The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1986, Volume 32, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Painting Ladies ~ The Artists ~ The Images

b. San Francisco, California May 3, 1902
(currently residing in Joshua Tree, California)

Dorr’s parents, John and Florence Bothwell, moved to San Diego in 1911, when John’s employers opened a branch company in this city. Being members of the Christian Science Church, her parents met Anna and Albert Valentien, also members of the church, who lived nearby. As a youngster, Dorr often visited the Valentiens and was fascinated watching Albert paint. Later, she did odd jobs for their short-lived pottery company. In 1916, she began to attend Anna’s craft classes at the Evening High School, and it was here that she became friends with Donal Hord. Other studies at this time included dancing lessons under Mrs. Jessie Ratliff.

In 1921, Dorr returned to San Francisco to attend the California School of Fine Arts. The next year, she continued her studies at the University of Oregon in Eugene, followed by another year at the California School of Fine Arts, and, beginning in 1924, the Rudolph School of Design, also in San Francisco. She was a member of the San Francisco Art Association, a charter member of the San Francisco Society of Women Artists, and returning to San Diego, a member of the San Diego Art Guild.

After receiving a modest inheritance from her great-aunt, Dorr decided to travel. Having recently seen Robert Flaherty’s documentary film on the South Seas Islands, Moana (1926), she made the decision to go to American Samoa, certainly a daring enterprise for a young woman alone. Leaving in 1928, she was adopted by a tribal leader and became his daughter and chief hostess. While there, she did paintings in oil and watercolor, drawings, linoleum block prints, and measured drawings of tapa cloth designs. She remained in Samoa for two years, and sent back a show that was exhibited in San Diego and San Francisco. This show produced enough income to allow her to continue her travels. She returned briefly to San Diego in the Spring of 1930, and then left for Europe where she spent a year studying in England, France and Germany.

When she returned to San Diego, Dorr became re-acquainted with Donal Hord. They were both members of a group called the San Diego Moderns formed in the early 1930s, and worked together doing gesso and polychrome work. The two were married on June 19, 1932, and lived at Hord’s Pascoe Street studio. She continued to exhibit frequently from San Francisco to San Diego, and produced several local murals. Since both Dorr and Donal were independent individuals (Dorr always used her own last name) and dedicated artists, problems soon developed over who was going to take care of the daily chores. It became apparent that the marriage was not going to work, and the two separated in October of 1934, getting a final divorce in August of 1936. Both regretted the mistake and spoiled friendship.

Moving to La Jolla, Dorr took a job with Francis Cooke who ran an import store in the La Valencia Hotel. She soon moved to Los Aingeles, where she and Cooke opened an interior design studio on Wilshire Boulevard. Various jobs followed including glaze experiments and “C’ pottery designs for the Gladding McBean Pottery in Lincoln, California, several mural projects for the W.P.A. in the Los Angeles area and Riverside, and a mural for the Manning Coffee Company in San Francisco in 1939.

Since that time, Dorr has traveled widely in Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia, studying everything from glass and cloisonne to pottery and weaving. She has taught in San Francisco, New York, Mendocino, and with Ansel Adams in Yosemite. Her work is represented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modem Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Brooklyn Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and several museums in California. She is certainly one of the most diversely talented and creative artists who ever called San Diego home.

(Ref. interview, Dorr Bothwell by Bruce Kamerling at Joshua Tree, CA, 2-3-80 (transcript SDHC library); Bothwell papers, Archives of American Art)