How did you get started?

I started seriously collecting glass art in the 70s. In the mid '80s I became intrigued by the creative process that must be traveled to create non-traditional glass forms as demonstrated by Harvey Littleton and others. My Italian genes cried “jump in!” So, in 2000 I took a special early retirement and began taking intensive classes for a chance at a second career.

M Vic Leo

I spent the next decade putting serious effort into producing glasswork. Five years ago, I started thinking about sculpture. Back to school I went. This time taking mostly welding in machine shop classes. My goal was to transition from functional vessel

forms to a larger message. Sculpture tells a story that is visually projected in an art form. For example, I attended an event celebrating the 150th year of the unification of Italy. On the stage was a beautiful soprano belting out an aria. The conceptual basis of my sculpture, Opera Singer, was born.



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March, 2017


Composition is Key

Our newest artist Durwood Coffey spent 32 years as an illustrator before retiring to devote full time to his painting. Coffey shares with Dickerson Art Gallery how his career


provided valuable experience that informed his approach to art.

An Interview with Durwood Coffey


How would you describe your work?

I try to stir the viewer's mind, inspire them to think, create new feelings, remember old ones, and have them wonder: what is the artist trying to tell me? A photograph and its title can tell a story. Photography can be a very powerful tool.

How did you get started in photography?

I got my first camera at 12 years old when I went to Boy Scout Camp for a week. I fell in love with it. I soon started developing my own black and white film and making prints. I was encouraged by my dad and, with his help, I soon was developing and printing color!

Where did you receive your training?

Through reading, experimenting, and attending over 400 programs and seminars by some of North America’s finest photographers.

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When was the first time you put your work in competition?   

I was badgered by a friend to enter my work in the  Professional Photographers of Michigan Annual Print Competition. I told him no and gave the excuse I had nothing to enter.  He told me to take four prints off my studio wall and enter those. I did, and they judged me one of the Top Ten Photographers in the state of Michigan! I still have that award. From then on I was hooked on entering.

When did you start doing fine art photography?

As a teen I did the “artsy” stuff. When I did photography as a profession, a camera  was a tool and was for work. After closing my studio and getting a new digital camera, I again embraced doing photography for art’s sake. The training, discipline, and knowledge I had acquired being a professional still applied, but I wanted to learn more. I joined an art club and a camera club and pursued every little bit of knowledge I could about art.

Who is the photographer you admire most?

The late and great Monte Zucker of Silver Springs, MA. He singlehandedly changed the style of photography. Instead of stiff and posed images, he taught how to use composition, leading lines and body language to create amazing portraiture. This is what the old masters used and it still applies today.

How is your work different now than it was when you had a studio?

When I had a studio I had to make my clients happy. Now I photograph to make me happy.

What would the Allen Brooks today tell the younger you?

1) Raise your prices - you’re worth it and your work will get more respect; 2) Choose your clients carefully. You don’t want all of them. Leave the ones that no one can make happy for your competition, you will be much happier; 3) Follow your heart.

Every picture has a story

Whether he's photographing humans, animals, objects or a beautiful landscape, Allen Brooks has a story for every image.

Take, for example, his piece called, The Tree of Life, photographed in 2011. Allen was on Lake Walden in Hartland, Michigan, when he captured the sun setting behind a beloved tree."It was a beautiful majestic tree in all four seasons. During a storm in the area later that year, it was struck by lightening, died, and had to be cut down," he said. "Many people felt like they had lost a member of their family and some even cried."

From the fruit and tools in Country Kitchen that depict a time gone by, to the colorful description of how many times he tried to outrace the timer on his camera to pose on a bench for the image Alone ("huffing and puffing and imagining I was about to have a heart attack"), every picture has a narrative that offers a unique perspective on the work.


Brooks, our featured artist of the month, has been capturing life's events and portraits for more than five decades. In his semi-retired state he is now doing work he calls"the fun stuff" and experimenting with various techniques such as infrared photography.


An Interview with Allen Brooks

September, 2016


When did art enter your life?

High school. Mostly shop classes – which were fully equipped and the instructors were terrific. Shop activities included wood, metal and mechanical drawing. I've always loved machinery. I remember completing a mechanical drawing of  the complete interior of an engine, including alternate views and cutaways. It was a great place to learn execution skills. I also experimented with ceramics – on the wheel, not free-form. The most difficult part was the glazing. Many ceramic artists have their “secret” glazing formulas.

What moment in your artistic life stands out as most memorable?

