“Character is Destiny” Heraclitus
Artists are not born as blank canvases. Like each of us, artists are born into a particular family, culture, time and place; their particular family, culture, time and place might be seen as the sketch that lays out the general shape of what will become their portrait. Like each of us too, artists are born with a personality that powerfully shapes who they are and who they become; this might be compared to the beginning brushstrokes of the painting which establish the darks, mediums and lights of the their portrait. Finally, like each of us, artists adopt a set of values – spiritual, moral and aesthetic – which guides them and by which they make decisions; these values are like the finishing brushstrokes that colors, contrasts, and defines the portrait of the artists. The convergence of these three things – the particularities of their family, culture, time and place, the shape of their personality and their values – make up the the artist’s character. As the Greek Philosopher put it “Character is destiny.” This is true in the case of Jack Dorsey: his character shaped the artist he would be.
So in this third part of this biographical sketch of Jack Dorsey we will look inward – at his character – to track its influence. We will focus on those years after Jack retired from Boeing up to today, then even gaze forward to Jack’s future vistas as an artist.
We have chosen to title this section “Rebirth of an Artist” for two reasons: first because Jack had an opportunity for a new beginning – a fresh start – as an artist; second, because being “reborn” or “born again” is language that characterizes the Christian faith, and it is impossible to understand the life and artistic legacy of Jack Dorsey without recognizing him as first and foremost an artist who is a Christian.
Rebirth of an Artist
In July 1995 Jack retired from Boeing. He was one of 9,000 Boeing employees that took an early retirement having fulfilled the requirements of being at least 55 years of age (He turned fifty five on March 12th, 1995) and having worked at Boeing for at least 15 years. Jack took the “golden handshake”, just in time to fly with Ann (this was their first time of flying together) to celebrate their son Jason’s graduation from seminary in Chicago.
Jack would work for one more year as a contractor at Boeing (from January 1996 through the end of January 1997). So it was in January of 1997 that Jack’s time at Boeing finally came to an end. He put down his Technical Illustration pencil and picked up his hammer (to complete the finishes touches on the remodel of their home begun in 1984) and paintbrush (to launch back into his art career).
After he retired from Boeing, Jack did not have a plan for his artistic rebirth. In fact, he was overwhelmed by all the work he had to do just to get his own home into shape. And being out of the art world for the past 16 years, it had, in many ways, passed him up and moved on. Finally, by personality Jack is a not a person to create a plan, his strength is adapting to the situation as it develops rather then taking charge of the situation. In the language of the Myers-Briggs personality profile, Jack is a very hard-core “P”.
Thankfully, while the art scene had changed and while Jack had lost his name recognition as a leading artist, Camano Island itself was gaining a reputation as a place with many gifted artists, burgeoning with art studios and galleries, becoming a kind of “artist colony.” Jack, being the flexible man that he is, was able to ride the wave of the emerging Camano Island art culture.
Here is how that happened.
Camano Island Mother’s Day Studio Tour
In 1998, Jack Gunter, Karla Matzke and some other artists on Camano Island launched a studio tour for the public that took place on Mother’s Day weekend. Sometime in the fall of 1998, after the first studio tour, Jack was in a second hand store in Stanwood that was then run by artist Jack Gunter. Gunter encouraged Jack to get involved in the art tour saying “you’re the best artist on the Island.”
In May 1999 Jack and Ann joined the Tour, opening their home to the public. Ann tells how on the that first Saturday morning of the Tour she was out working in the flower bed not expecting many people to come – “I didn’t think it was sensible and that no one would come” – when all of a sudden a stream of people began showing up. That got Ann (and Jack’s attention). The next year they took a little more notice, sprucing up their house and the grounds outside. Jack and Ann enjoyed showing not only their own, but the family’s art, including artworks of Ann’s famous grandmother F.Y. Cory as well as paintings by Jason, April and Jed.
