125 @ KCAI

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Memories from Dorris (Dollen) Lewis-Burgess (’49 illustration)

125 @ October 14, 2010

The Kansas City Art Institute has been a thread that has run through my entire life. I knew from the day I started country school and discovered the white pages of art material in the fly pages of the library books that I wanted to draw. The family moved to Omaha in 1940, which seemed like Utopia after the drought years on the farm, and I won a small scholarship to KCAI in the spring of 1945.

In September of 1945, the school registrar said I was to leave the dormitory at 4410 Warwick Blvd. and stay with Maude Mitchell, a long time supporter of KCAI and a sister of J.C. Nichols, who had just lost her mother. Mrs. Mitchell had not driven her stick shift car for some years, but out of the garage it came and we went chugging along attending some flower shows and church events. On some Sundays J.C. Nichols and the chauffeur would bring the limousine and I would be included on a family visit to the warehouse where the treasures of European estates were stored. The Plaza was still being enlarged and new statuary was needed. My stay with Mrs. Mitchell was an education in the generosity of supporters.

In 1947 my sister, Josie Dollen, enrolled in the fashion design class and we live at 4500 Warwick Blvd. I was in the fashion illustration department, which does not exist now. All fashion advertising uses photography. There was an art supply shop run by Cook Paints in the basement and I credit the G.I. Bill for helping me with supplies. Someone would say, “I have $2.20 left on my allotment that you can use” or “$3.25”. My job, which I loved, was dispensing the sandwiches and soup in the lunch room at noon, under the direction of Teddy (Ted Larson).

I married Ken Lewis, a veteran from North Tonawanda N.Y., studying advertising. Ken was good at printing and made printing and sign making a part of his life. Whenever I needed printing he would do it for me and when he needed people in whatever he was doing he would do it.

In February of 1953, Ken started working at WOW-TV full time and worked in television art until he died in 1985 with lung cancer.

I did freelance fashion illustration for a number of years when our three children were small. When the youngest started school I got a teaching certificate at University of Omaha and started teaching art at Central High in 1960. From 1974 to 1990, I did court room drawings for television. Also, in 1990, I married a widower, Bill Burgess, who died in 1995.

For a number of years I have been active in a weekly portrait group. Any medium, no teacher, $2.00 fee, $15.00 for the model. Good fun.

A couple of years ago, I went to a KCAI Alumni Reunion and was the oldest person there. My daughter went with me and others thought she was the ex-student and her mother was just tagging along. When the KCAI Women Roller Skaters came out on the beautiful wooden floors during dinner I knew I was back at the Kansas City Art Institute. I was a success at owning and displaying the only KCAI Yearbook ever printed (1948).

For a number of years I kept contact with friends Carlyn Olsen and Madonna Stein but don’t know where they are now. I still hear from Ken’s friends, Charlie ball and Irv Davis. Every once in a while I read in an art paper about Hugh Walkinshaw and know there must be others out there. If you remember me, give me a call.


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