Kiah Abbey remembers putting a pair of headphones on Gandhi.
But the rest of her work on a collaborative project in the late Sue Dolan’s West High art class last year melded with other students’ add-ons until Abbey couldn’t discern what was hers and what other students applied to the large multimedia piece. And that’s just the way Dolan liked it.
“It was just this organic, evolution of a painting — that’s what she liked, one person’s creativity overlapping another’s,” Abbey said. “She could bring together people who are into video games and who are gothic and people like me who are student council kids and it would be amazing. Can you imagine if she had gone into diplomacy instead of teaching?”
Dolan encouraged students to let go of their inhibitions and “keep the weirdness.” Senior High art teacher Carolyn Thayer said the phrase was her motto, repeated often by the dozens of students who spoke at a celebration of Dolan’s life April 29 after Dolan died of cancer. No one was willing to let Dolan’s memory fade, because she had inspired so many during the 25-plus years she taught middle school and high school art in Billings.
Dolan’s friends and former students are putting together an art show and auction to honor Dolan and raise money to fund a scholarship in her name and provide art materials for West High.
“It’s mainly driven by the kids,” Thayer said. “Several of them wanted to give something back. I know they’ll pull this off because there were so many past students who contacted me.”
Dolan instilled the love of art in her students and was able to reach teens others may have given up on by reassuring them that they could and should be unique.
“She took kids that were so marginal, kids who were ready to drop out, and they just blossomed under her,’’ Thayer said. “A lot of kids are in art school because of Sue.”
Dolan’s spirit was a raven and she almost always incorporated one in her colorful paintings. Abbey and Dolan are suggesting that participants in the upcoming Sue Dolan Memorial Art Auction put a raven in their pieces, which aren’t limited to paintings.
“It can be pots, paintings, any kind of art,” Thayer said. “We’re gong to play it up to all the art teachers and students and encourage them to do something that has the spirit of Sue in it.”
Dolan was instrumental in starting the West High Art Gallery. Students are interested in renaming it to honor Dolan, but true to her nature, Dolan worried about the students first. By keeping the name the West High Art Gallery, it sounded more official than it might if it were named after an individual. And one of her big deals, Abbey said, was showcasing student artwork in the gallery.
“Oftentimes, young artists hid their artwork. She appreciated all art, whether you did anime or nudes, she still saw its beauty. Ms. Dolan always had a senior art show and was able to get in touch with kids who had this talent. You’d see the show and then you’d realize that students you don’t even know the name of are making this amazing art.”