Jack and Ann participated in the Studio tour until 2010. They enjoyed the camaraderie with the other artists, appreciated the exposure to the public and enjoyed meeting many new friends, patrons of the arts, and collectors. They paid the bills, at least in part, by the income they made from art sales (anywhere from $2,000-$14,000 a year). It is not hard to imagine why their warm, quirky home surrounded by tall firs and cedars was a favorite stopping point for people: here was a real vintage Washington watercolorist in person and in his well-loved place!
What was behind Jack and Ann’s pulling out of the studio tour in 2010? It was a combination of things. First, Jack, being an independent man – something of a mix between a maverick and contrarian – and not-having a political bone in his body, did not appreciate the need for some policies, rules and regulations that came with the growth of the popularity of the Studio tour. Nor was he wired for the regular meetings required of participating artists. In particular, he did not understand why all of his family couldn’t participate on the Tour (since they were a family of artists), because of the rule that only artists who lived on Camano Island could participate in the Studio Tour (which ruled out his sons Jason and Jed, as well as F.Y. Cory who was deceased).
Second, Jack and Ann were growing older and hosting hundreds of people over Mother’s Day Weekend and the following weekend was hard work, even exhausting. Each Spring Jack and Ann worked for three weeks before the tour, raking leaves, mowing and cleaning up around and in the house. And there were hidden costs associated with hosting a studio on the tour. For example, one year Jack had 3 truckloads of gravel brought in for a parking area; and they were required to hire a parking attendant. So after the Tour in 2010, Jack and Ann sat down with a yellow legal writing pad and noted the pluses and minuses of participating in the Studio tour. One of the pluses of being on the tour was the great publicity it brought; they knew if they struck out on their own they would lack that publicity. A plus was that they would not feel so pushed and so tired. At the end, they decided to launch off on their own.
It wouldn’t be until May of 2016 that Jack would participate in the Studio Tour again, in the unfinished “Sunnyshore Studio” a new Studio/Gallery built by his son Jason, just 200 feet up the road from Jack’s art studio. Being an official gallery on the tour, Sunnyshore Studio can show the artwork of each family member. And even though Sunnyshore Studio was not completed in May 2016, it welcomed over 900 guests, and sold over $10,000 of art work. Jack recently said this to Jason: “Your Gallery has really made it good for us. I can’t wait for this spring  because you’ll be loaded with customers.”
Launching out on his own: open houses, galleries and shows
The Studio Tour had, in effect, revitalized Jack’s art career. Now Jack was ready to strike out on his own. Jack and Ann decided that they would have three “open house” shows a year: one in March, one piggybacking on the tour and one in November. On Mother’s Day weekend in 2011 they put out their sign and opened their doors. A number of people who remembered them from past studio tours stopped by. But some of the artists who were participating on the studio tour did not appreciate this “piggybacking” and complained. After a couple of years Jack and Ann decided that they would stop being open on Mother’s Day in any fashion and they also discontinued the March and November open houses.
By then Jack’s art was making its ways into Northwest galleries. His work was shown in the Gunnar Nordstrom Gallery in Kirkland, WA in 2001 and 2005; in the Scott/Milo Gallery, Anacortes, WA in July-August 2005; and in the Chase Gallery, Spokane, WA in August 2005. In 2007, he showed paintings and participated in the collective of artists at La Conner’s Seaside Gallery.
One of the things Jack has written on that yellow legal writing pad was to enter national competitions which he had already begun to do in 2005 and in took up in earnest in 2011. He had a great deal of success. In 2005 Jack received second prize at the Northwest Watercolor Society (NWWS) Waterworks show and was juried into the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society 26th International Juried Exhibition. In 2007 he participated in the West Coast Paper Exhibition. In 2011 he won first prize ($1,500) at the Artist Association of Northern Colorado (AANC), was juried into the 30th Annual Adirondacks Watercolor Exhibition, and was in the NWWS Waterworks show. In 2013 he participated in the AANC’s 22nd National Art Exhibition, the 36th International Exhibition Watercolor Society of Houston, the Coos Art Museum’s Expressions West Exhibition and its 20th Annual Maritime Art Exhibit, and the Palouse Watercolor-Society’s Regional Juried Exhibition (winning Best of Show and an award of $1000.00). In 2014, Jack won honorable mention in the Southwest Watercolor Association Juried Member show. Clearly Jack was painting watercolors again at a very high level. His impressionistic-realism, his loose washes, exceptional hand-control and technical detail was being noticed and appreciated at the national level. But entering these art shows was costly, and they were not, shall we say, making Jack rich.
