Sul Ross State University Professor Carol Fairlie’s career has been varied, but it’s always been artistic.
An accomplished painter, jewelry maker, printmaker and metal smith, Fairlie will start her 23rd year at the Alpine university in August. She paints large canvasses depicting interiors, sidewalk scenes with mixed locations, murals, silk scarves and car hoods.
She paints mostly in watercolor and oil.
Fairlie originally studied oils at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and came out with a four-year certificate in painting, but it wasn’t recognized as a college degree and wasn’t recognized in Texas.
Ultimately, she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from Texas Woman’s University and a master of fine arts from the University of North Texas.
She painted in watercolor and oil at UNT and Fairlie said the professor pushed professionalism.
“We were required to enter national shows, which was great so I started showing my watercolors nationally and developed a reputation nationally as a watercolorist,” she said.
She got into the National Watercolor Society and many others. She also served as newsletter editor for the national society.
Her paintings are created on large canvasses, like 52 by 72 or 54 by 80, and her preference is for linen.
She often mixes scenes from different locations with her subjects. For example, Fairlie has taken used scenes from Prague, where her husband is from, and in a separate work, painted one of her students in a New York City subway.
“Every three years, I take students to Manhattan for Thanksgiving. A year from now, I’m hoping to take them to Italy. I love New York at Christmas because of all the crazy window scenes. So has window scenes from New York and the one behind it is a window scene from Amsterdam and another from Paris,” Fairlie said.
A Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., native, Fairlie started painting in oils when she was 8.
“Art was used as my daycare, I guess. My mom was really ill when I was a child, so a lot of times I was put in art classes because she was having to go to the doctor,” she recalled.
She remembers being placed in a high school oil painting class in third grade. Her mother and the art teacher had Fairlie agree that she would behave like an adult so she could stay.
“I got a little palette of oil paints and I got to sit outside and paint the landscape. Even before that, I was getting paint by numbers if I could get my hands on them and just painting without following the numbers,” Fairlie said.
“I was doing oil painting when the rest of the class was doing scratchboard, because back then, you were allowed to separate kids into what you thought would be good for them. I majored in art in high school, did a New York State Regents Exam in art, got certified in art,” she said.
At 17 she moved to Philadelphia to go to art school. Six months later, her parents moved to Houston so she’s lived in Texas longer than New York.
But she’s moved all over, even deciding to be a farmer at one point. But after her 100th can of beans and washing her laundry in a bathtub, she decided she would rather pay someone else to garden for her.
“I was so miserable and so lonesome. The concept of self-sufficiency taught me self-sufficiency, so I know how to pull a toilet off the floor and do plumbing, I know how to do carpentry; I know how to put a door in; I know how to fix a screen; I know how to work on a car. …,” she said.
Fairlie said she doesn’t like working on cars, but she can diagnose problems pretty well and can walk other people through fixing them.
Her favorite medium is probably watercolor. Her works are currently on display through June 30 at the Sibley Nature Center, 1307 E. Wadley Ave., in Midland. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
“I love the luminosity of watercolor. I love the way it glows. I paint watercolor like I paint oil painting. I learned oil painting first, and in oil painting there’s no such thing as white, there’s a little tiny highlight and everything else is a value. So it’s warmer, cooler violet or gray. When I’m painting, I have very little pure white. When I do my watercolors, I just can’t seem to see the white of the paper because I trained this way,” Fairlie said.
As a result, her watercolor paintings are rich and dark, although people would expect pastels.
Whenever she has free time, Fairlie is always doing something whether it’s sewing a pocketbook, making earrings, or painting shoes.
At Sul Ross, Fairlie teaches painting and drawing.
“First of all, I think to be a teacher you have to love teaching and I love teaching. I will throw in the disclaimer that I hate grading, but I love teaching. I think I’m a good teacher. I can teach you how to do oil paintings where at the end of one semester you have a good handle on how to mix paint, color theory and how paint works. We do still life, portraiture, landscape, symbolic color. We cover everything, but I teach traditional methods,” she said.
What she shares with students is different than the typical academic knowledge because of her experience.
“For years, I would see students who were taught to paint but they weren’t taught a variety of how to paint. Then when they got out of school and they wanted to pursue portraiture or landscape, they didn’t have the skill set to do that because they hadn’t been taught that,” Fairlie said.
“A lot of my students have not had a lot of art in high school; no private lessons. Therefore, I can teach them good, strong habits that they’re going to graduate. They’re not going to be great painters when they graduate, but they’re going to develop into great painters because they understand work discipline. They understand the underlying techniques that it takes to become an artist. They understand the dedication it takes,” Fairlie said.
A lot of her students have gone on to become artists and some have become teachers, but the majority continues to create art.
Before arriving at Sul Ross, Fairlie was a lecturer at University of North Texas, but it wasn’t tenure track.
“Everyone at Sul Ross wears many hats. They needed someone who could teach drawing, painting and watercolor and an extra (course). I could teach either metals or printmaking as my extra areas, so I talked to my husband, he said I should apply and see what happened,” Fairlie said.
Through the years, the community of Alpine has won her over.
“(There’s) all this stuff going on. You end up volunteering for everything,” Fairlie said.
Her husband, Jiri Dolezal, got a job right away as a hairdresser and within a year opened his own business.
“I’m still in love with Alpine. I’m still in love with the community,” she said.
Jan Moeller is the director of CatchLight Art Gallery, an artist cooperative gallery in Alpine, and president of the Big Bend Arts Council.
“I’ve known Carol for about 14 years. We met when we had the organizational meeting for beginning an arts council in our area. She was the president of the BBAC initially and was instrumental in our founding this group. She has been on the board for the Family Crisis Center for a long time. … She also leads the SRSU Art Club and keeps them directed and on track,” Moeller said in an email.
As an art educator, she said Fairlie is great.
“I have taken her watercolor and her introductory oil class and I’ve gotten more out of it than most classes I’ve taken. She moves everyone along rapidly and has high expectations in her classroom. This brings all of us up to her expectations. Her talent is amazing. She can creat
e art in most any medium,” Meoller wrote.
Fairlie displays her paintings and prints at CatchLight Art Gallery and her jewelry and hand-painted silk scarves at Gallery On The Square.
“She keeps our gallery up to a professional standard and holds herself to those same standards,” Moeller said.