“Birds, Blossoms and Boats of Beaufort”

Brushes, paints and palette are not standard tools for a career Navy dentist unless your name is Doug Gillett and your medium is watercolor. A dentist by day, Gillett is an accomplished artist by night. And as unique as his two individual talents are, so too is the manner in which he has traveled the world from his southeastern Michigan roots to find his way to the Lowcountry of South Carolina. “Birds, Blossoms and Boats of Beaufort” is featured artist Doug Gillett’s exhibit of watercolors that will hang at the Beaufort Art Association Gallery at 1001 Bay Street in downtown Beaufort beginning August 7, 2006.

Art brought the Gilletts to Beaufort five years ago though it’s true the Navy did play a key role. By then their daughter had left their Virginia home to attend college at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Though Doug and his wife had been happy living where he was stationed in Virginia, they soon tired of the 600-mile drives to Savannah to visit their daughter. When he asked for a transfer to “somewhere close to Savannah,” the Navy’s answer was Parris Island.

Before arriving in Beaufort County, Gillett’s military service included several years in Asia, including Japan and Guam. Doug acknowledges that the Asian art, particularly painting, has inspired his work.

If there are any teachers out there who doubt the influence they may have on their students, they can take heart from knowing that Doug Gillett credits his start as an artist to an “enthusiastic” high school art teacher who first exposed him to the “joy of watercolors.”

It is perhaps Andrew Wyeth’s paintings that have had the deepest influence on Gillett; he has viewed exhibits in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and Chicago, as well as the Greenville Art Museum’s permanent collection. Doug’s daughter, now graduated from SCAD and a successful children’s book illustrator, will begin teaching in Greenville, S.C. this fall, so Doug will have ample opportunity to re-visit Wyeth’s work. “I can relate to Wyeth’s style of realism. There’s a pumped up sense of contrast in his paintings indicating his deep involvement in them,” which Doug admits he “is still striving to achieve.” He considers himself “a student who concentrates on [the play between] technical aspects” and the admirable freedom that Wyeth incorporates in his work.

Gillett may call himself a student, but this accomplished artist and photographer has exhibited in shows as far away as Australia. His works hang in private collections around the world. Gillett continues to experiment with his media, but his perception is consistently acute.

When Gillett arrived here in 2001 he had not been seriously painting for several years. He had agreed to do a commissioned painting, but it became a struggle just to complete it. His heart wasn’t in the assignment, and because of that his ability to paint was adversely affected. “The commission,” he says, “squelched my creativity for about three years.” Fortunately, before he was due to leave for a tour of duty aboard an aircraft carrier, Doug’s niece requested he do a painting as a gift for her upcoming wedding. She specified a particular place in the little town in South Michigan where his wife Dona had grown up−the quaint, picturesque country hardware store, Gershner’s. Doug had photographed it, and during the six months he spent at sea, he painted for his niece in his free time. By the time he finished the painting, he had rediscovered his passion for expressing himself through his brush.

Gillett strives to strike a balance in his life between faith, family, work and play. He counters his days of practicing dentistry on “a non-stop stream of recruits who are naturally undergoing stress” by spending time with his family and keeping fit. He rides his bicycle to work everyday and paints when he can. He philosophizes that the limit on his creative time “forces me to concentrate, to work hard. It motivates me to get better.”

Gillett is enthusiastic and vocal about the support of his fellow Beaufort Art Association members. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of joining the BAA. There are other art organizations where basically you’re on your own. But the BAA is open, friendly, nurturing−it is a real plus for the community.” And Gillett’s creative solution for the gallery’s staffing requirement of one day a month is Dona, his wife of almost 28 years. Doug adds proudly, “She’s my helpmate in every way.” Doug also appreciates the support of his military colleagues and church family, and he looks forward to seeing them at his reception.

What Doug Gillett likes best about Beaufort is living on Parris Island. He’s nicknamed it Pleasantville−because it’s a “safe, small town within the small town of Beaufort.” He enjoys “being able to walk everywhere on base−to the bank or post office.” And because the island is surrounded by marshes, he and his digital Nikon photograph bird life in all the open spaces around him.” Sometimes he kayaks with camera equipment on board to get the best shots. The majority of birds that appear in his current exhibit were discovered in the marshes of Parris Island, and the boats are from his favorite dock at the Dockside Restaurant in Port Royal.

About a year from now Gillett will retire from the Navy, and he looks forward to having time to pursue his art and hobbies full time. Imagine what this man will create with more than three hours a day! His fans−civilian, military and fellow BAA artists−hope he chooses to remain in the Lowcountry.

Gillett’s formal biography lists his education as an art and science major at Western Michigan University followed by dental school under a Navy scholarship at the University of Michigan. The bio concludes with a quote from the New Testament, Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” Doug says this passage represents his life’s philosophy−his faith in God and the wonders of creation, and how everything works together. He goes on to say, “I want to focus on the good, the right, the pure−it keeps me on track.” In this artist’s soft-spoken way, he inspires all to keep on track.