In the midst of his artistic rebirth, a big event shook Jack’s world in 2010 that revealed his true character, his values and spiritual allegiances. To that event we will now turn.
We saw in the Studio Tour how much joy Jack and Ann had in sharing not only their own art, but the art of their children. It might be helpful now to return to Jack’s valuing of his family. Every artist must do his or her work in the context of his or her many relationships and roles, and values that come with them. Jack has always been an artist, but he has never allowed his artwork to overshadow or devalue his family. In fact, it could be argued that Jack’s valuing of his family takes precedence to his valuing of his art and his career as an artist. Jack’s valuing of his family and his loyalty to his family can be seen in the following ways, each which affected his career as an artist.
First, even though Jack was making just barely enough for his family to survive during the 1970’s, he never pushed Ann to work to make ends meet. He so valued her being a full-time mom devoted to raising their children that her going to work at a 9-5 job was never on the table. Ann would only get part-time work with Flight Line Industries and later full time work with the Stanwood School District to help pay college expenses for their children. Ann’s presence in Jason, April and Jed’s life would reap great rewards as they grew up to be solid citizens and parents themselves.
Second, when Jack had to decide between a full-time career as an artist or providing for his family he chose his family. So in 1979 he set down his paintbrushes and began a fifteen year career at Boeing to provide for his family. Later in 2015 Jack would again lay down his paintbrushes for almost a year to take care of his beloved “Annie” after she was diagnosed with breast cancer on January 8th, 2015. That year was devoted to Ann. Jack was faithfully at her side, driving her to chemo and picking up extra chores at home.
Third, Jack has supported his kids on their artistic journey. Wired as a helper, Jack thrives in coming alongside and helping people. Nowhere has Jack shined in his gift of “helps” then in his helping of his kids in their artistic careers. This began, as we already have seen, in his giving his kids free rein to use his studio, including its supplies of paints, brushes and paper. Jack has framed countless of Jason, April and Jed’s paintings. Jack’s agreeing to take a week to help Jason illustrate his book I Remember Fishing with Dad long before the book would see the light of day (December 2015) is a case in point. A book which has, by the way, sold close to 1,000 copies and counting.
But nowhere has Jack’s loyalty to his family and faith in God been tested and proven more than it was in the winter of 2010.
“A Sinner Saved By Grace”
In the first section we shared how Jack moved with his family to Plain, WA, a little community in the Cascade Mountains near Leavenworth when he was seventeen. His dad, Bert, was a hard-working, blue collar man who loved to fish and chew tobacco. He was tough and rough-around-the-edges; though he loved his boys he was reserved in showing his affection. His mom, Emma, was a good mother but struggled profoundly with alcoholism, with its attendant pain, shame and anger. It was a spiritually barren home with only the slightest hint of faith when his mother taught Jack a simple good night prayer as a boy.
Jack finished High School in Leavenworth and it was on the school bus when his neighbor and friend Bill asked, “Are you saved?” Jack didn’t understand the question. Later Jack met Pastor Otto, and on one winter night when we was nineteen years of age, Jack knelt with Otto in the basement of Plain Community Church and asked Jesus Christ to come into his life, to forgive him of his sins and his sin nature, and to give him a new heart, a heart devoted to Jesus and His Word. (Much of this confession was out of obligation to do what was right, not out of true repentance for he thought of himself as “good” boy).
