Painter finds a friend in art during ten years of turmoil

Sheila Dodd at home in Morpeth
Sheila Dodd at home in Morpeth

“Painting is the work you always return to, no matter what you are going through in your life,” said artist Sheila Dodd.

And she has certainly put that to the test in the last ten years after suffering breast cancer, a near-fatal allergic reaction and catastrophic flooding.

Throughout it all, the Morpeth resident kept at her art and now she is staging a new exhibition.

Mrs Dodd did not set out as an artist, being the first female computing trainee at the North Eastern Electricity Board. She later worked at Newcastle University Finance office, where she met her husband John, and was a medical secretary at the University Hospital of North Durham.

However, in 2000 she signed up for an evening degree class in Fine Art at Durham University, transferring to Sunderland during her final semester in 2004. It was then that a routine mammography diagnosed breast cancer.

Mrs Dodd could have deferred her studies, but she wanted to carry on and just weeks after surgery was awarded a first class degree.

For a time after the operation, the 65-year-old could only paint with her left hand, but she turned the problem into a positive.

“Although daunting at first, I became interested in the effect it had on my work, opening up new ways of communicating through drawing with oil paint,” she said.

After radiotherapy, Mrs Dodd embarked on an MA, but during a painting course in France, she was bitten by a Black Arab fly and suffered a life-threatening reaction.

“I could not believe I could have had such a dramatic reaction to insect bites, but I was told it was very serious indeed,” she said.

She recovered, but disaster came again in 2008 when the Dodds’ riverside home at Morpeth was flooded. The couple were in France and tried to rush back, but were hampered by fire.

“The River Wansbeck was 5ft deep and everything was gone,” said Mrs Dodd.

“Because of a fire in the Channel Tunnel, everyone was heading for the ferry so we were stuck in Normandy waiting to get on a boat for days.

“The thing that upset me most was getting home to see a skip outside with my walking boots, dripping wet, on the top.”

Many drawings and paintings were lost, but Mrs Dodd began her work anew.

“Yet again, I found painting was the friend I could return to,” she said.

Mrs Dodd is showing her Between Two Countries collection at Westside Contemporary Art Gallery near Corbridge, alongside work by Wallsend artist Keith Murdoch, until Saturday, July 26.