The breathtaking Manhattan skyline view at her front door didn’t take her breath away. The woodland sanctuary just outside her backdoor tasted like home. Dorothy Fagan painted her heart out to return.
Growing up in Boonton, NJ, Dorothy attended Our Lady of Mt Carmel, where the nuns engaged her in copying a painting of the Virgin Mary onto the board with colored chalk. On the back porch table of their little house on Essex Avenue, she watched her parents design plans for their new modern dream house.
The eldest daughter of a World War II vet, who graduated from Newark College of Engineering and a homemaker who loved sewing, music and gardening, Dorothy remembers Pauline Alence and Jack Fagan with love. Moving to Mountain Lakes, NJ in 1964 she witnessed their dream come to life. She learned to design by watching her mother design draperies, upholstery, and gardens. She attended classes with her mother in painting, sculpture, and music.
“Mom and Dad made me believe I could create my dreams too.”
Encouraging her to attend a university, rather than a city art school, they said she would study many different subjects like science. She married a physicist, Robert Kee, who taught her how to talk art to a scientist. And when she graduated with a B.F.A. in Printmaking in 1974, the couple settled in Frankin, Virginia where he taught physics and math, and she taught painting at P. D. Camp Community College and W. C. Rawls Museum.
The year after their twins were born, one of Dorothy’s pastels was selected for The Pastel Society of America exhibition in New York City, where it was purchased by the City University of NY. She was honored as the first Virginian elected to P.S.A. membership. Soon afterward, at the Virginia Beach Arts Center Members’ Exhibition, judge Robert B. Mayo invited her to his gallery in Richmond, VA, where he mentored Dorothy in developing the artist he saw in her with his historical vision of American artists.
As her third son was born, Dorothy continued painting plein air throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, sending her art to national exhibitions, American Artists’ Professional League, the Copley Society, and the Pastel Society of Canada. She opened Fagan Studios art gallery and framing where she published the Historic Franklin Print Series, and Fagan Design Concepts, Inc where she did commercial art, public relations, and marketing for Union Camp, real estate companies, and peanut processors.
When her mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1985, Dorothy took time to help care, and to look for sanctuary painting plein air in the gardens of friends. After her mother’s passing, Dorothy and her husband divorced. She moved her art business to Norfolk, Virginia where she helped clients including Virginia Natural Gas, the Red Cross, Children’s Hospital, and Old Dominion University navigate quickly expanding publishing and computer technologies with websites and print media publishing.
In 1994 she married James Waggener, a silversmith with a passion for computers. He fed Dorothy new cutting-edge internet access and encouraged her to create a website for her art. She experimented with giclee printing and created her Visions of Peace Collection,
hand-colored limited editions with the healing art she painted while her mother was ill. With the help of art consultants Joan Smalley and Lynn Freil, the collection was sold in galleries on the East Coast.
An invitation to paint in rural Mathews County, Virginia, delivered Dorothy to the woodland cottage by the pond where they would design and build her dream house and studio. Expanding the house with a 30’ sunroom and 40’ deck and gazebo, Dorothy’s new studio now overlooked her blossoming garden, pond, and woodland sanctuary.
Energized, Dorothy and Jim traveled to Michigan, New England, and Florida, sharing her art with collectors and galleries. Travelling to France for an artist residency at Musee de La Grande Vigne in 2013, Dorothy discovered new inspiration in the way ancient European architecture grows from bedrock beneath the landscape, painting over 60 works from her travels in Brittany, Provence, and Paris.
Returning from France, she began writing about her creative process, sharing the way she’d learned to juxtapose dreams and visions with reality in her first book, Embrace the Mountain. Letting readers look over her shoulder as she paints plein air in France, journals dreams, and interprets the world around her, spelling out her healing heart process so anyone (engineer, scientist, or artist) can understand.
When her father passed away the same year, she met his spirit while painting plein air in the garden of friends. As he crossed the river, he took her for one last walk in the woodlands. Sending messages through her paintings and dreams, he reassured her of his love and well-being on the other side. She published his inspirational story with her paintings in her book, High on a Hill with a Cloud and a Prayer.
Travelling to Italy, Dorothy and Jim took up residency in the hilltop village of Poggio Alla Croce for two months in 2015 and 2017. The following year, Dorothy returned alone to visit her friend in Sorrento. Then in 2020, Dorothy’s paintings travelled without her to the Milan Fashion Week exhibition DRESSME 2020 at MADS Gallery in Milan, Italy during the pandemic. There, large-scale digital projections mesmerized audiences with high tech interactive graphic interpretations of Dorothy’s paintings.
On lockdown in her woodland garden sanctuary, Dorothy met via zoom with collectors and art consultants in France, Sweden, the U.K., and the U.S, licensing her art to a worldwide audience. Post-pandemic, Dorothy fuses her passion for her woodland garden sanctuary into oil paintings, painted textiles for home décor and coffee table ottomans that fulfill her dream house with one-of-a-kind furnishings and art.
Dorothy in her studio by the pond