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 Dock Curtis  (1906 - 2005)

About: Dock Curtis


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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: mural and easel painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is the obituary of the artist submitted by Ben Curtis, son of the artist:

Dock Curtis, M.D. completed her life on August 23, 2005 at the age of 98, and an extraordinary life it was.  Dock began her life in 1906.  Her father, Barton Olmsted Curtis, an engineer and a bridge builder for the railroad, died when she was little. She grew up in Flushing, NY with her mother, Minnie, a librarian and her brother Henry when Flushing was a quiet village with its tree-lined streets and horse drawn milk wagons.

She survived the Flu epidemic of 1918, but always felt the effects.  She remembered the letters she had received from the battlefields of WWI, from a teenage friend.

She went to Cornell on a scholarship when she was 17 and acquired a lifelong love of art. She was a member of Alpha Phi and treasured the year that she lived with Professors John and Anna Comstock.  She posed for the mural that can still be seen in the lobby of Willard Straight Hall.  She was a member of the Drama Club with Dan Duryea and Franchot Tone among others.  She was also a member of the Portfolio Club. She graduated from Cornell in 1927.  

She worked in NYC at the end of the roaring 20s and pursued her interest in art, working with a number of notable artists and architects in Chelsea. She struggled through the depression and like others who shared that experience it changed her outlook on life. She learned to make a penny go a long way.  She did a mural in the Knickerbockers Beer Brewery and subsequently another mural for the White Owl Building at the1939 World's Fair.  

While researching material for a poster for the American Cancer Society in the early 30's, she became interested in medicine.  She enrolled in University of Tennessee Medical School at Memphis and later that of University of Arkansas where she got her medical degree in 1949.  Her time in medical school was protracted by the need to care for her three sons, C. Michael, Andrew and Ben who survive her.

Dock opened a practice in rural Huntsville, Arkansas in 1949.  She enjoyed helping the residents in this backwoods area where her services were badly needed, but found it hard to keep the business afloat since she was often paid with farm produce.

She returned to Ithaca in 1951 to complete her New York State residency at Sage Infirmary, Cornell U.,  She left Ithaca to take a position at U. N.C, Greensboro, then known as Women's College.  She stayed there until she retired in 1967 and returned to Ithaca to be closer to her younger two sons who were pursuing their studies at Cornell.

Dock took a special interest in patients that went beyond the mere practice of medicine. While at Sage Infirmary she met a little boy, Tom Hamilton. Tom was a foster child who was very sick and very unhappy. When Tom improved, Dock made him and his sister Pattie honorary members of the family and every year made a point of coming back to Ithaca and taking them to do something special like a trip to Roseland Amusement Park in Canandaigua.  

When she was bringing up the boys, she thought it was important that they see the country. She took them to battlefields and museums and even took them on an extended camping trip in the Western States although she had never camped herself.  On that trip, they visited Indian Reservations as part of her life long concern about the terrible injustice and miserable living conditions suffered by so many Native Americans. Until the end of her life she contributed whatever she could to help.

She continued with her painting throughout her career as doctor and beyond into retirement. She always had a sketch book with her wherever she went and an easel set up at home. It was truly her passion. She read extensively and spent many evenings reading to her sons. She refused to have a TV in the house. She would often bring foreign students home for dinner, conversation and taste of family life for someone so far from home.  She wanted her sons to become acquainted with people from different backgrounds and cultures. She maintained a correspondence with some of these students until near the end of her life.

Like her mother, who was an early suffragette, Dock was a feminist in the sense that as a woman, she accepted no limitations.   She was fiercely independent and lived on her own at her home in Dryden until 2004 when the Department of Social Services dispatched a sheriff's deputy to physically remove her from her house.

She lived another year and a half at Altera, where she was well cared for and had many friends.  She will be missed by her three sons, seven grandchildren, and four great grandchildren and the many people she touched during her lifetime.  

The family will celebrate her life, display her art, and share remembrances later in the fall.  

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