By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Years ago when she was a little girl, Dart M. Cox wrote to a distant relative who used to do cover paintings for “The Saturday Evening Post” and told him she wanted to be an artist. Harry Grant Dart kindly wrote back and advised her never to copy, but to draw from real life even if all she had was a chicken coop.
She took his advice, and today many examples of her work hang in her home. Now 90-years-old, Cox pointed out a prize-winning painting hanging in her kitchen. Titled “Maine Treasure,” it shows a bright red lobster spread out on a small crate. She kept it in a refrigerator for three days, taking it out for short periods to paint its picture.
“Then I ate it,” she recalled with a smile. Her husband was not so adventurous. “Tom wouldn’t touch it.”
“Maine Treasure” went on to win a prize, and it was not the last one to earn recognition. One of Cox’s paintings, “Monastery Garden” was chosen over 44 other entries recently at a juried show in the Bluefield Area Arts Center’s Payne Gallery.
Originally from Kittanning, Penn., Cox started drawing when she was a child. After writing her distant relative, she drew more pictures. She did not take any art classes, but she kept practicing.
“That’s how I got started,” she recalled. “I started out doing faces as a child. I loved to draw faces.”
Cox and her sister, Nancy put art to work by putting out their own little publication.
“My sister and I got out a little newspaper and I did all the drawings in it. We printed it out by hand over and over and sold it to the neighbors for five cents. We called it the “Daily Dope,” Cox said. Her sister also painted, too.
Most of Cox’s works are in oil paints, but she started out using charcoal to do portraits.
“I sketched faces at a church fair for $3,” she said with a smile. “It was all for the church.”
Cox attended Barnard College in Pennsylvania and Columbia Undergraduate, but then World War II came and Columbia was taken over for Navy midshipmen. Students took summer jobs for the war effort. A friend told Cox she needed “a commodity she could sell,” so she took a six-week course in shorthand.
As the war progressed, Cox lived in Washington, D.C., and became a secretary to a dean at a seminary; he operated an organization called International Christian Leadership. She later had to address her need for transportation. Cox’s mother gave her $500, and she used the money to purchase a Chevrolet Coupe.
“And I took a week’s driving lessons in New York,” she recalled.
Cox later married a physicist, J. Thomas Cox, had four children, and served as an executive secretary and a real estate agent. She found time in 1989 to seriously start studying art. She thanked her late husband for putting up “with painting all over the house,” and framing all her pictures.
When Cox was asked to recall how many paintings she has created, she had to think for a moment.
“I’ve never counted them, but quite a lot,” she replied.
“I’d say more than 100, wouldn’t you say,” her daughter, Nancy Faris said.
For Cox, painting is more interesting than many other activities a person can do.
“You can get totally lost in it for one thing. It makes me very happy to crank something out like that,” she said. “It’s certainly more interesting than most ordinary things in people’s lives.”
Cox and her daughter walked through the house and pointed out a variety of paintings. One painting is of a cat studying its reflection in a mirror: She noticed the scene one day and snapped a photograph. Some paintings featuring buildings and landscapes were inspired by trips to Europe. Others were portraits of her husband and local people. Cox pointed out a painting based on a photograph she shot of the Parthenon in Greece during the mid-1990s.
“I’ve had several wonderful group travel experiences. When Tom and I got married, our wedding trip was to rent a car and drive around Europe. It was wonderful,” she said.
Creativity runs through Cox’s family. One distant relative, George Catlin, was an artist who recorded life among the Native Americans. She has a portfolio of Catlin’s work. Her father, Dwight C. Morgan Jr., a mechanical engineer, invented a gold mining machine.
Cox had 10 years away from painting while she cared for her family, but she has taken up the art again. She is currently working on the portrait of a granddaughter.
“I’m trying to start to get back into it. My life is quite wrapped around my children. Then we made this great move down here. It’s wonderful,” she said.
Cox and her daughter, who works with pastels and colored pencils, visited Gary Bowling’s House of Art at East River Arts in 2010 and joined an artist group. The group currently meets at the public library in Bluefield, Va.
Painting is a hobby worth taking up, the veteran artist stated.
“I think it’s one of the most satisfying things you can do,” Cox said in her living room, her work on almost all the walls. “It gets you out of yourself.”
— Contact Greg Jordan at email@example.com