Julie Dawson is an altruistic artist, sharing her talent and creativity to spread love and beauty
BY JENNIFER LOVY
Julie Dawson is 85 and not even close to slowing down. There’s too much to do. Besides, this prolific artist and author, photographer, designer, speaker, and lifelong volunteer, is having way too much fun. Her days are long and productive, but she hardly considers what she’s doing work.
“That’s the great thing about my world and my life. It keeps growing in new directions, and it’s all very exciting. I always have like 16 projects going at the same time,” says Julie Dawson, who didn’t even realize the extent of her artistic talent until her mid-20s.
Dawson discovered her creative side when she moved to Detroit in 1963 to work for the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. At first, she didn’t know anyone outside of work, so she decided to fill her free time by enrolling in watercolor painting classes at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center because it seemed like a fun thing to do.
Ten years later, she resigned from the Girl Scouts to become a full-time artist. She remains an active volunteer with the organization, where she continues to make quite an impression.
“I admire Julie for many things, but her curiosity about the world, her intense caring about others, and her zest for living come immediately to mind,” says Denise Dalrymple, the former CEO of Girl Scouts Southeastern Michigan. “Her art continues to evolve as she incorporates her experiences with new technologies. She is constantly evolving as an artist, philanthropist, and public citizen.”
Dawson is the kind of person who finds beauty in everything and says she wants people to see the beauty in each other. She exudes positivity and joy that rivals Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but without the sappiness.
Her altruism shines brightly through her volunteer work with many entities, including the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, Care House in Pontiac, Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, The Community House in Birmingham, Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, and Children’s Hospital of Michigan, where she uses her knowledge and talents to support and beautify these organizations.
In her quest to foster beauty in the world, Dawson is also on a mission to dissolve the current climate of hatred in the world.
“I’m very distressed about all this hate,” she says. “I’m upset about how people are communicating with each other and not communicating with each other, and how we are so divided. We need to listen. We need to understand why people do things differently.
“I want people to find the joy, value, and beauty in each other. I want us to work harmoniously, so we’re all helping each other. And, I thought, well, I can’t complain. I’ve got to do something about it.”
Dawson came up with the tagline “Turn Hate to Appreciate to Celebrate” to describe three of her most current projects, all related to the same idea of reducing hate and negativity.
In 2021, she published her fifth children’s book, The Sillybillies Find Stripes and Spots. Through her colorful art and inspirational text, her characters hike through Africa, where they discover a giraffe’s and zebra’s wisdom and magical powers while experiencing the joy of meeting others who are different. Although all five of the Sillybilliesbooks in the series are written for kids, she said this one has a relatable message for everyone.
Dawson, a Birmingham resident with a home studio, recently created all the art for the emergency department at Children’s Hospital, which features the animals and theme from her latest Sillybilies book. In addition to a 29-foot mural, her animal paintings fill the exam rooms and hallways. She made animal-themed headbands for the staff, and a copy of her book is mounted on the wall in the waiting room.
It’s not the first time Dawson has volunteered her time and talents to a hospital or treatment center. Her work brings the Sillybillies to life at several of Beaumont’s pediatrics departments in Royal Oak, Care House in Pontiac, and McClean Macomb Hospital in Mount Clemens.
When Dawson creates her murals, she draws the characters and scenes on the wall and then invites 50 friends to help paint. For those who worry about making a mistake, she tells them, “’Who cares. It’s like a giant coloring book.’ Nobody’s made a mistake. They’re all very careful.”
Her third and most recent project related to the theme of transforming hate into something positive communicates the same message delivered by the Sillybilies, but instead of animals, she used flowers.
“Seeing the Beauty in our Differences” is the tagline written on a banner with 51 meticulously designed flowers, representing the national flower of some of the member countries in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Dawson, a member of the Girl Scouts for 78 years, reproduced the design on scarves and headbands being sold by the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan.
Embracing diversity comes naturally for Dawson, who says she’s discovered “the beauty and the joy and excitement of everybody and everything” with guiding principles from her family and Girl Scouting.
“One of the mysteries of life is how can we influence other people in positive, happy ways. My goal is to bring happiness, beauty, and a bit of humor to others, and I think I can do that through my art, books, and [volunteer] activities,” she says.