Sat August 13, 2022 7:00 AM
Story and photos by Alice Gerard
Terry and Dori Klaaren were exploring Morocco after traveling through Europe for about eight months. They were a young couple in the early 1970s, and Dori had suggested the trip, explaining that now would be a good time to do it “’Because we’re free; because we don’t have a career. We have no children, no debts. We will never be so free again for the rest of our lives. We have to travel,” Terry told a group at the Grand Island Memorial Library, where he spoke about Dori’s works on August 1.
The couple met at Grand Island High School in 1969, where they both took art classes and belonged to the art club. Dori had grown up on Grand Island and Terry moved there when he was a high school student.
“I landed on Grand Island. Everybody was happy. I felt at home and started dating. I had three girlfriends before I met Dori, and that was the end of my dating career,” Terry recalls.
Morocco was a whole other world for the couple who married in 1973.
“It was a cultural leap to go to Europe in the first place,” Terry said. “We took six to eight months to do it. Our last stop was Morocco. We wanted to jump and go to Africa. We were told not to stay in Tangier, but to go inside and see the real Morocco. We hitchhiked with a man from Australia, who just wanted to drive.
“We went to a place one day in the Atlas Mountains. We are in a big field surrounded by these tents and there are all these kinds of horses. They have guns. They rush into the field and shoot their guns. It’s that party. We are walking, the three of us. We come to this big tent full of pillows and these guys invite us in. We just make gestures. We had tea and were going to say thank you, so we said it. We were about to leave, and he poses for a picture and says something, and the other man says, “He wants to buy your wife. He offered her camels. I do not think so. It really happened.
Terry described the whole European adventure as life changing for him and Dori.
“We stayed there for a year,” he said. ” We biked. We hitchhiked. We took a few trains that we couldn’t afford, but we were there most of the year, from Norway to Morocco. We camped in people’s yards. We camped everywhere, occasionally staying in hotels. We went to Stonehenge on the solstice. She planned it all out, so it happened. We came back from Europe alive and happy. Dori carried a 45-pound backpack, rode her bike every mile.
“We came back young, strong and confident. So we moved back to Grand Island and lived with his parents for about a year. I worked downtown at LL Berger as a window dresser. She worked for the PennySaver right here for Skip Mazenauer. With our new nest egg, we moved back to Florida and created a child. He is 42 now. It’s Jason, and he’s awesome.
Both Terry and Dori Klaaren painted a lighthouse in their own style.
Back in Florida, Terry and Dori found a new way to create art.
“We’re getting into carousel horse painting,” he said. We had friends who bought complete carousels, restored them and put them in malls. They hired us to paint the horses. After a while, we got it right. I was a wood carver, so we went alone. We went to auctions and received commissions from people. We would fix the horses. We did this for a few years. We didn’t make a lot of money, but we liked the work.
“This job gave me the opportunity to work in Orlando for a prop store to paint a big fake carousel horse. I see they’re working on Disney projects. There’s a paint shop. So , I got a job there. Very interesting job. I learned my chops. I learned to paint big.
At the same time, however, Dori lost her job opportunities. Terry explained: “She was a calligrapher, sign painter, graphic designer and freelancer for advertising agencies. It all went to computers. She said, ‘I died in the water. I have no job.’
“I was in Orlando, with Disney in my portfolio. I want to paint murals. So she became my agent. In one year, we tripled our income. Suddenly, I was in great demand. We embarked on our business and we started doing murals and paintings, and she was my manager, the quartermaster, the mastermind behind the artist. At this point, her art disappeared from the picture. We were very successful in the mural business. I made a lot of money, but I didn’t spend a lot of money.
“We were told we had to spend a lot of money on our business or we had to return it in taxes. So she developed ‘have a brush, must travel.’ She was planning a trip that would last six to eight weeks, either in Europe or out west in national parks, and then she would say to my clients, “If you want a painting done on location where you want, the commission is $200. , and he will do this chart for you. We got a dozen commissions, and we went out and took the trip. This is what took us 20 years to do. It was fun I would paint the commissioned painting.
“My painting started to change. Basically, I was doing acrylic. Dori started out not knowing what to do. She was not a painter. She was a textile person. I offered to paint like doing embroidery by doing dots. She was trying to find her style. You will notice that it has changed and improved until she is making beautiful pieces with nothing but beautiful stitches. Then she developed an essential tremor, and she could no longer control her stitches. It took him far too long to finish his paintings. There are unfinished paintings, where she just ran out of steam. I suggested that he change the format and only do black and white. It is a woman who worked with a tremor. She could barely write her name, but she could produce works of art. I’m here to show you all the things Dori was never known for.
During the presentation, Terry paid tribute to three teachers, who had an influence on him and Dori. They were Lyn Laman, who died on May 31, 2019 (three months after Dori); Neil Hoffman, who now lives and works in the West; and Lenore Tetkowski, who was in the audience.
“Here, nothing is for sale. However, these are reproductions of his work, and they are open for donations. I’m going to harvest everything I do from his work and use it for a high school art incentive award. No price. Just donations,” Terry said.
“I ended up having a great life, doing exactly what I wanted to do,” he added. “I had never dreamed of being an artist for a living. It never occurred to me. It was always fun. Work was supposed to be no fun. So the fact that all of this happened, and I look back on it now, is a miracle to me. The downside is that I lost her too soon. But we had almost day for day 50 years together.
“We went to see Mount Saint Helens 30 years after the fact, and we walked 15 miles in this barren place with nothing but dead trees. We hiked to the top of this ridge and took the picture of the mountain, the volcano.
“We had 50 of the best years. I lost her too soon, but we had 50 focused.
Terry Klaaren, with a painting of his late wife, Dori, who died in 2019.