By Sarah Hall
For two days, Robert and Katherine Doares are together again, in spirit, their works displayed side by side in an exhibit at Center for Faith and the Arts.
This special exhibit of the couple's artwork may be viewed 6-8 p.m. Friday and 9-11:30 a.m. Saturday, with a reception during the Friday night showing. The show contains about 50 works by Robert Doares, and 10 by his wife, Katherine.
Many of the Doares' friends and admirers are expected to be on hand for what may be the last chance to view some of the art. Six of the pieces were bequeathed to fortunate individuals, who will take possession of the works following this show.
According to attorney Glenn Hayes, longtime friend of the couple and executor of their estate, four organizations were given shared ownership of the the remaining artwork: Rowan Helping Ministries, the Good Shepherd Clinic of First Baptist Church, the Historic Salisbury Foundation and the Maxton Historical Society (Maxton is the birthplace of Robert Doares). There are no immediate plans to sell the works, and the decision about where the art will be housed is pending.
Also this weekend, an auction of personal items from the Doares' estate will take place 12:30 p.m. Saturday, at Rowan Auction and Realty Company, 2613 Old Union Church Road.
Hayes says this auction contains no art or items pertaining to the couple's artistic life, but consists of household items. Hayes purposely timed the exhibit to coincide with the auction, to accommodate the couple's friends from out of town who may want to travel to Salisbury to bid on items.
The Doares touched the lives of many, and the auction gives those in this sphere of influence, inspiration and friendship a chance to take home a little piece of the Doares household as a reminder of the special couple. And it seemed only fitting that friends be afforded an opportunity to view the Doares' art, the center of their lives, on this same trip to Rowan County.
"Bob literally painted up to the day he died," Hayes notes. The fine details of his works continued to astound people until a massive stroke took his life at age 94 in March 2005. His beloved Kay followed a year and a half later, dying peacefully in the home they had shared during most of their 33-year marriage.
The couple found each other relatively late in life. Katherine had been a kindergarten teacher for more than 30 years when she enrolled in an art class Robert taught in New Jersey. On their first date, she was 52 and he was 59. They married, and soon after Robert made the decision to give up his career as a successful illustrator, having worked for large publishing houses like Doubleday and Harper's and for magazines such as "Outdoor Life" and "Redbook." He was ready to dedicate himself to studio art, and he wanted to return to the South with his bride.
They moved to Salisbury in 1973. Locally, the Doares are remembered as much for their devotion to each other as for their art.
Before meeting the Doares, Fine Frame Gallery owner Bruce Wilson had noticed the couple frequently walking arm in arm from their North Fulton Street apartment to their Council Street studio. After making their acquaintance, he became one of their best friends and supporters, setting up exhibits of Robert's works in his shop and handling sales of some of the remarkable art Doares continued to humbly and steadily produce. Wilson remembers his friend not only for his outstanding talent, but also for his profound faith.
"Bob considered his artistic ability a gift from God," Wilson says, "and he wanted to pay God back."
One way he did this was with his well-known series of 54 works -- four oil paintings and 50 graphite pencil drawings on panels -- depicting the life of Christ. This magnum opus took Doares more than 30 years to complete. The series was made into a book by Crossway in 1994- "Immanuel, God With Us: The Life of Christ in Art."
Robert had marvelled at how his wife had not complained when he quit his steady work in order to dedicate himself primarily to completing his divinely-inspired series. She was always supportive of his efforts and shared his deep faith.
The book's dedication reads "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."
Kay was an artist also, not working in the shadow of her husband, but in his shade, happy and content. A painting she did of a magnolia branch graced the cover of the Rowan County phone book at one time.
She has only one painting hanging in this weekend's exhibit. The other nine of her works that will be on hand are unframed.
One of the first paintings visitors will see is of a young, smiling Kay, wearing a scarf and holding a handful of berries. Those who used to call on the couple in their apartment will remember when this portrait hung in the couple's dining room.
Next to the painting is the photo Robert used as a reference, taken of his wife years before he met her. He typically painted from photographs rather than live scenes and models. This allowed him to study and capture minute details. One of the delights of the upcoming exhibit at Center for Faith and the Arts is that viewers can get up close and study each tiny part, not kept several feet away by velvet rope.
Included are two works particularly noted for their meticulous realism -- "Art in the Park in Blowing Rock," and "Sunday Afternoon at Bessie Julian's House." At first glance, one would assume these incredibly realistic works must be giant panoramic photographs.
This exhibit does not include works from the "Immanuel" series, but does offer another, later series called "Millennial Mood."
When the couple first returned to North Carolina, they travelled "from Murphy to Manteo" taking photographs. Robert turned these images into paintings depicting the tranquil world he believed would be established upon Christ's return. Each scene has a title and subtitle, the subtitle being the name of a hymn. Some examples are "Sunrise -- When Morning Guilds the Skies;" "Beach Scene, Surf Fishing -- There is a Wideness in God's Mercy;" "Hatteras -- Now the Day is Over."
These works, and others of Doares' post illustrative career form the remarkable retrospective available this weekend and provide a priceless opportunity to gather, to remember, and honor the special couple once more.
"I like to think they are still walking, arm and arm, along the streets of heaven," Wilson says.
Center for Faith and the Arts is located at 207 W. Harrison St., on the lower floor of Haven Lutheran Church's education building. Those attending the exhibit are asked to enter by the rear door, off the parking lot.
Contact Sarah Hall at 704-797-4271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.