Spokane sculptor and aviator Dorothy Fowler, whose bronze statues and striking cathedral doors can be found near and far, died Saturday. She was 88.
Fowler, who grew up in Montana and California, took up sculpting in her 50s and created some of the best-known pieces of public art in the Inland Northwest, even as she battled years of arthritis.
Her 8-foot-tall tribute to Spokane astronaut Michael P. Anderson, killed in the 2003 explosion of the space shuttle Columbia, stands in the breezeway between the INB Performing Arts Center and Convention Center, and also outside the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
Fowler made the bronze reliefs of saints and Jesus that adorn the front doors of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes on Riverside Avenue, and she created similar works for a Christian church in Israel and for St. Ann Cathedral in Great Falls, Montana.
In the mid-1990s Fowler was commissioned to sculpt the late Princess Mother of Thailand, mother of two kings and one of the most revered women in that Southeast Asian country. It’s on permanent display in the Royal Palace compound in Bangkok.
Fowler’s style was traditional and realistic, her subjects emotional and contemplative: a mother and baby, a child with a seashell, a young woman braiding her hair.
“Dress Rehearsal,” depicting a ballet dancer tying on a slipper, is on display at the INB center. Another well-known work – a mother embracing her child, titled “The Strongest Bond” – stands outside the Ronald McDonald House in Spokane and at the McDonald’s Corp. campus in Oak Brook, Illinois.
Fowler’s life-size sculptures have been displayed in galleries around the West, with pieces selling for tens of thousands of dollars. She once said her favorite work was “Heather’s Gift,” a statue of a young violinist in bare feet and a flowing dress, her eyes closed as she plays her instrument. The model for the piece was being treated for cancer and later died.
“Because she didn’t even start sculpting until she was 55, that has been a tremendous inspiration to many, many middle-aged women that reach that point in their life where all of a sudden they have time to do something they always wanted to do,” said her daughter, Deborah Huestis, of Great Falls, Montana.
Fowler was born April 10, 1926, in Butte, Montana. She spent several years in an orphanage there before moving to California, where she graduated from Pacific Grove High School in 1944. She attended art classes at San Jose State College, but not in sculpture.
She and her first husband, William Thompson, moved to Spokane in 1949 and started a family. Fowler worked as a medical secretary at Sacred Heart Medical Center and a homemaker. She spent time on craft projects with her son and two daughters and turned fabric into everything from handmade clothes, upholstery and window coverings, to a trimmed-out interior for her son’s 1953 Ford.
In 1979 she took a pottery class at the YWCA but quickly found her real talent was in sculpting. At age 55 she exhibited her first sculpture at an art show at Spokane Falls Community College. Later she trained in places like the Scottsdale Art School and the Loveland (Colo.) Academy of Art, studying with some of the finest sculptors in the world.
She married Jack Fowler, a dentist, in 1966, blending a family of six children. The pair piloted antique airplanes that he restored and are credited with helping establish the Schweitzer Mountain Resort ski area.
They flew to Mexico and Guatemala to do missionary dental work and even flew to the Bering Sea. Dorothy Fowler was an officer of “The 99s,” the International Women’s Pilots Organization started by Amelia Earhart.
She had 12 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. In a 1995 interview Fowler said, “I want to set an example for my children and grandchildren, that when you’re older, life can still be meaningful and special if you’re willing to work for it.”
A memorial service will be held Monday at 1:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Spokane.
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