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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Pat Dolan: Giving Voice to the Voiceless

Apr 29, 2020 06:57PM ● By Teressa J. Hawkins

Stepping through the Veil by Pat Dolan

Patricia “Pat” Dolan is a mother, teacher, visual artist, published author and practicing shamanic healer in Oracle. Originally from Lake Bluff, Illinois, north of Chicago, she dabbled with art in high school but never thought it would become her life’s work. During her sophomore year at Trinity College, in Washington, D.C., she met Dr. Liliana Gramberg, her printmaking teacher and mentor. Dolan attributes being an artist and teacher to Gramberg, who had faith in her as an artist and always offered encouragement. Shortly after graduating with a degree in Art History, Dolan honed her drawing skills at the Accademia di Belle Arti, in Florence, Italy in 1970. She returned to the States and went on to receive her master’s in Visual Design from the Institute of Design in Chicago.
In the summer of 1979, a friend of Dolan’s told her about a thriving artist community in Oracle, Arizona. She soon arrived at Rancho Linda Vista to find an inspiring community, where artists were living, sharing studios and producing art shows together. Dolan was only supposed to be there for a month, but kept extending her time until finally, she decided to move to the Ranch permanently.
At the Ranch, Dolan met and began immediately collaborating artistically with Charles Littler. “We worked through the stages of our relationship using art as our medium. Together, we both started doing the kind of work that neither of us had done before,” explains Dolan. Littler was a painter and created string drawings, while Dolan’s work was in printmaking and pastels. Littler and Dolan became a powerful artistic duo, and their creative collaboration evolved into a marriage in 1982.
Through their partnership, “Ruby Lee” was born, an environmental art collaboration that they shaped together for 12 years. They created “Trail Mix”, a four-acre sculpture walk that included temporary site sculpture art installations in Rancho Linda Vista. Other projects they conceived were “Duets”, a series of pastels with geometric lines and “Pictures”, another outdoor performance piece that had a series of installations. They also each continued to do their own individual work during these years.
When Littler died suddenly in November of 1991, this ended Ruby Lee and left a hole in the hearts of many residents at the Ranch. Dolan’s grief made it difficult for her to remain on the Ranch. Six months after Littler’s death, she began leading Shanti grief groups to support people that were terminal.
Dolan was devastated, but left the Ranch with her son to begin a quest to understand grief, death and her roots. She decided to dig into her ancestral background and went to Ireland in 1994 with her son Patrick, exploring the culture and learning about Celtic Shamanism, Druids, pre-Celts, gods and goddesses. She began to reclaim what was really true to her. Dolan has studied many levels of shamanism and has worked with shamans in different countries. She studied Shamanism with Michael Horner and Sandra Eggerman. She has learned about Tibetan, Hawaiian, and more recently, Egyptian Shamanism. All shamans connect in the same place. Her artwork expresses her shamanic experiences in non-ordinary reality and demonstrates how all of us and all living beings are connected.
In 1996, Dolan and her friend Erica Swadley, from the Central Arts Collective, discussed doing a new show and came up with the idea of a show on death. “Death: A Round Trip Ticket” was a show that 30 artists participated in, making urns for ashes and shrines for a loss in their life. They invited artists and poets to do a page commemorating a loss in their lives. It included interviews with people about what it was like to be with someone they loved when they died. Dolan notes that not many really delved into death as a topic back then.
Out of that show, next came “Sweet Chariot”, a collaboration between Swadley and Dolan in which they led workshops using art projects to support people processing their grief. She plans to produce a new Sweet Chariot on YouTube—death in the aftermath of COVID-19—which will focus on interviews and stories of those who lost loved ones during this time and were not able to even be with them while they were dying.
In 2017, Dolan released Stalking the Sacred, a colorful memoir that takes the reader on a journey about what happens after death—with a little bit of humor added to it. Soon she will have readings from the book on YouTube.
Dolan has held workshops on accessing one’s spirit animal and drawing it. People can have several spirit animals and can get them in different ways. They often appear and she can sense that they are their spirit animal. “It’s like getting a new friend,” Dolan says. “These animals come to us and bring protection and guidance.” In these workshops, Dolan finds the person's key spirit animal by way of her own power animals, while on a journey to non-ordinary reality. Then, she teaches about the animal and the gifts they bring, and how to honor the animal.
Dolan is an empath and spoke about how there is a deep collective feeling of sadness due to the coronavirus. COVID-19 is changing how artists, educators and businesses are doing their work. Social distancing has halted public venue events like art shows, live music and theatre. Finding ways to engage followers online is the new norm.
Since isolating, Dolan has been working with Swadley on a daily basis through text message. “Each day, we take a piece of a poem as a prompt and both do a painting as a response, and then the other person takes their turn,” explains Dolan. It’s making her stretch her creativity to do the unusual. She says the daily paintings are “infused with what is going on”. Waves of sadness keep coming, but she works toward finding beauty each day.
As an instructor at the Drawing Studio, Dolan teaches several different classes, including: pastel and mixed media, cold wax painting, contemporary sumi painting and a mandala workshop. Currently, Dolan has two mentoring groups that she is working with on Zoom. She meets with them for four afternoons a month, individually, and as a group. Dolan primarily works with senior adults at the studio, but, alongside fellow Drawing Studio teacher Lunn Fleischman, co-founded ArtMoves for children, an outreach program for vulnerable populations that incorporates art and movement. Additionally, she does a VA outreach with Veterans at the VA home and subsidized housing for vets.
Today, Dolan still resides in Oracle, where she creates her art from her yurt studio and loves using the circular space. She has worked with pastels since 1981, but took 10 years off to do encaustics, sumi ink and cold wax. Now she creates gouache paintings, an opaque watercolor that can be painted over, making the colors more intense. She is working on a piece using an older painting that she did of Brigid, a Celtic goddess, as a prototype, and has made paintings of friends who have passed away as a form of art therapy.
She thinks about aging now, and a future project for her would be to create a community for older adults similar to how life was at the Ranch. “There are many people that are single and aging who need each other and would be healthier in a space where creativity is valued and encouraged,” Dolan says. She believes that this is a discussion that needs to be developed into a reality. Currently, the Drawing Studio is a place where many older adults do come together, explore their creativity and are nurtured, even though it is not an actual living community.
Dolan says that her job as an artist is to give a voice to the voiceless endangered animals, birds and their habitats. She is deeply concerned about what is happening to our planet and how our lifestyles are creating Global Warming. She sees her work as visual prayers, asking the viewer to see these animals and remember that once we felt a connection to all life and we lived in a way that sustained us all. If we remember these connections, we can create a future for all of us.

Connect with Pat Dolan at [email protected], or on [email protected]

Teressa J. Hawkins is a freelance writer in Tucson. She is inspired by interviewing fascinating people. Her background is in the arts, communication and education. Connect at [email protected].