Clayton loses arts leader

CorrespondentDecember 30, 2013 

— Dorothy Demboski, creator of the town’s first piece of public art, died Dec. 5. She was 76.

Demboski was best known for “Clayton Patchwork,” a permanent 10-foot by 10-foot mural painted on the third-floor wall at The Clayton Center. The project, unveiled in 2009, features iconic scenes from around town.

“I loved the time she spent in The Clayton Center working on ‘Patchwork’ because she became a part of our team,” said Town Manager Steve Biggs. “Dorothy was a pivotal player in establishing Clayton as an arts community. Her art was real and comfortable but visually fascinating.”

Born in Knoxville, Tenn., Demboski spent most of her life creating art. After receiving a degree from Carnegie Mellon University, she moved to Charleston, W.Va., where she was a founding member of Mountain Artisans Inc., a production and marketing co-operative that employed more than 200 rural West Virginian women in sewing and quilting.

Her designs earned her two Coty American Fashion Critics’ Awards in the 1970s. She also worked as a freelance textile designer for clients including Pierre Cardin, Standard Terry Mills and Gramercy International.

“She didn’t seek to become nationally known,” said her daughter, Sarah Hale.

Demoski moved to Clayton in 2004 to be closer to Hale and the rest of her family. Her arrival coincided with the town’s burgeoning arts movement, and she quickly became a member of Clayton Visual Arts and served as its president from 2009-2011.

“Dorothy brought a lot of good ideas to the organization,” said current president Larry Strevig. “She was a little unorthodox, and I would kid her about her scrambled mind, and she would just laugh.”

Strevig recalled Demboski working on one of her pet projects – the art car. Clayton Visual Arts had secured an old vehicle from the town, and Demboski had the idea of turning it into a public art project. The vehicle would make appearances at the annual Harvest Festival and Millstock Art Faire.

“She would have kids come up and glue things on the car, like bottle caps and corks,” Strevig said. “It was a sight to be seen, but it displayed her quirkiness. She ended up with that car sitting in her driveway for about a year.”

Hale said her mother believed art should be shared with the community.

“She had a real way of being able to connect with people from all walks of life,” Hale added. “It was important to her to educate people to value art.”

Local artist Janie Prete became fast friends with Demboski after joining Clayton Visual Arts. “She was great, and I learned a lot from her,” Prete said. “What I learned the most was that she was very appreciative of other artists’ work. Her work was very tight, detailed and colorful. But she wasn’t just focused on work that was just like hers. Dorothy was very open and flexible when it came to art in general.”

Most recently, Demboski suggested Clayton Visual Arts create an art co-op similar to the one she established in West Virginia. Strevig said her vision was to provide a studio with workspace and display area for local artists. He said the group is moving forward with the project.

“The town mural is really her living legacy,” Strevig said. “For quite some time she was the face of art in Clayton. She was loved by everybody, just a little spark plug.”

Demboski is survived by three children and four grandchildren.

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