Dorothy Langdon Timmons: A Des Moines Branch Icon


By Linda Hodges and Pat Underwood, Des Moines Branch


Dorothy Langdon Timmons, a Des Moines Branch member who celebrated her 100th birthday last December, is an inspiration to talented women who lack the opportunity to realize their creative potential until middle age.

She never hesitated to take on a challenge or be a trailblazer. When Dorothy was just 10 years old, her family lived in Hornersville, a tiny Missouri town bordering Tennessee and Arkansas. The town didn’t have any schools, so her parents put her on a train to Bellbuckle, Tennessee, to attend Webb Preparatory School.

In 1927, Webb was an all-boys’ boarding school that allowed local girls to attend classes. That didn’t discourage Dorothy, and she lived with the family of the assistant headmaster.

With few female extracurricular activities, she participated with the boys. Young Dorothy had an interest in acting and took the leading role in every play — even portraying a boy — according to her daughter, Nancy Timmons Eisinger.

Following graduation, Timmons attended Sweetbriar College in Virginia for a year and then, the University of Missouri, where she graduated with a bachelor’s of science in elementary education and a minor in applied art.

Timmons says that since childhood, she was fascinated by colors, textures, and shapes. She always wanted to paint, and college gave her the opportunity.

At the University of Missouri, a sorority sister arranged a blind double date, introducing Timmons to her future husband, John, an environmental economist. They married in 1937 and he took a job in a governmental agency in Washington, D.C.

For the next 10 years, the couple lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, where they enjoyed browsing art museums and visiting historical sights of the capital. In 1947, they moved to Ames, Iowa, where John Timmons eventually became a distinguished professor of agricultural economics at Iowa State University.

Dorothy Langdon Timmons continued to nurture her dream of painting. Her belief is that “as artists, we have a responsibility to create awareness in others.” However, it wasn’t until after she had raised eight children that she was able to develop as an artist.

She started by studying painting with the late Gary Sheahan, retired staff artist for the Chicago Tribune, and then Richard Heggen, distinguished professor of design at Iowa State University.

In addition, Timmons participated in workshops led by prominent painters, exhibited in both group and solo shows, and entered juried shows annually. She was a signature member of the Iowa Watercolor Society as well as a co-founder and the first president of Iowa Artists. In 1973, she became a Pen Woman in the Des Moines Branch.

Her art interests were curtailed in her later life during her husband’s 12-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease, which he lost in 1999. A few years later, in her mid-80s, Timmons was fully involved with art, exhibiting her works and winning ribbons in shows.

Her subjects are landscapes and flowers. She has painted in oil, acrylics, and watercolors, and found that watercolor is her favorite medium.

“It is ideally suited to expressing the emotions and moods nature inspires,” she said when she was interviewed by a fellow branch member a decade ago. “It is flexible, fluid, and subtle. It is the most exciting, the most versatile, the most expressive, and perhaps the most baffling medium of all.”

Since 1964, Timmons has enjoyed summer reunions with her large family at Leech Lake in northern Minnesota, where she owns a home with eight bedrooms. The view overlooking the lake inspired many of her works, and for years, she painted weekly with members of the Leech Lake Arts League.

From the beginning, Timmons painted while standing up. “It allowed me greater arm movement,” she explains.

This flexibility was so important that it was essential to her ability to be an artist.

“[Several years ago], when I could no longer stand on my feet for hours, I had to give up painting,” she says.

Her painting legacy is on display throughout her home, and at age 100, she is fortunate to live with such vigor and independence.

To the members of the Des Moines Branch, Dorothy Timmons is an unsung heroine. A warm person, she continues to infect others with her hearty laugh.

She has always met life’s challenges with equanimity, quietly fulfilling her duties, helping when needed, while pursuing her own dream. The Des Moines Branch of Pen Women is fortunate as well for knowing this remarkable, gracious woman, who has had a positive impact on everyone she meets.

Editor’s note:  As we prepare for the 2018 Biennial in Des Moines, Iowa, we are delighted to feature this legend from the Des Moines Branch.