Life of Robert Doares celebrated in exhibit

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 2, 2011

By Sarah Hall
he Salisbury community is celebrating the life and work of artist Robert Doares during his 100th year. Those who knew him during the time he lived in Salisbury, from retirement in 1973 until his death in 2005, remember his profound faith, and his deep love and devotion for his wife, Kay, and these feelings will be evident Sept. 9-11 as Center for Faith & the Arts hosts an exhibit of the artist’s works. Also on display are works by Kay, some which the couple completed together, signed with their names surrounded by a heart.
The upcoming exhibit is a true community group effort being mounted jointly by Rowan Helping Ministries, the Good Shepherd Clinic, Historic Salisbury Foundation and the Maxton Historical Society. These organizations were particularly dear to Doares’ heart, and he bequeathed joint ownership of much of the art in this show to these four groups. Maxton, NC, is Doares’ birthplace, and the museum there has added a wing where the art will rest following the Salisbury showing.
On loan for this exhibit are Doares’ paintings that usually hang in Salisbury’s First Baptist Church where he and his wife were very active for many years. Doares even illustrated sermons for the bulletin, and created a commemorative painting for the church’s 150th anniversary,
The exhibit also includes Doares works that belong to individuals, including Dale and Doris Steele. When Dr. Steele was interim pastor for First Baptist, he forged a strong friendship with the Doareses. He will be on hand at the exhibit’s opening, 5-8 p.m. Sept. 9, and he will speak about the artist in a talk beginning around 6 p.m. The Steeles currently represent LightShine Ministries, which offers prints of some of Doares’ art and bookmarks.
It was attorney Glenn Hayes, a longtime friend of the couple and executor of their estate, who initiated the plans to honor Robert Doare’s 100th birthday with an exhibit, and who brought together all of the people involved in helping to make the September exhibit happen. And another close friend, Bruce Wilson from Fine Frame Gallery, has been overseeing the hanging of the art. Each piece he hangs brings back his fond memories of the couple and his great admiration for Bob Doares’ talent.
Doares’ art is renowned for its realism and attention to detail. He honed his skills as an illustrator while working in New York for Harper’s and Doubleday publishing houses and for major magazines such as “Redbook” and “Outdoor Life.” He illustrated “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by Phillip Keller and “The Prodigal’s Sister” by John Piper. Both books are still in print.
One of the galleries for the September show is filled with Doares’ “Millennial Mood” series of landscapes, completed in the late 1990s. He drew material for these paintings from a huge collection of photographs he took of scenery in the 1970s when he and Kay traveled across the state of North Carolina. He turned these images into a remarkable series of paintings, each with both a place title and a subtitle naming a hymn. Some examples are “Sunrise — ‘When Morning Gilds the Skies’” and “Beach Scene, Surf Fishing — ‘There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy’” and “Hatteras — ‘Now the Day is Over.’” Doares’ intention with this series was to depict the world of tranquility, the millennium kingdom, he believed would be established upon Christ’s return.
In 2002, Doares discussed his art and faith with Salisbury Post Lifestyle Editor Katie Scarvey when she interviewed him for a profile article. He told her his life changed in 1953 when he made a complete commitment to Christ.
“I didn’t hear any voices or see visions but something in my mind took over,” he said. “I began to realize that I owed so much to God that I wanted to spend my life serving him. It just began to grow in my mind that God is awesome in a way that delighted me, not in a way that I was scared to death. And it just kept growing. I didn’t ask for it, and when it happened I felt like I was very privileged. It was almost like a revelation.”
Doares said that from that time on he began to read Bible passages with a greater understanding, that there was a light shining on the verses that lit up his mind. During the interview he expressed great contentment and peace:
“I don’t ask God for anything anymore. I figure if he doesn’t know what I need, who does? So far it’s worked beautifully. I just thank God for being there all the time. Every time something occurs, I talk to God about it during the day, and I think that’s what he wants me to do. He’s filled my life with himself.”
Bruce Wilson says, “Bob considered his artistic ability a gift from God, and he wanted to pay God back.”
And this he did by creating an immense body of inspired and inspirational work.
In November, celebration of the Doares centennial continues when Waterworks Visual Arts Center will display his series of 54 works depicting the life of Christ, which were a 30-year labor of love for the artist to create.
He began this project in the 1960s, but since he was still working as a full-time commercial artist he had little time to create the works in the painstaking detail he felt each piece deserved. After retiring to Salisbury, he returned to the project in earnest.
Of the 54 pieces, four are in oil, and the remaining 50 in graphite pencil on masonite panel. Doares had originally intended to paint the entire series, but he was afraid he would not live long enough to complete all the works. He estimated that he put about 400 hours of work into each drawing. Doares made several trips to the Holy Land and did an incredible amount of research and study of Middle Eastern history and archeology in order to get his details as accurate as possible.
Doares had not planned to display or sell the series. He was doing it as a personal expression of faith. But when the series was exhibited at the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Ill., it was seen by the president of Crossway Books who convinced Doares to allow the series to be made into a book, “Immanuel, God With Us: The Life of Christ in Art.”
In his acknowledgements for the book, Doares wrote, “My precious and beloved Kay, who preferred that I devote my time to honor our Lord with my talent rather than to seek worldly success in fine art.”
That love story will continue as long as people admire Doares’ works and remember the couple who were seen regularly walking arm and arm through the streets of Salisbury.
“The Centennial Exhibit: Works of Robert and Kay Doares” will be presented at Center for Faith & the Arts, 207 W. Harrison St. (in the lower level of Haven Lutheran Church.) An opening reception will be held 5-8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 9. The gallery will also be open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10 and 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11. Admission is free. For information call 704-647-0999.