Although Provo and its people aren’t quite as perfect as his mind depicted, he still believes this “vanilla” county is as tasty as it gets.
“If you want to try different flavors of cities, go to Las Vegas or San Francisco,” he says. “But nothing beats vanilla as the base flavor.”
Now Eric starts with a base coat as he paints idyllic flavors and colors of cities across the globe. His folk art hangs in offices, homes and galleries. But more than 2 million of his detailed gifts of dab have been puzzled into 50, 100 or 500 pieces.
Despite his success, Eric is humble about his position in the marketplace.
“Nobody buys an emergency puzzle,” he says.
Maybe not. But they do buy them as stocking stuffers, momentos of vacations, dreams of a simpler time and cheap activities that can be repeated when the weather drops.
Truly, Eric has created pieces on — and of — earth.
Ye Old Artist
Eric has been accused — largely from himself — of being an old man in a younger man’s body. He loves the gray-haired crowd, and he relates to them as one of the few young folk artists in the country. His patriotism and love of old-fashioned family values led him to the folk style.
“I grew up in a patriotic and community-minded family,” he says. “We would go weed the park because my parents couldn’t imagine all 12 of us kids sitting still. That’s an older way of thinking, but I still carry that philosophy.”
He continues to admire the farming community — he raises chickens and peacocks on his property — and he says he doesn’t worry about competition coming up in the folk art or puzzle arena except for one scenario.
“As soon as a dairy farmer becomes a folk artist, I’m nervous,” he says. “Them are the hardest workers. What’s the difference between a dairy farmer and a guy in prison? The guy in prison doesn’t have to milk cows.”
Joking aside, hard work is a trait Eric admires, teaches and emulates. He tells his children that the world is not waiting for the smartest person — it’s waiting for the hardest worker.
With a large and frugal family, Christmas expectations in Eric’s youth were minimal.
“I remember getting last year’s Christmas presents again — aren’t these the same wooden blocks from before? But this time Dad sanded them down!” he jokes.
He also remembers seeing his future wardrobe on his brothers.
“Hey, don’t mess up that shirt. It’s going to be mine!” he recalls. “We were 10 boys, and Christmas was about food.”
The big family had little room for art or art supplies.
“We had food, and that’s all we cared about,” he says. “If there was room for a picture on the wall, there was room for a shelf of bottled jam.”
He and his wife, Deb, like to “top” each other’s stories of growing up as the 10th children in two large families. Eric refers to them both as the “tithing child,” which was also a trait of Ben Franklin.
“The tithing or entitlement child back then was sent to the best schools and given great opportunities because his life was supposed to be a donation to society,” Eric says. “Anything Ben Franklin invented, he gave away.”
Although the Dowdles do keep a living to provide for their family, their abundance mentality has been good for business. When other artists utilize Dowdle Folk Art to print or distribute their art, there are no messy contracts.
“If we do a good job for you, then we hope you’ll stay,” Eric says. “If we don’t, good luck to you. I’ve made enough mistakes signing contracts in my life, that I don’t want to do that to other people.”
Home for the holidays
The 2011 holiday landscape at the Dowdles will be simple. When Eric and Deb aren’t out meeting the public and selling art and puzzles, they love to be together with their blended family.
“We like to create memories, and we often do it through staycations,” he says. The family eats together and plays together — and does puzzles together.
“It’s my research and development,” he says.
Another of Eric’s favorite traditions is getting together with his brothers and their families around Thanksgiving.
“Our extended family is full of good people and good kids, and it’s our favorite tradition to get together with them,” Eric says.
Path of painting
Eric’s own “folk art” of life involved living in Boise, Rexburg and Boston, the later being the genesis of his folk art career.
“On the East Coast, folk art is big,” he says. “But I was reluctant at first because I had been painting realism. I had grown up in a family where if art didn’t look like a photo, it wasn’t good art.”
Eric’s paintings aren’t photo-like or drawn to scale. And don’t call them cartoons either — that’s an insult to this artist that takes his “folks” seriously.
He’s also not one to insult other artists. Some of his local favorites include Michael Coleman, Ian Ramsay, Greg Olsen and James Christensen. These and other various signatures can be found in the corners of wall hangings in Eric’s home. For many years, Eric didn’t hang his own art. He displayed Michelangelo paintings, for example, to which a guest once pointed and said to Eric, “That’s your best piece right there.”
Eric says Utah Valley-ites may not recognize the glut of talented artists in our backyard.
