Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Dawn Dodson, and I live in Southern Germany with my husband and cat. I spent my formative years in the Midwest and deep South, then the subtropics. I left the country for the first time relatively late. After getting a BFA in painting, restlessness got the better of me and I landed in North Africa, where I was adopted by a family — unimaginable in Western civilization — and became immersed into that culture. That was my first taste of generosity and compassion outside my normal sphere of experience. The culture shock was in recognizing myself, not in the “otherness” of other people. That education alone was worth more than a dozen years at the university.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I give English lessons to people who by and large have an excellent grasp of the language already. I just try and guide them through the finer points of language, culture and poetry. It makes grammar easier to stomach, for them and for me. Otherwise, German is the spoken language at home.
I’m a biker, which means that I use a bicycle as my main method of propulsion, instead of a car. I prefer biking because I like to move. And I am a slow cook, not just for ecological reasons. It’s how I prefer to eat, because it tastes better. It’s ultimately more satisfying. But when I visit the States, I still want to drink a diet soda or two — don’t ask me why.
My other loves are books, walking, traveling, museums, movies and sailing.
What would be the title of your memoir? Why?
The Joy of Dead Reckoning. Tt means there is a chance of getting lost; I know where I am based on where I thought I was (though I may be way off course). That’s how I get to be Master and Commander, every single day.
Where does your inspiration come from?
The usual culprits — the world at large, sound, color, sensations. Feelings.
During one of my trips to North Africa, I was fortunate enough to walk through a cardboard city on the edge of town. What struck me was the ability of a large number of people living in unimaginably crowded conditions to build shelters from the refuse of society. There was an economy of style, tenacity, and a certain beauty and self-respect. That’s what I call “the aesthetics of poverty.” Though no one would willingly choose to live at that level, there was much to be admired, if you know what I mean — I was deeply respectful, and a bit ashamed of being a ghetto tourist, but I wanted to know it.
In the same vein, I’ve always admired how beautiful art can be when made from bare bones. I’m talking about what comes out of times of turmoil, and how invention is spurred by limitations. Look what pioneer women and men did in the Americas, or any indigenous art, or consider how war-torn Europe rebuilt its beautiful cities. Any kind of primitive art, folk art, even the art of the early 20th century — it’s all an inspiration to me.
What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade is something a person made with intent, design, care, inspiration and time.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
My mom. My great-grandmother who handstitched her dresses on cold winter nights during the Great Depression, finger-pressing the seams as she stitched. Other women and men, other places. Some I know and some I don’t.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
When I was four, I had a key moment of being completely blown away by something I had drawn. It was pure unadulturated pleasure. That said, it’s my belief that every individual has a creative side that may be unleashed. We are by nature a creative species, and it’s our birthright to use that muscle in a positive way. What once was an absolute necessity — the ability to create a tool, cloth or food from the earth — has been usurped by modern convenience, and a drive to produce ever more processed goods and forms of entertainment. To simplify can mean more than doing without. It can mean gaining in sensation and quality of life.
How would you describe your creative process?
My creative process is to start with a simple idea and work at it until it’s complete.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
I’d love to have breakfast with Charles Schultz, lunch at the pool with David Hockney, tea in the fields with Emily Dickinson, hit the tapas bar with Pedro Almodóvar, and then have a midnight snack with Caravaggio…but not all in the same day.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
I especially cherish the things I’ve eaten, but I do also love ephemera I’ve saved, handwritten notes from loved ones, things my nieces have made me, a photograph my sister shot, a vase my brother made, a hat from Lois and another from Becky, a cup from Jill, a wrap from Inger, and so on…
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I pull myself together, put on a new face, climb down off the hilltop and get back in the race. I prefer to view ruts as eye-opening opportunities to confront a new way or path, to simplify, to drop out, even if just for an afternoon. It’s an opportunity to go outside yourself.
Sometimes I call my brother and listen to him play guitar across the pond.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
You never arrive. It will never get better than the here and now.