By Janet Taber
Reprinted with permission of the Ozark County Times
Because of limited space constraints, the Ozark County Historium in Gainesville does not ordinarily accept gifts of items from donors. However, last fall an exception was made when the family of the late Jack Johnson, who lived for many years in Des Moines, Iowa, offered a large oil painting depicting the Ozark County village of Hammond as it looked in the early 1900s. One look at the painting, with its beautiful colors and artfully rendered scene, convinced board members that this piece belonged in the Historium.
“Jack’s family loved the painting and hoped to keep it after he passed away, but it was just too large for them to display,” explained his cousin, Rex Johnson. “They knew that folks here at home would appreciate this special piece of art.”
The large painting, created in 1996 by artist Dorothy Dent, was based on old photographs of the area. Dent, who was married to the late Joe Billingsly of Ozark County for 19 years before his death, had visited Hammond briefly but not before important elements, such as the swinging bridge, had deteriorated. Still, those familiar with the place and era say she beautifully captured Hammond in its heyday.
“It looked just like that when I was a child,” remembered Phyllis Gaulding Turner, who grew up nearby at Thornfield. “I love this picture because it brings back such good memories!”
An unexpected career
A few weeks ago, Dorothy Dent Garner (who uses the name Dorothy Dent professionally) was visiting relatives in Ozark County and stopped by the Historium to view her painting in its new home. She spent some time chatting with volunteers and shared the story of how her unexpected career evolved into one that has taken her around the world.
“I grew up just south of Springfield, on a farm,” Dent explained. “My education began in the one-room school called Crenshaw that stood where the big Walmart Supercenter is now located on South Campbell. There are still some big oak trees growing near that store that we used to play under. I was about 15 years old before I did my first painting. I remember sitting out in our yard and painting a picture of our big old farmhouse on a piece of Masonite siding. I still have that painting!”
Dorothy went to Parkview High School in Springfield, where she took art classes, but she never thought of choosing a career based on art. After high school came marriage to Charles Dent and a move to California, where her husband served with the Marines. She remembers doing a couple of paintings there using a box of brushes and oil paints Charles bought her in a second-hand store.
After moving back to Springfield when Dent’s service was completed, Dorothy was busy with two small children but began to find time to paint, especially in the winter months. Her moment of inspiration came in 1972 when she attended a tole-painting class; suddenly she realized there was a method to painting that made it much easier, a step-by-step process that anyone could follow.
Painting and publishing
It wasn’t long before Dorothy began teaching her own classes in her home around the family’s dining room table. In 1956, when the classes outgrew her dining room, Dorothy and her husband purchased a corner in Republic upon which stood an old gas station building and some cabins. She soon was giving her classes there. Over the years, the original buildings were torn down and new ones replaced them, completing what is known today as Painter’s Corner, Inc.
Dorothy’s first marriage ended, and after she married Joe Billingsly, she eventually became acquainted with Jack Johnson, who commissioned the painting of Hammond that now graces the Ozark County Historium.
The publication of Dorothy’s first instructional book on painting, Sawscapes and More, which she self-published in 1980, gave her career a huge boost. More books followed, and today she is working on her fortieth instructional book. In addition, Dorothy has had two PBS painting shows underwritten by Bob Ross Inc. and the Martin F. Weber art supply company.
Because of the widespread sale of her books, Dorothy has been invited to teach classes in many locations in the United States and Canada, and has traveled to Japan, Argentina and Australia, as well, for seminars and workshops. She feels that her success in teaching is due to her laid-back style, which makes it easy for anyone who has any desire to paint to take a class and go home with a painting of which they can be proud.
The artist is quick to credit her loyal staff at Painter’s Corner for helping her manage such a full schedule of activities. Celia Gable, Pam Brixey and Marcia Julian take care of the studio so that she can travel when needed. And her husband, D.A. Garner, is her faithful companion, traveling with her across the country to shows and classes throughout the year.
Dorothy Dent is still surprised and grateful for her success.
“When I started painting, I had no idea it would take me this far, but it’s been great and a lot of fun,” she smiles. “I’ve met a lot of really nice people and have friends all over the country.”
As a result of her visit to the Historium in Gainesville, Dorothy has agreed to make some time in her busy travel schedule to come back to Ozark County on March 9, to teach a one-day workshop. Attendees will spend about seven hours learning Dorothy’s easy-to-follow, step-by-step techniques, and at the end of the day they will take home a completed landscape painting.
The fee for the workshop is $90, which covers the cost of oil paints and a 16 x 20-inch canvas and instruction. Brushes will also be available for purchase if needed, and lunch will be furnished.
Space is limited to 12 participants, so call Susan Ault at 417-679-4253 or Janet Taber at 417-265-3372 now to register for this one-time exclusive event.
To view examples of Dorothy Dent’s artwork, visit her website at http://dorothydent.com/. She also invites anyone interested to stop by the studio in Republic at 108 W. Highway 174; the phone there is 417-732-2076.
By Janet Taber