Sunday, November 22, 2015
ArtSpace Mourns the Loss of Artist Doris Carlson
I met Doris Carlson sometime in the early two-thousands, when I joined ArtSpace Maynard. What struck me about meeting her was how kind she seemed. Somehow she managed to convey compassion, a sense of humor, patience, and understanding, all with her gentle voice. I'm sure it's something that all who knew her loved about her. On Friday, November thirteenth, at age eighty-eight, she died in hospice from complications of cancer.
There are many artists that I admire at ArtSpace, but Doris was always on a special pedestal that my mind holds for people that I want to be like when I grow up. I remember her telling me about the decision she made to, when she was in her fifties and after her kids were grown, go to art school! I hadn't even had the courage to apply to art school as a young woman! With that little story she flipped a switch in my brain.
Now, one might think that a woman who had spent most of her days as what was then referred to as a "homemaker" that decided to go to art school might stick to some conservative approach to art; maybe painting some flowers and leave it at that. This was not the case with Doris. She once gave me and my (then four-year-old) daughter a tour of her home, the art she collected, and her own art. Each piece that she showed me opened a door to new possibilities. We stood before a highly textured and gilded piece that was lovingly framed and in a hallway. "Do you know what that is?" she asked. When I said that I didn't, she smiled and declared wryly, "Cocoa Puffs cereal! I have another one upstairs that I did that is Shredded Wheat!" And we laughed.
Doris was more than just a late-blooming artist with a playful personality, she was also legally blind. Macular degeneration had begun to rob her of her sight many years ago, but let me assure you that she never let this be the defining trait that people would remember her by. It was certainly a part of the last several years of her life, but mostly only because she couldn't drive herself places. And if she saw your shadowy figure in the hall, she'd have to ask you to tell her who you were.
When I would give friends tours of the ArtSpace building, along the way we'd come to some of Doris' work—bold patterns of stripes, glazed in metallic paints, angular and bulbous intertwining abstract formations. I'd tell my touring friends that she was legally blind, and they'd invariably express their sympathy. But by my judgment, Doris didn't feel sorry for herself. She hardly complained about her struggles, even when she found out she had cancer. Mostly she'd talk about the nuisance of symptoms, as if she were holding the thing in her hand and showing it to you so you could both nod and agree about it being a real pill. That's just how she was.
As do most artists, I often have doubts about my art. But when I had chances to talk to Doris, her spirit always left me feeling grounded and secure, like nothing was really impossible and things weren't such a big deal. Her story never got old, and she often seemed surprised by how much I loved hearing it. She didn't see herself as a maverick, and I'm not sure she ever grasped how much of a heroine she was to me.
She was loved by her ArtSpace colleagues and will be missed. You can still find her work on display in the hallway outside the studio space that she shared, the studio with the purple door. I hope you'll consider coming to see it at the next ArtSpace Open House.