I’m painting fast and furious for the Big Art Sale in August to send my daughter Jackie to college. This has me thinking about motivation. Since I was sixteen I’ve painted hundreds of watercolors and been in many art shows. What has motivated me to paint through the years? It’s not my passion and profession like it is for my brother Jed. My vocation and avocation is being a pastor. While I enjoy painting as a pastime, and encourage pastors too paint to cultivate creativity and relax that is not why I do it. Nor do I hope to go down in history as a great American watercolorist though I love the medium and esteem Winslow Homer, John Pike, and Andrew Wyeth, and of course would like to paint at their level. Maybe I paint because that’s what our family does. Sure, I enjoy carrying on the family tradition of painting in watercolor. Celebrating my dad’s career as a watercolorist and meeting vintage painters of Washington has been fun and inspiring. This may be getting closer to my true motivation. When I get at the heart of my motivation it boils down to this: people.
I paint for people.
I remember the an art show I held for my girlfriend Jenny in 1990. I was a student at Western Baptist College, now Corban University. Jenny and I had met there our freshman year. But because of tuition costs, Jenny hadn’t been able to come back for her sophomore and junior years. She attend a community college, then Chico State, near Redding, CA where she lived. But I was bound and determined that we would enjoy our senior year together. So I held an art show with, if I remember correctly, about thirty paintings. I think I sold most of them, many to professors and students. I still don’t know how the students had money to buy art, but some did. Recently a friend named Lisa who bought one of those paintings sent me a picture of it. Here it is:
We were able to raise over 2K and Jenny was able to attend Western for our senior year. That spring we got engaged.
My vision to build Sunnyshore Studio was so that each member of my family of artists would be showcased and their personal art business flourish. And beyond my hopes and dreams that has happened at our humble little studio and gallery on Camano Island.
Thinking about my motivation to paint got me thinking about my great-grandmother Fanny Y. Cory. I remember my mom, Ann Cory Dorsey, telling me stories about how Fanny painted in support of her family. I was able to twist my mom’s arm and got her to write down the story of her grandmother Fanny who painted for people too.
Fanny Y. Cory and What Motivated Her Art as seen through the eyes of her granddaughter, Ann Cory Dorsey
My grandmother, Fanny Y. Cory, was one of the early and famous women illustrators of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and she was also a nationally syndicated cartoon strip illustrator later in her life for twenty-one and thirty-one years respectively. She was very successful and made a good living by the time she was 19, but in both of these art careers she never was motivated by merely earning money. She was motivated by her love of her family and their needs.
Early in her illustrating career, she did illustrative art for her dear sister, Agnes who had contracted tuberculous caring for their mother. Agnes had been 15 and Fanny 10 when their mother died. There was no one on earth as dear to Fanny as her sister and when it became apparent that she too had TB, Fanny threw her heart and soul into doing anything she could to help her. Jack, their older brother and his wife opened their New Jersey home for Fanny, Agnes and their mutual and needy father. Jack also paid most and probably all of the bill for Fanny to go to the Metropolitan School of Art in New York where she flourished as a student artist for a time. She also became a member of the well-known “Art Students League” in New York. However, Fanny wanted to provide a home for her sister and herself and quit art school to peddle her illustrative work. By the time Fanny was nineteen she was a successful illustrator and provided a home for her sister and herself.
Remarkably her unique lively rendition of children caught the hearts of the nation and Fanny Y. Cory had her illustrations showing up inside and on the covers of national magazines and in numerous books. What mattered though to Fanny was that she was able to provide a home for her sister. Fanny was called the “Sweetheart of the Century Company” and was written up as a person of interest in the social part of the New York papers. For all this she came home directly from her work every day with no after work parties because her dear sister, Agnes, waited for her return, watching from her window and Fanny could not and would not disappoint her.
I had the privilege of knowing my grandma in her last 21 years of life. In the evenings when I occasionally stayed overnight, I would see her kiss the small oval picture Agnes before going to bed herself. Her sister had died in my grandma’s arms when Fanny was 20 and Agnes was 25 from a lung hemorrhage. “I saw the light go out of her eyes” my grandma would say.
This great sadness was extremely hard on my young grandma and changed her life forever. Eventually in a year or so she left New York and came back to the Helena, Montana area where, in earlier times, she and her “favorite” brother, Bob, had rented a house. They were poor and had real trouble paying the rent. Young Fanny drew murals on the wall hoping that kind of made up for the lack of payment.
Fanny had friends still in Helena from her earlier life there. One of them was an art teacher who had believed in Fanny’s abilities named Mary Wheeler. Although Fanny’s formal schooling never was beyond the 8th grade, she was very at home in the Helena library where she claimed to have read “every book”.
Once back in Montana Fanny joined her two brothers, Bob and Jack, who were now mining for gold – in “The Cory Brothers Mine” along Beaver Creek northeast of Helena. She became a partner in this endeavor and her job was to pay the bills with her art and their job was to mine and find gold. She had a bungalow built at Beaver Creek and furnished it with lovely, serviceable oak furniture because she was still doing illustrative work and could afford it. She had a reason again to keep at her art because her brothers needed her help and she was young, ready and able.
