Shifting Landscapes: Dolores S. Slowinski
Dolores S. Slowinski has lived in Detroit for over 60 years. She received her BFA in weaving and ceramics from Wayne State University. After more than 40 years as an art writer and arts administrator, she returned to her studio practice in 1999. She’s found great success since then, showing her work in numerous exhibitions in Detroit and beyond.
Dolores’ artwork explores the use of thread as line, in the form of hand-stitched drawings on paper. Recently, she started applying these drawings to recycled, industrial-grade corrugate to create architectural statements about neighborhoods, urban decay, and gentrification. Archipoptosis, her artwork in our Shifting Landscapes show with Surface Design Association, is one such piece. We interviewed Dolores about her life in Detroit and how it has influenced her artwork. Watch the video above, and scroll down for the full interview.
form & concept: Have you always lived in Detroit?
DS: Except for two years, yes. I went to college there, at Wayne State University.
f&c: And when you were growing up, the auto industry was—
DS: Booming, yeah.
f&c: Could you talk about your experience of that history?
DS: One of the things you did in Detroit, when you had friends or relatives from out of town, you took them to the Ford Rouge Plant for the factory tours. It’s not the sanitized version you get now. I remember they took you along the catwalks through the foundry area, so I saw the blast furnaces being emptied.
I saw this big ladle of molten metal, which was so hot I thought my shoes and my tights were going to melt. I started crying. And finally, my father or an uncle picked me up, and I saw it being poured into the carts that took the molten metal over to be cast into ingots, which where then flattened into steel. I saw those slabs of steel in the rolling mill, rolling back and forth, and they were still red hot. I don’t remember much of the rest of the tour because that made such an impact.
When I was in school, there weren’t field trips to the art museum, but I knew I liked art. My school was run by nuns who had background in art, and they let us paint murals on the blackboards during the holidays. I thought that was wonderful.
When I was 13, my best friend and I decided to take two buses downtown and got to the Art Institute on our own. We walked into the Great Hall, which is where they have the Diego Rivera murals. It was like PTSD. I had immediate flashbacks to those tours of the Ford Rouge Plant.
f&c: Right, because those Rivera murals were commissioned by Ford.
DS: Right. There was a blast furnace at the top of one of the murals, and you could see how hot it was. There was an assembly line on another wall, and one of the men looked like my father.
I just started sobbing and went crying out of the room into the ancient galleries. My girlfriend said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘I can smell it, I can see it, I can feel the heat. I can’t go in there.’
That taught me the power of art. It made me want to become an artist even more.
f&c: What happened next?
DS: Well, I went to a parochial high school that had no art program. I started college at the University of Detroit, studying biology and chemistry. In 1967, my classes were interrupted because of the Detroit rebellion. I wanted to attend the Art School at the Detroit Society for Arts and Crafts, but they didn’t offer a degree. They had an art department at Wayne State, so I just walked across the street and registered to study weaving and ceramics.
After graduation, I wasn’t able to do much with ceramics because in the city you’d have to get permits to build a kiln outside. So I bought a $200 loom from a farmer’s wife who used it to weave rag rugs, and set it up in my bedroom.
Then I got a job on Art Train, which had me travel all over the state. I eventually moved to a one-room school in Cass City and set up a studio there, which is where I met my husband.
f&c: Let’s leap forward to today. Detroit is a very different place. How did you come up with the title of your Shifting Landscapes artwork, Archipoptosis?
I would drive around Detroit from one place to another, and see these abandoned strip malls. I consider the strip mall to be the death of American architecture. Apoptosis is the term used to identify an event that triggers the death of a cell. With the proliferation of strip malls, I saw that as architectural apoptosis. Thus, Archipoptosis.
Human displacement, whether voluntary or involuntary, is what triggered the decay. You had loss of customers, businesses closed and were vandalized. Scrappers came in and stripped the copper out of buildings. You’d see shattered windows, and security gates that were pried open. It was a real devastation there. It was like the lifeblood of a neighborhood literally seeped out. That’s why there’s all that red bead work on the piece.
f&c: Did you see hope there as well?
DS: If you’re a gardener, you know that anything that dies can go in the compost pile, and compost is a source of tremendous nutrients. At the same time that the decay was there, there was also great opportunity.
It’s the human beings that are restoring the city, using their own ingenuity. Sometimes it takes a big influx of money, sometimes it’s a lot of sweat equity. That’s why the little hand is on top of the piece, because humans are bringing it back. It’ll take a long time, it won’t look the same, it won’t be the same, but it’s coming back.
f&c: This piece tells a pretty complex story. How does that come together?
DS: It comes from the experiences you have. When you live in a place for over 60 years, you’ve seen all these changes. You’ve thought about the children that walk to and from school past these empty buildings and wondered how they feel, and then you hear about the school closing and kids being shuffled around to schools far from their neighborhood.
And so, it’s all there. If you live in a place long enough, all those experiences are there and you just need the opportunity to give them voice or vision or form.