Jack Dorsey seized the opportunity provided in his father-in-law’s gift of a house on ten acres tucked amid the towering firs and cedars on the south end of Camano Island and he threw himself into the life of a full-time artist, producing a noteworthy body of work, mainly watercolors, from 1969-1979. His art sold briskly, but, reasonably priced as they were, Jack was barely able to provide for his growing family of five: wife, Ann; son, Jason (born in 1969), daughter April (born in 1972), and son, Jed (born in 1976). While Ann had been Jack’s great cheerleader in his career as an artist, she was glad when he took the job at the Boeing Company and had a steady paycheck and health insurance.
Photo 1: Jack and Ann in the 1980’s; Photo 2: Family portrait with Ann, Jack, Jed being held by Jack, Jason and April taken in 1982 at David and Karen Day’s wedding. Photo 3: Jason playing in box with his stuffed animals; Photo 4: Jack reading to Jason, April and Jed; Photo 5: Jack reading from the Bible to April an Jed.
On November 16th, 1979 Jack started at the Boeing. He woke at 4:00am, had breakfast, drove the forty-five minutes to the plant in Everett and was off work at 2:30pm to make the long drive home.
His work at Boeing sapped his strength and stole time that would be spent in creativity. In many ways, it tremendously limited his career as an artist – right at a point in which he had gained strong name recognition. But the next 16 years at Boeing (from 1979 to 1995 as a Technical Illustrator and from 1996 to 1997 as an Illustrator, sub-contractor) should not be viewed as a wasteland but rather as the fallow years, when the field of Jack’s artistic creativity and career was allowed to rest and be renewed, to go to seed, and even to see new life shoot up.
There are three developments during these years that proved to be significant in Jack’s life as an artist: (1) Jack’s art career moving from the center to the margins; (2) the remodeling of their home and (3) the emergence of Jack’s children as artists.
Jack’s continuing career as an artist on the margins
When Jack went to work at Boeing, his career as an artist was pushed from the center to the margins of his life. Like many artists before him, Jack walked the well-worn path of artists who get a 9-5 job because they can no longer rely on the unpredictable income of art to provide for their family.
Jack’s art career was pushed to the margin by the daily grind of his work at Boeing. This, however, did not mean that it ceased. Not at all! You can take the artist out of the art career but you can’t take the art out of the artist. That, at least, is true in Jack’s story.
Jack’s records, now written by pen in Ann ’s flowing cursive instead of Jack’s more scratchy pencil jottings, show that in 1980 he sold fourteen paintings for a total of $1,915; in 1981 he sold eight paintings for $1,430; in 1982, eight paintings for $1,450; in 1983 seven paintings for $1,100; in 1984, five paintings for $1,150; in 1985, six paintings for $1,100; in 1986 two paintings for $800; in 1987, four paintings for $815; in 1988, one painting for $300; in 1989, one painting for $700. At this point the record of paintings sold stop, until 1999 when they show that Jack’s painting “Canadian Honkers” sells to Felipe Cabrera at the price of $700. So while there is certainly a slow decline in the art sold and presumably in the art painted, still Jack’s life as an artist struggled along, albeit at the margins. During these years Jack’s paintings begin to command more money, though arguably not as much as they should have.
One of the paintings sold in 1987, “Odin Sitka”, the old Arthur Foss Tug that sat at Dagmar’s landing in Everett, was displayed in the 1987 calendar of the Great Western Savings Bank. Jack drastically reduced the price of this painting from $1200 upon receiving an offer of $500 so he could pay an insurance bill that was due.
Photo: Odin Sitka
Jack looks back at his years at Boeing as an artistic wasteland. Even though he did technical Illustrations of the inside wiring and equipment of Boeing 767s by hand with pen and ink (this is before the days of the computer) he claims this didn’t develop his fine art skills, only his technical skills. When asked what these years at Boeing did to his art career, Jack says:
“It paid the bills; it helped me provide for family. And once I retired, gave me a little more security. But it hurt my art career. There was nothing else I could do. I had to provide for my family. I’m trying to play catch up now. I don’t have the same energy level I did when I was young. I don’t have the same eyesight. And what I do have will definitely continue to diminish.”
Photo: Jack wins first place for watercolor in a Boeing Sponsored Art show in 1984.
We leave Jack for now with his art career on the margins. We will see how it was to be reborn.
The remodeling of their home
Doc and Sayre Dodgson’s gift of a home allowed Jack to embark on the path as a full-time artist. Not having a mortgage allowed Jack and Ann to survive the unpredictable, up-and-down, paycheck-to-paycheck life of an artist. But it was a double edged sword. The artist’s income limited their ability to fix up their home, and certainly to mortgage it.
Photo: Summer view of Camano home around 1982 before addition.
