By CRISTINA JANNEY
Dolores Baker didn’t realize when she created three female figures representing a women’s journey through breast cancer she would soon be touched by the illness.
Baker created the ceramic models of women’s torsos in memory of friends and family members who had fought breast cancer and some who had lost their lives.
Baker had a biopsy once before for suspected cancer, but she thought she was in the clear. At the end of 2015, six months after she finished the cancer pieces, she went in for a routine mammogram, and the cancer was discovered. She was shocked. Breast cancer did not run in her family.
Baker thought she might be able to escape with just a lumpectomy. However, she ended up having radiation treatments and four surgeries, including the removal of both of her breasts.
The Hays Arts Council opened a new exhibit this week featuring artists from the Great Bend area. Baker’s torsos along with a series of masks titled “Faces of Breast Cancer” are part of the exhibit.
Baker is cancer-free now. She said the message she was trying to convey with the torsos has not changed even though her own body has.
“I think the main theme is that the feminine body is beautiful with or without breasts,” she said, noting that this is contrary to what our culture tells us.
Baker said she hopes the art pieces will spark discussion among the people who see them about the subject of breast cancer.
“I am thinking I want the subject of breast cancer to no longer be taboo,” she said. “When I was creating the pieces at the college, young women confided in me about their family members who had suffered from cancer and their own fears of being a gene carrier. I want people to be able to discuss the issue out in the open.”
Baker said after her battle with cancer, her perception of the art pieces changed.
“In some ways, there was a sense of transition and moving from grief to joy and interior growth,” she said.
Six months after her surgeries, Baker created “Faces of Cancer,” a series of masks that she said reflected her own journey through breast cancer.
“There was grief and feeling broken. I believe there is a screw in the mouth of one of the faces. There was both fear and the anger and then moving on to just being puzzled and then to joy,” she said.
Baker, 75, has not always been an artist. She retired as elementary school teacher and the height of her artistic creations for many years was drawing stick figures. When she retired, she started doing creative writing, but saw a clay demonstration at Barton County Community College. Twelve years ago, she started taking classes from Bill Forst, making bowls and cups.
But Baker said she wants more, “Now I want to say something with my art.”
The other artists in the exhibit include Virginia Bitter, ceramics; husband and wife Rose Dudek, oils, and Steve Dudek, watercolors; and husband and wife Karole Erikson, photography; and Jay Miller, photography.
Both Erikson and Miller were recently featured in the Hays Arts Council’s Five State Photography Exhibition and have won awards in the past. They have also won placement in the HAC’s annual Smoky Hill Art Exhibition.
You will see wildlife photography from both artists side by side, but you will notice different styles. Miller has a portrait of a squirrel, near an image of taken by Erikson of a kingfisher snatching a fish out of the water. Miller also has a grouping of photos in the exhibit of a Kansas ranch during an annual burn, whereas Erickson’s images include scenes from decaying cemetery.
Steve Dudek is an award-winning watercolor artist and instructor at Barton County Community College.
Rose Dudek helped put together the exhibition. Brenda Meder, HAC executive director, described her art as nonobjective, abstract oils.
Bitter also has ceramics on display at the center, but Meder said the two artists have very different styles.
“There are very perceptible individualities to Virginia’s and Dolores’ ceramics,” she said.
The artists reception will be 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 23. The exhibit will be on display until Friday, March 23.