People often say, “I would love to try painting/sculpting/ceramics/music, but when would I ever have the time? Good question. If you have a demanding career and must support a family, it is difficult to carve out time to follow your artistic desires. And then it’s too late, right? Take a look at two prolific local artists who finally did find the time, and ask the question again. Octogenarians Dottie Dorion and Raquel Rodriguez have not let time or age stand in their way. Maybe it’s never too late ….
I walk into a generous studio space in Dottie Dorion’s beautiful one-story house in Deerwood. “At a different time of life, this whole area was a workout room. There, where my paints are – that was the Jacuzzi. You just make room wherever…” she says, as we survey stacks of paintings and neat upright jars of brushes.
At different times in her life, Dorion’s focus has changed: a process most of us go through as we mature. Dottie Dorion’s life, however, has had (and still has) a lot more intensity than most of us can claim: a nursing career, marriage and child-rearing, world-class athletics, global travel, and far-reaching philanthropy – each stage characterized by top achievement. Just for starters, at age eighty she broke the world record for indoor rowing for her age group. And more. A lot more.
And now? At age eighty-three, Dorion is deep into a passionate practice of painting. “You know how runners talk about the ‘runner’s high’ – the endorphins you get when you’re in the zone? Well, I’ve found that the same thing happens with painting! It’s incredible, the feeling you get when you’re in touch with your inner vision, and you see your creation on the canvas, and you go ‘Yes! That’s it!’
Painting is something Dorion had always wanted to study seriously, but during her youth, art was not something you studied. Expectations for women were especially limited. “Secretary, teacher, nurse … There, take your choice. And you WILL get married. And you WILL have children. Period. It was also a time when young people really listened to their parents and pretty much followed the rules of family and social traditions. So I chose nursing and then teaching, which I did love, but those left little time for hobbies. However, art was always there in the background.
Dottie Dorion and her husband, George, still travel widely; this spring taking a three week cruise on the Queen Elizabeth II. Whenever they travel by ship, Dorion sets up a tiny studio with her “travel kit” – tubes of acrylic paint, small canvases, and a few brushes. “It’s the most important piece of luggage I take,” she laughs.
Art enriches Dorion’s travel experiences tremendously. “Usually, I paint only to satisfy myself, not to please anyone else. But on the ship, I love to make gift paintings for the staff. I ask them what they want me to paint, and then I give them the finished painting at the end of the cruise. It is so rewarding, and a great way to get to know them personally and show our appreciation.”
On this recent trip, the new immigration restrictions prevented many of the staff members from getting off the ship in New York City. Their butler asked her for some paintings of New York City scenes, so she painted a night scene of Times Square and a view of the Brooklyn Bridge. He was thrilled to hang them in his quarters. A homesick staff member described in detail his neighborhood in India, so she painted what he described, and he received a charming reminder of home.
For Dorion, though, the most important paintings are interpretations of her creative vision. “Your creative expression goes through stages just like other things in your life. I used to make paintings that were very exact, totally concrete. Once I was satisfied with that style, however, I wanted a new challenge – I wanted to take my painting into abstraction, and loose, impressionistic and even expressionistic style. That’s when I called Paul and asked if I could study with him.”
Paul Ladnier, a well-known artist and retired professor of art, took her on as a private client about ten years ago. “That’s when my painting took off, when I began to explore what I really wanted to do and to develop my own style,” she says. A few years later, she was joined by her neighbor, Raquel Rodriguez, and now they meet with Paul at the Dorionss home every Wednesday morning. “He encourages us to explore our own subjects and style and experiment with abstraction and different techniques,” Dorion says. “Wednesday mornings with Paul and Raquel are always my best days! We have a great time talking at first, with lots of noise and laughter. Then things get really quiet and intense, and Paul will say ‘Hey, I think we’re in the zone!”
Under Ladnier’s guidance, Dottie Dorion has ventured into an increasingly abstract style. “It’s a little scary when you first go ‘off’,” she says. “At first, you miss that security blanket, that ‘subject’ that tells you what to paint and how it should look. I felt I was ready for a new challenge. I didn’t want to do the same things, making everything look just like a photograph. It’s so interesting when you let yourself go in painting; different aspects of your background come through. When I was doing a lot of hospice nursing, my paintings were dark, ethereal, with figures floating in space, dark tunnels with hints of light at the end. These days, my life is very different. I feel like I want to paint water. I love swimming and kayaking … I’m always in the water, and this comes through in a new series I’m doing of different forms of water.”