Interactions with some of the greatest masters of modern glass work. By pure luck I was able to meet, interact and share ideas and materials with Harvey Littleton and Erwin Esch. All this happened at the Habitat Galleries in the 1970s.

What is the best advice you ever received?

Harvey Littleton once said: “You know a good artist by what he throws away.” This is the result of honesty and an innate understanding of materials and execution.

What drives you today?

The discovery process; identifying with my work; exploring and moving in certain, and often new, directions. Most art has a conceptual basis. My vases have a functional orientation with names to fit the outcome. The form is created to allow the artist to 'paint' on the surface. An example is “Strata” which

Whom in your life would you like to thank and why?

My wife, Kathleen. She is my greatest supporter and is always enthusiastic. From day one to today, she has been euphoric with the journey. Kathleen bought my first blow pipe and punty.

M Vic Leo

represents the interior of the earth - rocks and minerals. In contrast, sculpture has greater depth, a more purposeful and larger voice for the story the artist is conveying. In glass art the creative process is very deliberate. Metal plates are used to form plates, wood mock-ups are created, diagrams drawn, metal must be bent and welded.

Vic Leo’s self-described “East Coast Big City personality” from his Italian family upbringing in New York and New Jersey, has much to do with how he went from being an executive at Ford Motor Company to a full-time artist.


M Vic Leo

Steel & Glass: An Interview with Vic Leo

December, 2016

In this month’s artist spotlight, Leo shares what drives his passion to create unique works out of steel and glass.


What makes your jewelry different?

I like to think that my jewelry is very personal, and that the pieces can be worn every day. They’re not designed only for a special occasion. I hope that those who have my pieces will celebrate by wearing them every day, and that they really feel special when they have them on.

M.Idelle Sass

Some pieces, like the opal wave earrings, have a sense of movement and texture that I hope connects someone to the natural world, to water and waves. I use circles, squares, triangles, color

and shapes together to create pieces that draw the eye.

I put a lot of attention into detail, using a lot of care. I believe that craftmanship has a place as well as art. You can have a well-made object as well as an expressive one. I try to create pieces that are visually unique and one of a kind.

What about your work is most satisfying?

The actual making of the object is a meditation – like a yoga posture when you get it right. That is when I can bring my soul into the work. Even the smallest pieces have a lot of my personal attention.

How would you describe your work?

I create contemporary hand-made fabricated jewelry. I construct it out of sheet and wire, using techniques of soldering, patterning and roller-printing, which is rolling metal with different textures.

M.Idelle Sass

I like the juxtaposition of various metals together. I use sterling silver and gold, usually 18 karat, and gemstones collected over the years. I start with the gemstones. The color and shape of the stones is what draws me in. I really like geometric shapes such as triangles. The brilliance of the color and unusual patterns attract me. I like the blue-greens of certain opals because they remind me of snorkeling.

M.Idelle Sass

I seek to create tangible jewelry and objects that balance surface, texture, rhythm and color. I use gem-stones and pearls in combination with gold and silver to add tension and unexpected accents.

How did you get started?

I was a painter and sculptor trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and Philadelphia

College of Art. I was introduced to jewelry through a friend and I was hooked. I took classes at the Evanston (IL) Art Center. I realized I love to work with my hands and to make objects.

But, in retrospect, my beginnings as an artist began much earlier. As a child, I used to play with broken glass and pretend I was finding hidden treasures. Green glass became emeralds, a piece of clear glass was a diamond. It was just what you found in the back alleys of Brooklyn. We would create stories and play act great dramas! I was just as fond of looking at butterflies in the country where we spent our summers. I

think the urban and rural environments formed my aesthetic, which is both architectural and natural. Today I am delighted by adults and children alike discovering stones, shells and seaglass at the shore – it’s a state of creative discovery and play. Play is at the heart of design and creativity.

January, 2017

In January's artist spotlight, Idelle shares her artistic journey with us.  

M.Idelle Sass

An Artist’s Journey

Ask Idelle Hammond-Sass what makes her jewelry different and you’ll hear words like personal, timeless, inspired by nature, and elegant yet practical.  

Working for R.C. Associates in the 80s, I worked with John T. He had the most influence on my work. He was so adamant about composition. Composition is everything, nothing else matters. It is the heart of art! He gave me a book that has been used as the “bible of art” throughout universities for many years. The title is ”The Art of Color and Design” by Maitland Graves. This is not a how-to-paint book. It’s about learning to understand composition.