Fanny also renewed girlhood friendships she’d had before leaving Montana for New York. She was fond of the Helena “Cooney girls” from a large family that also boosted five brothers. One of the brothers, named Fred Cooney, ended up being a rancher of 1,800 acres. In the end, he won Fanny’s heart and they married and lived on that wonderful, isolated ranch raising their family there until it was flooded by the backwater of another Missouri River dam. By then Fred had passed away and Fanny was alone as a widow.
After Fanny’s marriage she had even more reason to do her art and actually had her own separate studio for that purpose – a short walk from their ranch home. Even after her marriage she illustrated to pay off the debt of her brother’s gold mining business. After their three children were born, Fanny did a lot of her illustrations on a board in the kitchen. Her illustrations helped provide for needs at the ranch now, but unfortunately there were not as many calls for her work as before. The golden age of illustration was coming to an end. However, there was plenty of other things for Fanny to do as a mother and rancher’s wife and her life was very full. Always there was the work: water to bring in from the well, water to be heated for dishes laundry, baths and cleaning. Meals needed to be cooked for her family and friends who, if and when they came, usually stayed a week or two. Then too, there were fun things like the picnics that family and friends would go on up the avalanches and gulches near their ranch.
She was a mother who loved her children, Ted, Sayre and Bob, extravagantly. Some of the ways she did this was by telling them bedtime stories of pretend adventures with three children who were of similar ages and the “little green men”. She also read to them by kerosene lamp light all the stories of Charles Dickens and the whole series of “Waverley Novels” by Sir Walter Scott – over again and again until the characters were like close friends.
Fanny was very ambitious for her children and wanted them to have good educations. That meant many things. Occasionally in the early years, the teacher was boarded at their home. Once Fred helped build a small school house on a shared property line. For several years Fanny stayed with their children at Canyon Ferry where there was a school they could attend. It was near enough to come home on weekends and vacations. Later Fred and Fanny rented a home across the street from Fred’s mother in Helena where Fanny stayed with the now older children to begin with, but later went back to the ranch leaving them to attend high school and fend for themselves under the watchful and loving eye of their Grandma Cooney and several spinster aunties. All three of the kids did well and my mom ended up being valedictorian of her high school class.
But now Fanny faced a new dilemma. How would her three children, their three children, be able to go to schooling beyond high school? The ranch got them by for normal expenses, but for art school, for nurses training, for college, for medical school? By now there were other women and men illustrators and less and less illustration work.
Fanny’s brother, Jack, was a well-known New York political cartoonist (who signed his work “J. Campbell Cory”). He encouraged her to try her hand at cartooning. She did. One of her efforts was a family filled with lively children who thought of all kinds of entertaining and mischievous things to do. It caught the eye of King Features Syndicate who said that if she isolated one of the children, writing sayings that went with the child and his much smaller family, they would syndicate it across America and into other countries as well. Fanny turned one of the little boys into “Sonny” and started the daily feature, “Sonny Sayings”. (It is comparable to today’s “Family Circus”). This idea was very successful and delighted Americans daily for 31 years.
Later Fanny added a daily cartoon strip to her work called “Little Miss Muffet”. Unlike “Sonnysayings”, this one was written by another lady who often was late in getting the script to Fanny so she could be illustrated it. After many years of this frustration, Fanny was finally allowed to not only illustrate this daily strip but also to write the adventures that went with it. This was King Feature’s answer to the wildly popular “Little Orphan Annie”. Little Miss Muffet ran in papers across America for twenty one years.
Her comic strips had indeed been the main factor in putting her three children through further education. My mom went to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for a year or more then changed her goals and graduated from St. Patrick’s School of Nursing in Missoula, Montana, my Uncle Bob graduated from college in forestry and spent his career in that field, working almost entirely for the State of Montana, my Uncle Ted became a medical doctor and among other things earned a Bronze Star in WWII. Uncle Bob said once, “’Sonny’ put me through college”. Using her gift of art, my grandmother had the joy of seeing all her children fulfill their dreams and that is what mattered to her most of all.
I was able to personally see my grandmother doing her comic strips for several years before her retirement. As a young girl, she lived in a cottage down the road and within easy walking distance from our Camano Island, Washington farm. I will never know how she made the characters live using only pencil, pen and India Ink and her lively imagination. She never made mistakes or surely none that anyone ever saw. There was no “white out” in those days and surely no photoshopping!
Now the years have been many since I was a girl – since I was a young woman. Years have gone by since she was alive. However, she lives always and forever in my heart. I remember her for so many things, her enduring love of family; her strong, loyal love for my mom; her art; her story telling talents; her sense of humor; her homemade bread, snickerdoodle and coconut macaroon cookies, the lemon drops and horehound candy; the books she read out loud to us, exciting chapter after chapter; her happiness at seeing me; the times of visiting together around her oak round table from Beaver Creek and the Montana ranch when afternoon turned into twilight and we saw the lights across the Sound on Whidbey Island come on in home after home and then begrudgingly turning on the lights in her home, breaking the magic spell.
As far as this famous lady’s art goes, I am touched by what consistently motivated her to do her art. It was ever and always to help others, her close loved ones: her sister, her brothers, her children – and as she worked her unique art talent, she blessed not only them, but really brought joy to a whole nation.