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Art work conveys faith and values, emotions and feelings

by Virginia de Leon

Known worldwide for her bronze sculptures, life-size statues and monumental cathedral doors, Spokane artist Dorothy Fowler uses art to pay tribute to both the human form and the human spirit.

Her work, which graces galleries and public places throughout the globe as well as the entrances to cathedrals in Spokane, Great Falls, Mont., and Israel, reflects her reverence for life and humanity, as well as her profound faith.

“I am a Christian artist,” she said. “I sign all my work with a cross before my name to give God credit,” she said. “The Lord has blessed me throughout my life.”

Dorothy Fowler with sculpture

Dorothy was 55 years old when the public was first introduced to her work. During an art show at Spokane Falls Community College (SFCC), Dorothy exhibited the first piece she ever cast—a small sculpture of a mother holding a baby.

Although she majored in art at San Jose State University as a young woman, Dorothy didn’t spend much time in the studio until the early 1980s, after rearing six children.

“Caring for my family was just as important as my career,” she said.

Although she took pottery classes at the YWCA and SFCC, she didn’t have time to spend on her artwork while taking care of the children and household. Her husband, Jack, was a dentist and one of the founders of Schweitzer Ski Resort. His many responsibilities often meant long hours at work as well as many days away from home. “I needed to be with the children during those years,” she said.

Dorothy’s passion for art and her gift for creating figures out of clay, helped her realize that it was simply a matter of time before she would have a chance to pursue her calling.

In 1981, when her children were grown and had moved out of the house, Dorothy returned to school at SFCC and enrolled in as many art classes as she could.  She also studied under Ken Spiering, a local artist known for his paintings, sculptures and other works, including the giant Radio Flyer Wagon at Spokane’s Riverfront Park.

Ken encouraged Dorothy to include her work in an art show. The experience led her to continue studying at various art academies and to devote her time to sculpture.

“I had a lot to learn,” said Dorothy, who spent her childhood in Pacific Grove, Calif. “I also set a high goal.  I set my mind to become a nationally known female artist. I wanted to show my daughter and granddaughters that they could do anything at any age if they work hard and set their mind to it.”

Dorothy continues to spend about eight hours a day in her Spokane-area studio.

When she’s not sculpting, she’s often at Valley Bronze of Oregon, the foundary at Joseph, Ore., that casts her creations, or at one of her six galleries in the Northwest and in Scottsdale, Ariz. Now retired, her husband runs the business end of Dorothy’s artwork.

“I just have to pinch myself sometimes,” said Dorothy, who has 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. “I can’t believe what’s happened to me. I give credit to the Lord for giving me a gift and the opportunity to work for that gift.”

Since she started sculpting in 1981, Dorothy has sold and exhibited her pieces at numerous shows and galleries. Her work also can be found throughout Spokane.

“The Strongest Bond,” a life-sized statue of a mother and child, graces the garden of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Spokane, a nonprofit that provides support and temporary lodging to families of children accessing medical services.

In 2005, Dorothy unveiled an 8-foot, 600-pound bronze sculpture of Michael P. Anderson, the Spokane astronaut who died aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia two years before. The memorial, located outside the Spokane Convention Center downtown, captures the spirit of a man who was known for his faith, humility and service to others.

Before embarking on the project, Dorothy spent time talking to Michael Anderson’s family, others who knew him and the committee that commissioned the statue. She decided on a pose that depicts Michael on bended knee with one hand holding his space helmet and the other releasing a dove of peace. The kneeling position represents humility, she explained; his uplifted arm and gaze toward the heavens portray his faith, and the dove symbolizes inspiration.

“That was almost a religious piece to me because he was religious and he had such strong faith,” she said.

flower door
FromBronze doors of Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes

In addition to her sculptures, Dorothy is perhaps best known in the area for her artistic work on the bronze doors of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes.

The project was a labor of love for Dorothy, who spent two-and-a-half years working on the doors—three that are 14-feet tall at the main entrance and another that’s nine-feet tall.

It also was an answer to her prayers. In 1999, Dorothy was looking for a new project, a way to leave something of herself in her own community of Spokane. At the time, she had an exhibit at the Spokane Club, which caught the attention of the Rev. Monsignor James Ribble. As the cathedral’s rector, the monsignor had spent several years traveling all over the country looking for the right artist to design the cathedral doors. The person he was searching for was in Spokane all along.

When Dorothy received the monsignor’s call, she was caught by surprise. Never before had she done bas relief, sculptured artwork in which a modeled form is raised from a flat background. She told Monsignor Ribble that she was afraid to tackle such a project.

As she proceeded to make excuses, “a little light came on in my head,” she said, recalling the conversation. “This was the Lord answering my prayer.”

Dorothy immediately flew to the Scottsdale Artists’ School in Arizona, where she spent weeks studying with Eugene Daub, an artist and expert in religious bas-relief sculpture. After she showed a few sample panels to Monsignor Ribble, he commissioned her to do the doors.

Still unsure of her abilities, Dorothy traveled to Florence, Italy, to continue her studies in bas-relief sculpture. By the time she came home a month later, she felt confident that she could accomplish the task.

“I am a perfectionist and didn’t want to do it halfway,” she said. “I had to rise to the challenge.”

Like her other pieces, her goal was to capture the emotion and feelings of the images she sculpted. As she proceeded with the design, she created images based on photographs that she took of parishioners at the cathedral.

When the doors were cast and installed in 2001, the dedication included cathedral members, other Catholics and people from First Presbyterian Church, which Dorothy has attended for 42 years.

“It was rewarding,” she said. “It unified the two churches.”

In 2004, Dorothy was commissioned to create the 14-foot bronze doors as part of restoration of St. Ann’s Cathedral in Great Falls, Mont.  The entrance of the cathedral depicts the Virgin Mary’s mother, Ann, giving her instructions in the Jewish faith. The doors also include an image from Jesus’ first miracle at Cana, when water was transformed into wine.

Her bronze cathedral doors in Spokane and Montana eventually led to another project: the creation of the entrance to the new Church of the Sermon on the Mount, one of the largest churches in Israel’s Galilee region.

Located on the campus of Mar Elias University, the church is part of the campus that was established by Archbishop Elias Chacour, who has traveled to Spokane several times and has received support from First Presbyterian and other churches in the area.

“My faith has set the tone for my life. Without my faith, my life would have no meaning,” Dorothy said in describing the inspiration for her work.

For information, call 448-9593.