John gave me this book and I looked at it and thought, “This book is old. What useful information could I possibly learn from this book?” Boy, I was so wrong! Whatever success I have achieved I owe to John for setting me on the right track in art.

“That’s good enough” should not be in an artist’s vocabulary…but, in reality, sometimes it’s the best we can do at that moment. I always strive to do my best work. Why would anyone want to work this hard doing artwork and have the frame of mind that it may or may not turn out good?


How is painting different from your work as an illustrator?

With illustration I’m working to satisfy the needs and directions of the client, to present his product in the best light to help produce sales. With paintings I’m satisfying my own needs and desires.

You talk a lot about process and composition. How is what you do different?

The “process” is all the steps I take to achieve a finished painting. My penciling, applying paints and mediums.

The “composition” is the placement of my ideas and arrangement of the visual elements in my art. This is what art is all about. I don’t paint animals just to show that I can paint an animal, but through composition I can paint a story of animals and how I see them.


Who has most influenced your work?

In the early 70s I worked for Larry Topel. He is a great artist. I’ve always been inspired by him. I worked closely with him, doing his penciling and a lot of pre-work on his projects so he could keep painting on other works. What I learned from Larry was to work like a professional. One wants professional looking art, yet at times we may not think or act like a professional. One day Larry walked past my desk and told me how I should be sitting and getting focused. I would be working on a job and take it to him for approval. He’d look at it and ask me, “What is this? Go back and do it right! I learned excellent work habits from Larry.


Where do ideas for your paintings come from?

Ideas can hit me anywhere. I can be driving and see it in front of me. I get home and sketch it out. Then I start drawing it out. Once I was leaving my workplace in downtown Detroit and for a brief moment I saw my “Night Hunt” painting right there in front of me. Since I’m painting wildlife, thoughts of animals are always going through my head. Now and then, the ideas surface.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

If painting has always been your love, why spend 30+ years as an illustrator?

Illustrator/Artist–this subject is about splitting hairs. People have said Norman Rockwell is just an illustrator. Most any painter would love to be able to paint like him. The same with Howard Pyle and NC Wyeth, beautiful painters called illustrators. Then there is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a fine art painter who created posters for money. If one is painting for a living, this is excellent. Either for a client or one’s self, we always strive to produce the best possible art we can.


November, 2017

An Interview with Gwen Roth

M.Gwen Roth

What is your art about? What is its purpose?

My photography is all about finding inspiration right here, in our everyday world. I am always looking for the unusual in the ordinary - a new perspective on the mundane. For example, a

simple fence can be transformed into a statement about line and rhythm, light and shadow. A fence can be so beautiful if one takes the time to just look at it. Joy and inspiration is right here, residing in all of our own little worlds.

How would you describe your style as a photographer?

I am a realist. Aside from basic edits, most of my work is not heavily altered. I do not limit myself to one particular subject or technique. On any given day, I can create images from intricate microcosms to intimate landscapes. I work with any kind of existing light available. I am especially fond of backlight. My challenge is to make it work.

M.Gwen Roth

What do you hope the viewer takes away from your art?

It is my intension for the viewer to pause and consider our little world in a whole new light. I hope to transcend the indifferent and enrich our lives one image at a

time. In the end, I hope my art will inspire an uplifting and encouraging perspective of our everyday world. If I have touched just one viewer in a meaningful  way, then I consider my job done.

You use the words “uplifting and encouraging.” What do you hope to achieve along these lines?

I am very interested in the healing arts. I believe that art can have a restorative effect on mental and physical health, and I would like to see more uplifting and encouraging art on the walls of all our healthcare institutions. Everybody needs art, especially those who face incredible amounts of stress day in and day out.

M.Gwen Roth

What is the key thing people notice about your work?

It is an honest, positive representation of life that captures one’s heart. It is not depressing.

Is there one artist who influenced the direction of your work?

From travelling and visiting some of the greatest museums in the world, I developed a great affinity for the world’s influential artists, including the sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, the fabulous impressionists of the 19th century, and the profoundly inspiring works of Ansel Adams. However, I do not attribute my work to any one artist. I am self-taught. I am my own person.

M.Gwen Roth

What honors and awards have you received in your field?

I have received many awards for my work, but I am most honored to have participated in the Images of Resilience Photography Exhibitions of 2016 and 2017, a local downriver

venue for bringing mental health issues to light and the pathways to healing. Gratefully, I have been truly fortunate to display more than 30 photographs with a local hospital system’s Arts for the Spirit Program, which was instrumental in launching my photography journey.


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