Dorothy Shelby is a "primitive folk art" artist who started painting at the age of 64. She paints her memories of growing up in Industry, Texas, the town depicted in the painting above. Church picnics, baptisms, and weddings are just a few of the depictions of her memories in her work. She paints on anything she can get her hands on: glass, paper, canvas, and her favorite, wood. Her work is found in collections all over the US and as far away as London.
I sat down with Dorothy and her daughter one afternoon to talk about her life and its influences on her art. Her grandfather was born in slavery in 1860. After he was grown, he bought a farm in Shelby and settled there. Her family was a farming family although her parents owned a dry cleaning business in Industry when she was growing up. Her mom, in particular, was a strong influence in her life with her prayers filling their lives all the time.
Dorothy always drew. As a little girl she entered a contest in the magazine "Draw Me" and won first place in sketching. In 2008, she decided that she was an artist, went to Hobby Lobby, bought supplies, and started painting like she'd always done it.
The painting above is a representation of a very typical baptism in rural Texas. Dorothy herself was baptized in a tank at the age of 12. The people standing at the top left are her grandparents, painted from an old photograph. The sepia tones are reminiscent of old sepia photographs.
Left image: Dorothy frequently includes herself and her best friend Carolyn in her paintings. Dorothy is the one with plaits facing us. Her mom is the one singing while the girls play ring around a rosie.
Middle image: Weddings were a big celebration and a favorite subject.
Rigth image: Cotton was the major crop in both Shelby and Industry. Dorothy has painted her three brothers in the cotton field.
Dorothy will be be the featured artist at Art Connections Gallery for Second Saturday Soiree on Saturday, May 11, 4-7pm.