“I’ve made so many friends through art.” Jack Dorsey
Jack Dorsey was born March 12th, in 1940 in Seattle, WA. He grew up in the Redmond area and attended the Lake Washington School District. When he was sixteen his family moved to the small community of Plain, WA near Leavenworth. There Jack finished high school. He attended Wenatchee Valley College for two years, then transferred to Seattle Pacific College, where he graduated with a BA degree in Art Education. He taught art for a couple of years in the Highline School District. In 1966, Jack married his beloved “Annie”. In 1969, Jack, Ann and baby Jason moved to Camano Island where he launched out as a full time professional artist. “I’ve been a Washingtonian all my life,” he says.
Jack always had a desire to draw. He grew up drawing things around their house. Jack’s interest in art was perked on visits to his Aunt Marion and Uncle Norm’s home in Seattle. Displayed on their walls were paintings by Grady Spurgeon. “His art was phenomenal,” Jack recalls. “He did oils. He did watercolors. They were so colorful, so vibrant. It was awe inspiring. It was my first museum exhibit.” When Jack was fourteen, the elderly Grady, Spurgeon invited Jack to stay with him for a couple of weeks to study under him as an apprentice. Jack was too shy and declined. He regrets that to this day.
Jack took art classes at Lake Washington High School from Mr. Greer, who was a good teacher. When he was eighteen he met Walter Graham, who was a well-known commercial artist from Wenatchee. At one time Walter Graham had owned the 4th largest commercial art studio in Chicago. “He flew his own airplane,” Jack remembers. Jack met him at the old Columbia Hotel in Wenatchee where Walter was working on a mural of wild horses galloping over a waterfall that was going to be placed in the Rocky Reach Dam. Walter took an interest in the young artist. “We went out sketching together; painting together; we ate together. We had great times together. He was a great inspiration,” Jack says.
Besides all these encouragements Jack’s “undying desire to paint” propelled him forward as an artist.
Jack started selling his paintings in the early 1960’s. He had success at both the Burien Art Festival and Bellevue Art Festival. And then a big break came. Ann’s father and mother gifted Jack and Ann with a little white house on ten acres on the south end of Camano Island. Jack could now devote himself to painting full time, while carving out a rustic life for their growing family. Over the next ten years Jack had many successes, most notably two solo shows at the prestigious Frye Art Museum in Seattle (in 1972 and 1979), and a solo show at the Franell Gallery in Tokyo, Japan (1979) where Jack sold all 32 of the watercolors he showed. This gift of a house “gave me a wonderful opportunity to paint full time,” Jack states.
Jack worked hard selling his art from 1969-1979. He displayed his paintings in a chain of Turkey House restaurants from Bellingham to Olympia. Al and Ethel O’Brien were friends and owners of the original Turkey House Restaurant in Arlington. With their business partner Jack McGovern they went on to build seven new restaurants. Jack’s watercolors graced the lobbies of each of these restaurants and he sold his paintings on a regular basis. In fact, that is where Francis Blakemore saw his work and facilitated his show at her gallery in Tokyo, Japan.
Nevertheless, it was hard to pay the bills for Jack and Ann’s growing family. So in 1979 Jack hired on at the Boeing company. “For 15 years I didn’t paint at all, or hardly at all,” Jack says. He retired from the Boeing Company in 1995. Jack’s art career was revived in 1999 when he began to participate in the Camano Island Mother’s Day Studio tour. Jack continues to paint and his artworks fill the homes of friends, patrons and collectors all over Washington State and beyond.
Recently Jack’s son Jason built a new Gallery/Studio just south of the family home called “Sunnyshore Studio”, in tribute Jack’s original art studio on Camano. Sunnyshore Studio recently celebrated Jack’s 77th birthday with an Art Retrospective and a book that tells his story, Jack Dorsey: Sketch of an Artist.
Jack met Mike Burns while they were both taking art classes at Seattle Pacific College. During those early years they were both trying to sell their paintings, and starting out at the lowest rung as artists. Jack reflects on their growing friendship over the years, “Before we were out of school we double dated. After college I would meet him at different art association meetings and we’d talk.” Mike was a highly talented artist who was making a name for himself. Unfortunately, Mike passed away in 1991 when he was only 47.
Mike’s memorial service provided a connection with another artist friend. Mike Burns had been a good friend of Tom Jones. Jack had seen Mike and Tom together at the Puget Sound Group of Painters meetings. Jack tells how it was at Mike’s memorial service that he reconnected to Tom Jones. “After Mike passed, Tom and I started corresponding. I sent him a Christmas card. He was out on the ocean at that time. Eventually we got together. Our friendship grew out of a mutual friendship with Mike.”