“We’re all trying to make a living so we’re painting things people actually like,” he says. “We’re not trying to get deep into recesses of the mind. We’re appealing to the masses. Once you start to get weird, your audience will diminish.”
Unlike many artists, Eric is also complimentary of Thomas Kinkade.
“If you can’t say Kinkade’s pieces are great art, you are just jealous,” he says.
Eric’s staff teases him that if this art and puzzle gig falls to pieces, his new career could be stand-up comedy. His lively interaction keeps the corporate culture pieced together.
“Thanks for wearing that hat,” he tells a fellow Cougar fan as he walks through the warehouse.
When he introduces Ursula, he says, “Everyone needs an Ursula.”
When Eric began holding a paint brush full time, he admits he would spend two months on a piece. That’s when he learned why artists are described as “starving.”
“Nobody wants to be involved in a business with the word ‘starving’ attached to it,” he says.
His key to turning the coins was to churn out the paintings at a faster rate. He now completes about 30 a year.
“I would love to spend more time on a piece — maybe that would help me be less critical of my own work,” Eric says. “Unfortunately artists can be critical of tiny flaws.”
But Eric has learned that’s not a trait you want to take home.
“You can’t walk in the house where everything is totally clean except one book on the floor and notice the one imperfection,” he says. “Nobody likes that.”
Deb describes her husband as sensory.
“He needs to taste it, feel it, smell it,” she says.
Which is why he can’t paint a city after flipping through a picture book at the Orem library. He needs to fly there, sleep there, eat there and talk there. And talk. And talk.
“He talks to everyone,” Deb says.
For the sake of all involved, Eric often goes alone on research trips.
“I do what the tourists do,” he says. “I ride the Maid of the Mist. I go to the Imax. I ask people what they are enjoying. In many ways I feel like a reporter.”
Eric brings sights and sounds to his painting studio, too. His favorite sounds? David Lanz, the Mormon Channel and sports radio.
“I used to listen to political radio shows or regular radio music, but now I’m an old guy and I like classical music and stories about the LDS Church abroad. The Mormon Channel is my favorite channel, and it’s not even close. “
Profit and prophet
One of Eric’s life highlights was spending a family home evening with the late LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley. The two connected after Eric painted and presented President Hinckley with “All Nations Flow Unto It,” which was commissioned by Zions Bank and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. Eric incorporated the church leader’s life story — as well as the growth of the religion and the Utah landscape — into the painting.
“I wondered where someone who is given so many gifts would put yet another item. In the closet? The bathroom? But he hung my painting above the couch. Maybe he took it down after we left,” Eric quips. “But I could give an entire talk on our evening together.”
President Hinckley suggested Eric make a puzzle out of his painting, and Eric asked, “Make a profit on the prophet?” He was given the green light “as long as I paid my tithing,” and the puzzle is now available at
For U and You and BYU
One of Eric’s current canvases is based on the football-crazed culture along the Wasatch Front. Fans can purchase some of Eric’s dabs by sending in a photo of themselves cheering the Cougars or the Utes. The finished product with hundreds of mini-commissions throughout the stands will be ready early next year.
Eric is spending much more time on the BYU and Utah paintings than his usual 1 1/2 to 2 weeks.
“The crowd needs to be detailed — it needs to look like Aunt Rhoda or Uncle Joe,” he says.
(Learn more about commissioning Eric to include you at dowdlefolkart.com.)
Coming to America
Eric’s loyalty to BYU is only rivaled by his patriotism for America. One of his dreams is to build a Mount Vernon replica as his corporate headquarters in Utah County. It will be a celebration of folk art, America, the founding fathers and agriculture. It will also be a reception center and gathering place.
“I love picturing the future of our business in a building that was instrumental in the history of our country,” he says.
Eric does his part to strengthen America and her economy. This year, all of his puzzles are manufactured in the United States — Indiana, to be exact.
The stateside manufacturer came within 15 cents of his bid from China, and that price differential was worth it for him to add to the economy of the country he loves.
PAINT BY NUMBER
Eric, who named his goat “Art” and has been spotted at Kneaders with the animal, adds personality and color to walls, puzzle tables and conversation. And there’s more to come. He recently started researching a Mardi Gras painting and watched a film on the festivities.
“I watched 10 minutes and had to call my bishop,” he laughs. “I’ll be doing a G-rated version.”
Eric’s feel-good depictions have pieced together a successful career for him as well as hours of enjoyment for art lovers, puzzle-doers and travelers who appreciate his folksy brush with reality.