother was teaching her to embroider, knit and crochet.

“Back then, girls were taught ‘home arts’ at a young age,” she said. “After a nap and some tea, we’d get to work, but I could never quite pick up tatting (a technique for handcrafting durable lace), much to my grandmother’s chagrin.”

McLeron went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in administration and accounting from the University of Buffalo in New York. For 15 years, she worked in office management. Her husband was in the Air Force, then went to work for the Postal Service. He transferred from the East Coast to the Spokane area in 1959. In 1960, they settled in the South Hill home they reside in today, where McLeron uses magnifying lenses and needles and thread in a sitting room that serves as her work space.

For the past 50 years, McLeron has been very involved in the community. She taught quilting, needle working and knitting at the Corbin Art Center for 20 years, was an arts commissioner, a United Way volunteer, a PTA member, a member of the Friends of Manito. She chaired the Fourth of July celebration for nine years and was on a subcommittee at Expo ’74. All the while, she fine-tuned her craft, taking classes from international teachers, including needlepoint designer Betty Chen Louis.

“I put myself into my work,” she said, “I substitute things, change up patterns and mix threads.”

She also frames her own work, taking special care to consider the shrinking and expanding of the natural medium. The final step is lacing the canvas in the back with unwaxed dental floss. “No one does that anymore,” she said.

She plans on doing a series of portraits in the near future.

Hoping the art won’t become lost, she has worked hard to give needle working the exposure she believes it deserves, winning many national awards and becoming a certified judge.

In May 2008, McLeron joined Avenue West Gallery. On Friday from 5 to 9 p.m., the gallery will host its first event in its new location on the skywalk level of Crescent Court, 707 W. Main Ave. There will be live music, light snacks, and a display of art in many mediums, including McLeron’s work.