Ann had led the charge in embracing the life of artistic poverty. She would often say to Jack when he felt ashamed of the place, “We’re not poor. We’re rich. We have a beautiful place. I have a husband I love and kids that I love. And we don’t owe money on a mortgage. So many other people don’t have the things we do.” Ann would also make their cozy little home beautiful, filling it with flowers and smells of home-baked bread, cookies and cinnamon rolls.
Photo: Peaches canned by Jack and Ann, a ritual they carry out together each year.
But it was a tight fit for the family. The main floor had an entrance on the north side of the house into the kitchen area with the old monarch wood stove.
Photo 1: Ann’s parents, Doc and Sayre Dodgson would come for Sunday dinner each week; the old monarch stove can be seen in the background. Ann is feeding April a pea.
Photo 2: Jack and Ann entering Sayre many years later before the kitchen was completed. The kitchen “nook” can be seen behind Ann.
There was a sofa in the living room. Jack and Ann had a bedroom with a heavy curtain for the door. And next to their bedroom was an unfinished bathroom also with a curtain for a door. There was a steep staircase leading up to the unfinished attic; after a rough floor was put in, Jason used the bedroom attic from the 8th grade through his junior year of high school. You had to go outside to get down to the basement which had a fruit cellar in it where the peaches and pears that Jack and Ann canned were kept. Over the years the kids slept in many corners of the house including under the staircase, sharing the pull-out sofa, and for a while, on a bunk bed in an alcove next to the kitchen.
The small and unfinished house made it challenging for Jack to showcase his art. For example, there was the time that one of Jack’s collectors named Dick Wheeler and his wife Gloria came to view and purchase some of Jack’s works. Dick would later tease Jack saying, “I couldn’t believe it, you had your daughter in a cabinet drawer.” It is understandable, therefore, that Jack would feel a sense of shame and some misgiving having such wealthy and powerful people to his home (At the time Dick Wheeler and Duncan Wallace owned a city block on 8th street in Bellevue that they would later sell to Kemper Freeman.)
Jack’s income from Boeing allowed him to begin an addition to their home and in 1984 the remodeling work began. Cliff Ulsted designed the addition plans, Jerry Rutledge built the foundation, and John Bow framed it in until he left due to unknown reasons.
Photo 1: Jack and John Bow framing (top left); Photo 2: Jason trying to get a tan while he works (top right); Photo 3: Jack hard at work; Photo 4: April helping Jack (middle left); Photo 5: April and Jed getting in on the action (middle); Photo 6: Jed and April resting (bottom left); Photo 7: Jason and Jack working (bottom middle); Photo 8: April taking a much needed break (middle); Photo 8: Jed resting (bottom right).
After that Jack worked hard on the remodel project whenever he could. For example, during the 1970’s Jack had had the foresight to cut and collect Old Growth cedar blocks from burned cedar stumps on logged areas owned by Dan Garrison, who graciously gave him permission to cut wood in them. Jack stacked the cedar blocks and over the years hand-split them into shakes, creating a tapered shake by turning each cut. Jason, April and Jed shaved and trimmed them if needed. Jack installed them on the roof during the remodel and they still hold out rain today.
Photo: Jack installing his hand cut cedar shakes. They still keep the rain out.
Remodeling the house, which included an addition, provided the space the family needed. It added two new bedrooms, a second bathroom and a large living room space. The kitchen was opened up with two sky lights and an area for a dining room table was created. Jack and Ann’s former bedroom was opened up into a great room and the bathroom was completed. There are now five levels in their home with stairs joining each level, including stairs leading to a charming attic bedroom and stairs providing access to the basement from the inside of the house. Jason moved into the first completed bedroom his senior year of high school.
Photo: A view of the finished addition in the snow.
After Jack retired from Boeing in 1995 he threw himself into finishing what had been started in 1984. But again there wasn’t enough money so he got a mortgage through the Boeing Credit Union. This “borrowed money” enabled him to finish the kitchen and the upstairs. With the help of Jed, Jack painted bold colors on the walls to accentuate the artworks by family members that filled them. Guests remarked on the warmth, coziness and hospitality of Jack and Ann’s home. Like she did when the kids were young, Ann continued to spin her magic making the place beautiful and inviting with her well-loved antiques and well-placed flower arrangements, and Jack was an inveterate host, continually inviting friends and strangers to a meal.
Beginning in 1999, Jack and Ann would welcome the stream of art collectors and patrons who visited as part of the popular Camano Island Mother’s Day Studio tour. But we are getting ahead of our story.
The emergence of Jack’s children as artists
Photo 1: Jed sketching while laying on his stomach. Photo 2: April helping Jason out on his painting. Photo 3. Jason painting next to his dad.
The old fox shed that Jack had remodeled into an art studio sat, for the most part, unused during the fallow years.
Photo: The old fox farm that Jack remodeled into his studio.