Even though in his prayer Jack had admitted that he was a sinner and needed salvation, he hadn’t really personally felt his sin or his need of salvation. He was drawn to Christianity out of the ache of his own heart for love and belonging. He was taking baby steps into the heart of the Christian faith. At the heart of the Christian faith is the discovery that one is a sinner in the sight of God and that out of great love for sinners God has provided salvation through Jesus Christ. In other words, a Christian is someone who believes that there is a Personal God who is morally beautiful, who has designed each of us to represent and reflect his moral beauty in the world, that we have fallen far short of who we should be and what we should do, and that Jesus Christ came and lived the morally beautiful life that we should have lived and who on the cross took the just punishment of our sins upon himself, so that we can be forgiven of our sins and accepted into God’s family.
Jack’s personal discovery of his sinfulness and need for a Savior would hit home over a year later when he was a student at Wenatchee Valley College. He had gone on a few dates with an attractive and fun girl in the spring of 1960. On one evening date they drove up a road overlooking Wenatchee and one thing led to another and they became intimate. Jack was overwhelmed with guilt, struggled with suicidal thoughts and broke off the relationship. He did not see her again, or hear from her. Jack’s experience of intense guilt revealed him to himself as a sinner and it clearly showed him his need for a Savior who would forgive him. So it was in January of 1961 that God started to work on Jack’s heart. One Sunday afternoon in April, Jack was with his dad going by the Plain Community church to get some hay for the cattle on his dad’s ranch, and on the way home Jack saw all the people visiting with each other after church and it seemed they were “so happy” basking in God’s sunlight. This was when God impressed upon him this thought, “This is where you need to be to get to know Me”, and so this can be described as the “moment” from January to April of Jack’s conversion to Christianity. God had changed him from within, he was born again. Jack started regularly attending worship services.
Forty nine years later, in February 2010, just months before his 70th birthday, Jack received an email asking, “I am in search of a ‘Jack Dorsey’ who lives on Camano Island…senior in age…. have dated a woman… 51 years ago, who lived in Wenatchee….Here is the tricky part, but life happens and it could be SUCH a blessing!” She “had a son. His name is Jeff Davies.” She “never told Jack about the child. Jeff did not find out that his father was not his birth father until about four years ago. His father did leave the family when Jeff was a young teen and Jeff was the man of the house, and has been a responsible and upstanding individual ever since.” Jack’s world turned upside down. He had thought that this was all in the long-forgotten past, even though it was the catalyst that convinced him his need of a Savior. After a few days of wrestling and prayer, of guilt and accepting God’s grace, Jack shared the story with Ann. Ann was very surprised and forgave him. And together they agreed that they would reach out and meet Jeff. And so on Jack’s 70th birthday, March 12th, 2010, Jack met his son Jeff for the first time. He confessed his sin and asked forgiveness of Jeff. When Jack shared this over the phone with his sons Jason and Jed who were in Indianapolis at the time, he began by saying “I am the chief of sinners.”
Jack’s brokenness, his need for God’s grace and his embrace of his son Jeff and welcoming of him into his heart and family over the past seven years (2010-2017) is a testament to Jack’s valuing of family, and, more importantly, faith in the God of grace. Jack’s career as an artist simply can’t be understood apart from his allegiance to his family and his faith in God. Jack is not what might be called a “Christian artist”, that is an artist painting so called “Christian” paintings. He is an artist who is a Christian.
What does the rebirth of Jack Dorsey as an artist look like? It is evolving, so we can’t know for sure. But we might hazard the following as new vistas that we see emerging in the final sketch of Jack Dorsey the artist. In many ways these vistas are not so much as a new, but a new return to the old.
New Vista One: Art Teacher
Jack was trained and began his career as an art teacher. Over the years he has taught his kids about values, perspective, color and design. While Ann has been their kids great cheerleader, Jack has been their best critic. His eye for basic design, technical detail, and experience with watercolor has paid off in many ways in their development as artists. In recent years Jack has personally benefitted from taking classes and workshops by the likes of his friend Ned Mueller, Canadian artist Mike Schwab. Jack and Jed spent a week studying under Ovanes Berberian at his Studio in Idaho. Over the years Jack has amassed an impressive library of art books.
