Early gift brings sailor ‘home’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Like many other sailors, Jack Mickle will be spending this holiday somewhere in the Persian Gulf.

Nonetheless, his wife, Julie, will be able to look the USS Enterprise sailor straight in the eyes Christmas morning.

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Julie has already received her husband’s Christmas gift to her – a 16- by 20-inch lifelike portrait of himself. She opened the gift and her mouth at the same moment.

&uot;It’s so real that it’s astonishing,&uot; she said. &uot;It’s like looking at Jack! And the eyes just seem to follow you

&uot;This portrait is wonderful. It’s like having him right here with us.&uot;

The kids love it too, she added.

The kids are 10-year old Joshua, 5-year-old Noah, and Nicole, 17 months. The baby, prior to seeing her dad’s portrait, had carried a wallet-sized photo of him clutched in her fist almost constantly since her dad left for the Gulf in August.

&uot;Things are better for military families now, what with the technology and e-mail,&uot; said Julie Mickle. &uot;The kids can talk to their daddy twice a month through e-mail.

&uot;Now days, you know that your loved ones are alright as long as you’re getting those e-mails. The kids draw pictures and we send them in packages. We just stay as busy as possible to pass the time until he comes home.&uot;

Through his mother-in-law, former News-Herald employee Naomi Britt, Jack Mickle learned that another newspaper employee, Lu Mitchell, is an artist. Since he wouldn’t be stateside any time soon, he, through Britt, arranged for Mitchell to paint his portrait using a photograph as a model.

&uot;I’ve done close to 80 through photographs,&uot; said Mitchell, an Ohio native transplanted to Gates County, N.C. &uot;I’ve been painting professionally about seven years, but I’ve been in art for many years.&uot;

In the past, the artist has worked for John Wills, a Virginia Beach artisan who works with marble. She’s done coloring books for a professional baby-sitting service in Virginia Beach, and she’s done portraits for people from across the United States.

&uot;I began Jack’s painting in October, after we worked out the details on the size of the canvas,&uot; said Mitchell. &uot;I completed the painting three weeks before Christmas.

&uot;I think Jack would be pleased if he could have seen her face when she unwrapped it.&uot;

Mitchell said she owes her personal art support group, the &uot;Railroad Gang,&uot; a lot of appreciation. They are a group of women in Ahoskie, N.C., who helped her get started with art shows.

Along with working as an advertising administrator at the News-Herald, Mitchell is also the mother of Brooke, 13; Brey, 9; and Zach, 8. She is also supported by a devoted husband, Mitch.

&uot;I could never do what I do without the love and support of my husband,&uot; said Mitchell. &uot;He is the one who encouraged me to enter into the arts 12 years ago.

&uot;He encouraged me to enter every art contest in the area. After winning the first one I entered, it was a green light to go ahead with my dreams.&uot;

The most gratifying feeling, other than the birth of her children or her marriage, is seeing the expression of someone seeing their new piece of art for the first time.

&uot;I don’t do portraits only,&uot; she said. &uot;I do a lot of pets that people have lost to death, or home places where people were born and raised.

&uot;I once did a pencil sketch of a house and I took pieces of the trim on the outside of the house to frame the sketch. The lady who’d spent her life there cried when I presented it to her.

&uot;That’s what art is… you cannot touch a person any more effectively.&uot;

Whenever Jack Mickle returns from this deployment, he will find a special surprise waiting for him.

&uot;I can’t afford the sports car he wants, so I figured I’d get him a pedigree boxer puppy he also wants,&uot; said Mickle. &uot;I’ll be pier side with the kids and the puppy when he arrives and we’ll introduce him to little Eddie.

&uot;We named the puppy after of the Tennessee Titan players, Eddie George, who like my husband, is from the Nashville area.&uot;