“As artists we look for companionship and likemindedness,” Jack says.
struggles and joys of art
Jack tells how in 1979 before he went to work for the Boeing company he told Bill Reese and Jerry Stitt, who shared a studio in Redmond, that he had hired on at the Boeing company. “I’ll never forget Bill’s words,” Jack said. “He said, ‘Too bad.’” Up to that point Jack had been getting a reputation as a good artist. Bill knew right away that it was going to be hard for Jack to continue with his art while working at Boeing.
Jack believes that the hardest thing for an artist is to be an artist and nothing else. And to make enough money to live.
When asked about what were the joys of being an artist Jack said: “The highest joy that I can possibly even begin to try to explain is the joy of having someone genuinely love your work to where they purchase it. I’m not talking about the purchase part. I’m talking about the gratification that comes from of somebody admiring your skills and talents.
Not only does their enjoyment of Jack’s art thrill his heart, as a people person Jack thrives on making friends of his collectors and patrons. When people buy your art they basically become you’re friend; you have a connection. “I’ve made so many friends through art sales, and even with people who don’t buy,” Jack points out.
“I love the magic and the mystical and elusive challenge watercolor brings. Watercolor can be handled so many ways, It can go “loosy goosy” or loose and tight, there are so many combinations,” Jack says.
For Jack, the challenge is to find the spark, the quality that sets your work of art apart from anyone else. He’s studied art and understands art subjects. Sometimes he chooses a subject based on the unique way he wants to approach it. “I pride myself in being able to say, ‘I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like this.’ A lot of art is the same old same old.’” Jack wants his art to be common to experience but uncommon to expression. For Jack finding one’s unique quality is a combination of many things: “It’s the technique. It’s the style. It’s the vantage point. It’s the perspective and so forth. It takes a lot of things to make a real fine piece of art,” he states.
For Jack a critical lesson that artists should learn is to really be themselves. They should not try to be another artist. “Yourself comes out in your innermost being,” Jack says. Jack tires of the same ole same ole; where people get a glitch. “They ride the theme to death.” Jack believes that finding your own artistic style takes hard work, a lot of hard work. It takes determination. It takes vision and purpose.
Jack knows firsthand that an artist might have to put being a full-time artist on hold so that he or she can make real money from a “real job” Art isn’t always an easy way to make a living. An artist may have to do their art as an avocation until they are able to do it as their vocation.
Camano Island’s colony of artists
When Jack moved up to Camano Island in 1969 he was one of the few artists on the island. Watercolorist Wes Broten was on the Island. Slowly a trickle of artists began to move to Camano, including prominent artists and art entrepreneurs like Karla Matzke, Jack Gunter and Jack Archibald. Jack remembers how people got confused him with Jack Gunter and Jack Archibald a lot. Jack Gunter and Karla Matzke were behind the launch of the Camano Island Studio tour in 1998 and which was instrumental in reviving Jack Dorsey’s artistic career. Now Camano is called home to a host of artists. Jack says, “yeah, we have quite a colony of artists here. I guess I’m one of the older ones.”
Jack’s legacy can be traced back to Leavenworth, the “Bavarian Village.” When Jack was a young emerging artist there were a few developers who wanted to turn Leavenworth into a Bavarian town. They invited Jack to talk art in a meeting in downtown Leavenworth before it was remodeled and they gave him a leading role as a promoter in the “Art in the Park” program. Jack is mentioned in Miracle Town, a book about the story of Leavenworth. “I was just a small player” Jack says.
Jack has been involved as a member of arts organizations in the Northwest. He was a member of the Puget Sound Group of Artists, and is life member of the Northwest Watercolor Society (NWWS) which he served as president of in 1979-80. In terms of legacy, Jack is pleased to share the story of his solo shows at the Frye Art Museum in 1972 and 1979 and his one solo show of my watercolors at the Franell Gallery in Tokyo, Japan.
But perhaps Jack’s greatest legacy is the many friendships he has made along the way in his art journey. Friends like Mike Burns and Tom Jones; the many collectors and patrons who have purchased his art and who have become his friends. For Jack the ultimate end of art may not be merely in the art itself, but in the community the art creates.
Sunnyshore Studio invites you to celebrate the art and legacy of Jack Dorsey as well as four other vintage Washington Watercolorists.
Saturday, March 10th, 17th & 24th, 10am-5pm
Reception: Saturday, March 10th, 3-5pm
2803 S.E. Camano Drive
Camano Island, WA 98082