When Jean Thorpe enters a room, she brings with her a breath of fresh, creative energy. It isn't long before those around her are caught up in the excitement of her fanciful ventures.

This energy manifests itself in a variety of ways - in Jean's drawings, mural paintings, illustrations, sculptures, flower arrangements, creative stories and children's art classes.Two years ago, Jean and her husband, Verne, opened a small Art Gallery and Artistic Gift Shop at 22 E. Utah Avenue in Payson. A year later, they decided to expand and moved into a vacated store at 65 S. Main, Payson. They named their new store the "Art & Earth Art Center." It is open from noon to 6 p.m. daily (except Sunday). But from Nov. 25 to Dec. 24, the center will open at 10 a.m.

Perhaps the most eye-catching creations in their store are Jean's "kritters." They are made from a variety of materials - Styrofoam, dowels, earthenware, Sculpta-mold and others.

Smaller birds and animals fill the "Kritter Kountry" display and resemble a miniature zoo. Larger animals fill the windows, attracting passers-by. Especially intriguing are a large, spotted cow Jean titled "Udderly Content" and Noah's Ark, with a number of animals sticking their heads out of the port holes.

Jean's kritters have also found a place in her first children's book, "Kirtpatrick's Kritters." It is being printed by Prolitho press in Provo.

Her next children's book will center around the Gorshians, who come to Earth to experience the agony of sorrow and the ecstasy of joy.

Jean says that much can be learned from these stories that will help children learn in four areas - educational, social, emotional and spiritual.

Although the front of the store contains an arts and crafts shop, the back is Jean's studio and art school. Since the first of the year, she has taught illustration, sculpture and creative writing to about 300 children between ages 4 to 14.

When teaching, Jean makes sure that the children don't imitate her style. She will show them ways to use each medium, but she allows the children to incorporate their own creativity as they model their imaginative "kritters."

While I was talking to the Thorpes, their 4-year-old daughter proudly walked up to the window display and retrieved a stylized bird. "I made it all by myself," she proudly announced.

Jean and her husband are currently making plans to turn part of the art center into a children's museum.

"We're going to call it Goodlum Park," Jean said. "There will be a puppet show where my original stories will be acted out. And children will not only be exposed to creativity, but they will learn values as well. "

While Jean concentrates on the artistic end of the business, Verne takes care of the books and supervises the publishing of his wife's children's books.

Verne and Jean Thorpe have 11 children. It's one of those "yours, mine and ours" families. Verne and Jean each had five children from previous marriages. And they have a 1-year-old who is "ours."

Although some Payson residents aren't quite sure how to take this breath of creative energy that has invaded their town, some of the braver ones have courageously entered the center; they become captivated by Jean's creations, and many enroll their own children in her creative classes.

Jean's goal is to bring the "finer things of life" to everyone in Payson - from children to adults. But it's hard to keep those "finer things" confined to one place; they're flowing beyond the town's boundaries.