Jack is a people person. While he can at times be too outspoken and can have a critical edge, people sense that he cares deeply for them. The few art classes Jack has taught (for two of them teaming up with his friend Tom Jones) have been well-appreciated. The only thing lacking is a space to teach students in. That space is now available in the newly finished Sunnyshore Studio.
We can imagine many people in future years enjoying learning to paint watercolors and advancing in their art career under the tutelage of Jack Dorsey.
New Vista Two: Enduring and Accessible Watercolors
Over the years Jack has experimented with different mediums and styles, with some degree of success. For example, he studied figure painting in oil under Ned Mueller. Jack learned a great deal about figurative work through this process, and since then has sold at least five commissions of historic people painted in oil. For example, Ann’s cousin, John H. commissioned Jack to paint a portrait of Richard Beatty Anderson, a young man who was a Marine and who in WWII threw himself on a grenade and saved some of his buddies in a foxhole. He received the Medal of Honor for his bravery. Richard Beatty Anderson has a Federal Building in Port Angeles and a Navy ship named after him. Other painting commissions were of these notables: Charlie Russell, Billy The Kid and Moose Meat John.
Jacks’ bread and butter, however, is watercolor. His best works are his watercolors that use loose, impressionistic washes in the background, with the subject in realist, technical detail in the foreground. Jack’s impressionistic-realistic paintings combine the realistic nostalgia of a Andrew Wyeth or Mike Burns with the rich colors and striking contrasts of a Tom Jones, and yet in Jack’s own voice. Perhaps what’s best about Jack’s watercolors is their accessibility. Jack is a common man’s artist. He is an artist, one might say, for the blue collar man and woman. You do not need to be rich to be able to afford one of Jack’s paintings, which is fitting in light of Jack’s own origin.
Jack is one of the vintage watercolorists in Washington. Washington has a history of great watercolorists, many who have passed on, like Wes Broten, Arne Jensen, Perry Acker, Mike Burns, William F. Reese, Paul Immel, Victoria Savage, Jackie Brooks, Warren McAllister, Carl Christophersen and many others. While life moves on there are still vintage artists living like, Jerry Stitt, Thomas William Jones, John Ringen, Nancy Axell, to name a few along with Jack, who paint and are ready to pass the torch to the next generation of artists. We can only hope that Jack is able to paint his enduring watercolors for many years to come.
New Vista Three: Sunnyshore Studio
After Jack moved onto Camano Island in 1969, he turned an old fox barn into his studio and named it “Sunnyshore Studio.” Many years later, in 1998, Jack and Ann gifted a piece of land just 200 feet south of their home to their son Jason and daughter-in-law Jenny. Since that time Jason dreamed of building an art studio/gallery there to showcase the family’s legacy of art, to be a vibrant working studio and from which to share the beauty of Camano Island.
In 2016 that dream became a reality. Sunnyshore Studio opened with a “soft launch” at the Mother’s Day Studio Tour. Its’ Grand Opening was in December 2016 with the show “Beaches of Camano”.
Family members each painted beaches of Camano and collaborated in the creation of a coffee table book that celebrates the beaches of Camano.
On March 11th and 12th Sunnyshore Studio is hosting an Art-Retrospective, looking back at Jack’s 50+ years of art. Sunnyshore Studio has an important place in Jack Dorsey’s art history. It also has a bright future as the Dorsey family collaborates together in showcasing their artwork and in raising up new generations of artists in the pacific northwest.
The story of the building and launching of Sunnyshore Studio highlights Jack’s personality and its influence of him as an artist. Jack’s personality is a combination of melancholy, flexibility, helpfulness, extroversion, loyalty, and contrarian.
Jack has a melancholic personality, as he puts it, he can be a “Puddleglum” always looking on the pessimistic, glass-half-empty side of things. Over the years, when Jason shared his dream of Sunnyshore Studio Jack always had critiques of it, and reasons why it was a bad idea and why it wouldn’t work.
