Wesley Des Moines resident Dotty Cooper has looked to art for solace since she was a child. A self-described “non-girly girl” when young, she changed schools so often that she found it difficult to establish lasting friendships. Never one to sit still or take a self-pitying approach to life, she filled her hours by “making stuff,” crafting before crafting was a thing. By the early 1970s, her interest in artistic expression had evolved into a passion for painting.
“I worked in oils,” Dotty said. “Abstract painting didn’t make sense to me, though I did like painting flowers more loosely without detailing every petal. But I was best at portraits. I especially liked working with children. We would go outside where I would take pictures of them in a natural setting. I would then work from those photos.”
Dotty hardly limited herself to visual arts. When she lived in the Tri-Cities, she took a position to support herself as a dance instructor in an Arthur Murray Dance Center. Of course, she continued to paint, developing a new interest in still life.
“Naturally, I began by painting a vase of flowers,” she said. “But then I added eyeglasses, martini glasses and other common objects that suggested relaxation, the comfort of doing nothing.”
Not that doing nothing fits with her schedule. Dotty recently attended an exhibit held by another resident featuring “diamond art,” mixed-media that requires applying small beads to a canvas. She says she liked both the concentration required to “bead by numbers” and that she didn’t have to think about what to draw or what paint to use.
“It took me about 150 hours over the course of a month to complete,” she says. “I now have a beautiful image of London that inspires me to plan a return trip to England soon. I’ve purchased two more kits to complete in the coming months.”
Dotty first looked to art as a young girl to engage in something beautiful when there were few other requirements of her time. She credits her aesthetic interests with helping her through several difficult periods in her life, confirming her philosophy that intentional activity is a key to wellbeing at any age.
“I think you need to get up every day and do something, whether working in a garden, starting or continuing a hobby, going for a walk or whatever else interests you. It’s important to get away from the computer and TV, to accomplish something that makes you happy,” she said.
Like many residents, Dotty was tasked with downsizing significantly when she moved from her Bellevue home to Wesley Des Moines. Though she says her two rooms are “choc-a-block full of everything, I have loved every minute of living here. I can sit looking out at the trees and pretend I am anywhere in the world.”
Each morning after feeding her cat Sadie, a feral rescue that had a litter of kittens under Dotty’s porch when she lived in Bellevue, she settles in with whatever book she is reading before heading to breakfast. She then moves on to a project, currently her “bead thing” as she puts it, has lunch and returns to her artistic endeavors until dinner.
Though short on close relationships during her itinerant grade and high school years, it was her bond with friend and fellow resident Nancy Bogni that brought her to Wesley. Living at Wesley allows her to maintain her “no complaints” life ethos, to “feel blessed to discover interesting things, to enjoy and explore the world,” said Dotty.
Whether she is painting or precisely placing a bead upon the canvas, it’s vibrantly clear Dotty has crafted a portrait of a life well-lived.