There was a black and white TV in it where Jack and Jason would watch the Seahawks on Sundays and where Jason would sneak out to watch Saturday night live. One dark winter day during his junior year of high school (1986), Jason ventured out to the studio not to watch TV but to paint. He pulled out one of Jack’s full sheet watercolor papers and painted a scene of snow scene of mountains and trees and a duck flying.
Photo: Jason’s first full-time watercolor that he painted when he was 16, 1986.
Jason realized then that he was good at painting watercolors. And Jack and Ann, seeing his flowering artistic gifts, took him for a private lesson to northwest artist legend Wes Broten. Jason learned quickly and would go on to win awards in high school art competitions in both his junior and senior year.
Photo: Jack and Ann sit in front of Jason’s watercolor that one first prize at a WA State high school art competition in 1986.
Three years later April, also when she too was 16, retreated to the studio and began to paint striking watercolors of flowers, Mount Baker and other northwest inspired scenes.
Even Jed got into the act of painting watercolors, following in the footsteps of his older brother and sister. You might say they were “studio rats” just like kids who spend all day and night in the gym playing basketball are called “gym rats.” What is notable is that Jack shared his watercolor brushes, palette, and even watercolor paper with them. He also generously supplied framing supplies. How many kids grow up next to an art studio that is open, welcoming and accessible to them?
In 1987 Ann, seeing what it cost Jason to go to college (he attended Western Baptist College, Salem, OR) came up with the great idea to sell his art, and the art of other family members, at the Stanwood-Camano Fair that runs each August. Her vision was to use their pick-up truck as the booth, hang art off the sides and hope that the many nice people and friends of the family would stop and purchase a work or two of art. Jack, who wasn’t thrilled with the idea at first partly because he didn’t think it would work and chiefly because it was below his dignity as an artist, decided he would build a booth to display the family art. He did.
Photo: The Dorsey gallery designed and built by Jack.
For the next seven years, the portable “Dorsey Art Gallery” could be found at the “Best lil’ fair in the West”. Ann was right. Many of the Dorsey’s family and friends, and many of the nice people of the Stanwood-Camano area supported them in this effort. Ann remembers how the dad of Jed’s friend Eric Hughes, Dr. Hughes who was a dentist, bought a couple of Jed’s paintings at the fair each summer. “It was a great encouragement to Jed”, she remembers.
Photos 1-13: Family and friends visit the Dorsey Family Art Booth at the Stanwood Camano Fair.
Jed’s life as an artist was to blossom after he married his beautiful Canadian wife, Renae. On a trip to Whister, B.C. in 2001 they stumbled on some galleries that were showing some vibrant oil and acrylic paintings. That very week on their vacation, he bought his first acrylic paints and spent hours painting in this new medium. He loved it, and thus began the journey that would result in his following his father’s path as a full-time artist.
Photo 1: Jed and Renae at their wedding in Edmonton. Photo 2: Jed painting in April (Dorsey) Nelson’s art studio on Camano Island (top right). Photo 3: Jack critiquing Jed’s painting; Photo 4: Jed painting in the great room of Jack and Ann’s house.
Jason, April and Jed have all gone on to be gifted artists each in their own ways.
Jack would discover that he has another son, named Jeff, who is also gifted artistically. But that is another story that comes in the last chapter of this Sketch. So in sum we might say that while during these years the soil of Jack’s artistic career lay fallow, new shoots of life were springing from it.
Looking back on what we call the “fallow years” we definitely find that Jack’s art career is pushed from the center to the margins; it lies dormant, waiting. We also see the sprigs of new life springing up that will later be part of Jack’s rebirth as an artist: a remodeled home that will serve as a center of hospitality and showcase for the family’s art and children who would become gifted artists and, with Jack, put their shoulder to the plow as a family of artists.
Photo 1: April reflecting on her artwork (top left); Photo 2: Jason painting at the ocean (top right); Photo 3: Jason painting during his high school years (bottom left); Photo 4: Jack painting; Photo 5: Jason, April, Jed and some of Jed’s friends at the Dorsey Family Art Booth at the fair.
Artists tends to be melancholic, Jack included. One of the striking aspects of Jack’s art is the nostalgia – or melancholy – that inhabits all of his best works. Jack takes subjects common to people’s experience (like an old house, fishing lures or a saddle) and paints them in a way uncommon to expression, particularly, in a way that infuses each with the melancholy or nostalgia of an artist who captures in these objects something in them not to be thrown away but to be kept, to be valued and treasured.
Jack looks with melancholy on these years as lost years, his artistic wasteland. But looking ahead to the next chapter of his life as an artist, we would not want to see them thrown away. We might more accurately see them as the “fallow years” when his artist calling lay dormant, waiting to be reborn.
I absolutely loved reading this. Beautiful. Wonderful. Inspiring.