One of Jack’s greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses is his flexibility. He doesn’t want to get locked into one plan, one way of seeing things. He wants to keep his options open. It required Jason’s “results oriented” personality to make the Studio happen. But when it came time to help out with the studio project Jack was there, he was rock solid, building a temporary power pole and hundreds of other tasks to move the building project along. He is, at heart, a helper.
Jack’s loyalty and extroversion – he is a true people person – paid off in the opening of Sunnyshore Studio. Jack has many, many friends who he has been loyal to over the years. People know that Jack genuinely cares for them, and they responded with overwhelming support of Jack and his family at the opening of Sunnyshore Studio.
Finally, at the end of the day Jack is a bit of a contrarian, doing things his own way in his own time and fashion. This dose of contrarianism makes Jack the special, unique man that he is. Friendly and people-oriented, Jack is also outspoken and happy to argue and debate; appreciating people’s approval but not political or wishy-washy, Jack is not afraid to dig in his heals and even to be disliked. And Jack’s presence at Sunnyshore Studio makes it a place not whitewashed in sameness, but full of personality.
On Patrons, Collectors and Friends
When one listens to the life of Jack Dorsey, one is struck by the symbiotic relationships of artists to art patrons (those who support a particular artist by buying his/her work), collectors (those who enjoy art and buy art), and friends (those who are friends to artists). In short, without patrons, collectors and friends, there would be no artists. It is hard enough in this world that values the practical and functional of everyday life, to eke out a life as a man or woman devoted to the making of good art. It would be impossible to do so without the support of patrons.
Over the decades Jack has had many people in his life who supported him, who saw his talent, even his genius, and in one way or another served as patrons. Rather than risking leaving out names, we will simply note the vitally important role that people play in the life and career of artists. There is such a thing as aesthetic poverty in a culture, in a city or countryside, even in a home. Those patrons and art collectors who buy art are addressing this poverty through their support of artists and their art works.
One is also struck by the role of artist friends in the life of an artist. Jack has been privileged to have artist friends like Mike Burns, Bill Reese, Ned Mueller, Walter Graham and Tom Jones to journey with. Their friendship, support and encouragement – as well as their challenge and critique – has made Jack the artist he is. There is, indeed, a symbiotic relationship of Patrons, Art Collectors and Friends and Artists. They need each other to survive and to thrive.
What is Jack Dorsey’s art legacy? He is satisfied to leave that verdict in the hands of those who have bought his artworks. Reflecting on his work he says “I have done it the hook and crook way. But I can say that I made a living as an artist. Thanks to my dad and my father-in-law who were my benefactors. I’m proud of what my art career has been.”
Interesting enough, a little known fact in Jack’s legacy is his role with launching “Art in the Park” in Leavenworth in 1966. Ted Price and Bob Rogers had started the Squirrel Tree Restaurant off Highway 2 near Leavenworth. They had turned it into a Bavarian Restaurant there. Being from Carmel, CA, they had an idea of what could take place if a city adopted a unified theme/culture. So they began to talk up the idea of Leavenworth being a “Bavarian Village.” They knew of Jack Dorsey as an artist, and brought him to their apartment to talk their vision over with Jack, and to get his help in the starting an “Art in the Park” idea to bring in tourists. Jack joined them at a town hall meeting, and their vision for a Bavarian Village and Art in the Park took hold. Jack helped launch the first Art in the Park at the Autumn leaf festival. Over time, the town changed, partly because of the vision that Jack, Ted Price and Bob Rogers had.
Will this cultural change in the town of Leavenworth go down in history as part of Jack’s artistic legacy, or will it, like so many other things, be forgotten. Who knows?
Perhaps more intriguing is this question: Will Jack Dorsey’s long-time dream to build some kind of art gallery/studio/retreat on the 60 acres that he owns just three miles outside of Leavenworth happen in his lifetime.
Who knows? But knowing Jack’s passion for the Leavenworth area, his decades old dreams and visions for what might be created on his property there, his multi-talented family, and his God-of-miracles, we might say anything is possible.