Word & Image: Dorothy Rice, 68, Retired Schoolteacher and Artist 

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"When I came to Richmond in 1975, I went downtown and they offered me a full-time job. I taught first grade and third grade and fifth grade and second grade. Then I was hired to teach for the gifted and talented program for Richmond Public Schools, teaching all over the city for 20 years. Later, there was an opening at arts and humanities center of Richmond Public Schools and I got a job there — did that from 2000 to 2012 — until, after years and years of being a flagship arts and humanities center in the state, we were no longer. It was abolished. So I finished as a gifted and talented teacher and resigned in 2014.

"That year, I had knee-replacement surgery. On the day I came home from surgery, my daughter and husband came home from the doctor’s, who had decided there was nothing more he could do for my husband, and he entered hospice. Because the hospice was in-home, I became the primary caregiver. So I couldn’t go too far, too long. One day I just went upstairs and decided I would just paint. I used some photographs. Part of what I love about art, it doesn’t have to be exact. The response from my immediate family, my daughter and grandchildren, was, “Oh, that’s nice.” So I decided to do a series of A.J., my grandson … most of my work is [portraiture].

"While I was caregiver, my husband was in the family room, his hospital bed and all the things necessary for him. I felt like a hostage, I couldn’t get up and go where I wanted to, but neither could my husband. We laughed and cried and confided in each other as we had for 50 years as a couple. So there was a lot of frustration and the artwork fulfilled some of those gaps.

"We’d have people from church and the VA hospital coming, and they’d see the work and comment, which made me feel good about it. My husband was always a critic. One day I took some art down to him. He wasn’t that enthusiastic. But I’m also a poet and one time he did say to me, “You know, you’re better than Maya Angelou.” My husband passed away Nov. 1.

"There are four or five poems specific to our situation. One of them is entitled “She Confessed It With a Smile” — it’s a collaborative piece, based on comments from women I knew in hospice, and one lady in church. I said, “It’s hard, but you took care of your husband for some time.” She said, “Oh yes, 10 years, and I’d do it all over again.” So the poem is a tribute and a description about the feelings they had.

"If we live long enough, many of us will become the caregiver or the care receiver. Creating anything offers respite. For me, creating art during hospice transformed our hostage situation into hope-filled opportunities."

Dorothy Rice’s artwork and poems will be on display in the second-floor gallery of the Richmond Public Library in April and May.


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