Story and photos by Alice Gerard
Terry and Dori Klaaren were exploring Morocco after having traveled through Europe for approximately eight months. They were a young couple in the early 1970s, and Dori had suggested the trip, explaining that it would be a good time to do it “ ‘Because we’re free; because we’ve got no careers. We have no kids, no debts. We will never be this free again for the rest of our lives. We need to travel,’ ” Terry said to a group at the Grand Island Memorial Library, where he spoke about Dori’s artwork on Aug. 1.
The couple met in Grand Island High School in 1969, where they both took art classes and belonged to the art club. Dori had grown up on Grand Island, and Terry moved there as a high school student.
“I landed on Grand Island. Everyone was happy. I felt at home, and I started dating. I had three girlfriends before I met Dori, and that was the end of my dating career,” Terry recalled.
Morocco was a different world altogether for the couple who had married in 1973.
“It was a cultural jump to go to Europe in the first place,” Terry said. “We took six to eight months doing it. Our last stop was Morocco. We wanted to jump down and go to Africa. We were told not to stay in Tangier, but to go to the interior and see the real Morocco. We hitched a ride with a man from Australia, who just wanted to drive around.
“We went into a place one day in the Atlas Mountains. We’re in a big field surrounded by these tents and there’s all these kinds of horses. They have muskets. They charge down the field and shoot off their guns. It’s this celebration. We’re walking around, the three of us. We get to this big tent full of pillows and these guys invite us in. We’re just kind of gesturing. We had the tea, and we were going to say thank you, so we said that. We were about to leave, and he poses for a picture and says something, and the other man says, ‘He wants to buy your wife.’ He offered camels for her. I don’t think so. It really happened.”
Terry described the entire European adventure as being life-changing for both Dori and him.
“We were there for a year,” he said. “We rode on bicycles. We hitchhiked. We took a couple of trains that we couldn’t afford, but we were there for the better part of the year, from Norway to Morocco. We camped in people’s yards. We camped everywhere, stayed in the occasional hotel. We went to Stonehenge on the Solstice. She planned all this, so it happened. We came back from Europe alive and happy. Dori carried a 45-pound backpack, bicycled every mile.
“We came back young, strong and confident. So, we went back to Grand Island and lived with her folks for about a year. I worked downtown at LL Berger as a window dresser. She worked for the PennySaver, right here, for Skip Mazenauer. With our new nest egg, we went back to Florida and created a child. He is 42 years old now. He is Jason, and he’s great.”
Terry and Dori Klaaren both painted a lighthouse in their own styles.
Back in Florida, Terry and Dori found a new way to create art.
“We get into carrousel horse painting,” he said. We had friends who bought full carrousels, restored them, and put them into malls. They hired us to paint the horses. After a while, we got good at it. I was a wood carver, so we went on our own. We went to auctions, and we’d get commissions from people. We’d fix up the horses. We did that for some years. We weren’t making much money, but we loved the work.
“This job got me the opportunity to work in Orlando for a prop shop to paint a big, fake carrousel horse. I see that they’re working on Disney projects. There’s a paint shop. So, I got a job there. Very interesting work. I learned my chops. I learned how to paint big.”
At the same time, however, Dori lost her work opportunities. Terry explained, “She was a calligrapher and a sign painter and a graphic artist and a freelancer for ad agencies. It all went to computers. She said, ‘I’m dead in the water. I have no work.’
“I was in Orlando, with Disney in my portfolio. I want to paint murals. So, she became my agent. Within a year, we tripled our income. Suddenly, I was in hot demand. We got into our business, and we started doing murals and paintings, and she was my manager, the quartermaster, the brains behind the artist. At this point, her art disappeared from the picture. We were being very successful in the mural business. I made a lot of money, but didn’t spend much.
“We were told that we had to spend a lot of money on our business or we’d have to return it in the form of taxes. So, she developed ‘have brush, must travel.’ She planned a trip that would last six to eight weeks, either in Europe or out west in national parks, and then she’d tell my clients, ‘If you’d like a painting done on site anywhere you want, the commission is $200, and he’ll make this painting for you.’ We got a dozen or so commissions, and we went out and did the trip. This is what we spent 20 years doing. It was fun. I’d paint the painting that was commissioned.’
“My painting started to change. Essentially, I was doing acrylics. Dori started off not knowing what to do. She wasn’t a painter. She was a textile person. I suggested that she paint like doing embroidery by doing dots. She was trying to figure out her style. You’ll notice that it changed and got better and better until she made magnificent pieces with nothing but beautiful dots. Then she developed an essential tremor, and she could no longer control her dots. It took her way too long to finish her paintings. There are unfinished paintings, where she just ran out of steam. I suggested that she change her format and just do black and white. This is a woman who was working with a tremor. She could barely write her name, but she could produce artwork. I am here to show you all the things that Dori never got to be known for.”
During the presentation, Terry acknowledged three teachers, who were influences on both Dori and him. They were Lyn Laman, who died May 31, 2019 (three months after Dori); Neil Hoffman, who now lives and works out west; and Lenore Tetkowski, who was in the audience.
“Nothing here is for sale. However, these are reproductions of her work, and they are up for donations. I am going to garner anything that I make from her work and use it for an art incentive award for the high school. No prices. Just donations,” Terry said.
“I ended up by having a beautiful life, doing exactly what I wanted to do,” he added. “I’d never dreamed of being an artist for a living. It never occurred to me. It was always fun. Work was supposed to be not fun. So, the fact that this all happened, and I’m looking back on it now, is a miracle to me. The downside is that I lost her too soon. But we had almost to the day 50 years together.
“We went to see Mount Saint Helens 30 years after the fact, and we hiked for 15 miles into that barren place with nothing but dead trees. We hiked up to the top of that ridge and got the shot of the mountain, the volcano.
“We had 50 of the best years. I lost her too soon, but we had a concentrated 50 years.”
Terry Klaaren, with a painting of his late wife, Dori, who died in 2019.