Local painter draws from experience, books in her work
By Josette Keelor -- email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- For 96-year-old Esther Dovell, spending her retirement years painting is what comes naturally.
Art always has been a part of her life, and that of her family -- her husband was an artist, and three of her five children still are. But Dovell isn't slowing down yet. Until now she has displayed her artwork mainly locally, but currently, only two months before her 97th birthday, her artwork is featured as part of an exhibit in Richmond.
The apartment where she lives in the assisted living section of Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury in Winchester looks like a gallery in itself, with oil and acrylic paintings of landscapes lining the walls and an easel by the living room window.
"I paint the national forests, parks, the national parks," Dovell said recently. "This is the Grand Canyon, one part of it, and I do Yosemite," she said.
On her nearby kitchen table rests a painting of a sunset over a stretch of water.
"And that's Florida, Biscayne Bay," she said.
Formerly a member of the Shenandoah Arts Council, Dovell resurrected her interest in painting after joining an art class at the retirement community.
"It's been 11, about 11 years I've been in this art class," she said. "I just keep going 'cause I like to keep up what's going on."
Dovell has seen much of the United States throughout the years, and brings personal experience to her painting.
After growing up in Lufkin, Texas, Dovell moved briefly to New Orleans and then to Miami, where she worked in concessions at the Five O'clock Club. She met and married her husband in Washington, where she worked for an advertising agent for congressmen and senators.
"Through it all, painting was always a hobby," Dovell said. "And I encouraged my children, but their father was an artist," she said. "He wasn't famous, by no means, but he did paint some when he was younger."
Their daughters, Loretta Bailey of Stephens City, Rita King of Clarke County, and Linda Cooke of Clear Brook, all pursued art careers, Bailey becoming the official artist for the Virginia Gold Cup one year. Since 1988, she has been the official artist for the West Virginia Breeders Classics.
"I paint from photographs because there's no way an artist can sit and paint from a scene," Bailey said.
Her mother also paints from photos, which she brings with her each week to her Wednesday art class. Everyone in the class paints, she said, and they often display their work on-site in Lawrence Hall.
"I just stick with this because it's difficult for me to travel and get around to all the places that you have to exhibit," Dovell said.
Her work has been part of many shows around the area, she said, but the show at the General Assembly Building in Richmond, sponsored by the Virginia Association of Nonprofit Homes for the Aging, is the first statewide exhibit to include her work.
The painting chosen from many of her landscapes depicts a large century plant backed up to Big Ridge State Park in Texas, she said.
Her work joins that of artists from around Virginia who are residents at retirement communities.
Dovell said she hasn't attended the show, which runs through March 8, but she's excited for her painting to travel further than she herself can anymore.
Her favorite painting hangs in her bedroom and shows the Garden of the Gods in Colorado.
"And one of these magazines that I have, I painted this from a small picture in a magazine," she said. The painting shows Independence Rock in the Colorado National Monument.
"I just named it for Garden of the Gods, is what I called it," she said.
Her paintings typically take two to three weeks to complete.
"It varies how intricate it is," she said.
"And of course she's not working on it steady," Bailey said.
But she's not in any rush. She just enjoys the images that form on canvas from hours spent through devotion to the craft, drawing on a lifetime of inspiration.
"I haven't been to all these places, I just paint from photos that I find in calendars and various books that I looked at," Dovell said. "I have books on various states and all places that are lovely."