Monday, October 3, 2011

Painting the Mural: "Dorothy's Room"

A lot of people think that "Big Dorothy" operated her bordello in the Windbag. But it was really upstairs, above the Windbag, with the entrance in the rear at 19 1/2. A lot also apparently think, based in part on the Windbag's "Old West" graphics, that it was back in the 1800s that the place was a bordello. But the building, the St. Louis block, was built as a drygoods store back in 1882. And it wasn't until 1927 during the Prohibition that Ida ran her bordello called "Ida's Rooms" in the building. And it wasn't until the late 1950s that Dorothy bought the business and renamed it "Dorothy's Rooms," which was closed down in 1973.

My painting shows the infamous round red bed at Dorothy's, based on a photo from "Helena As She Was" ( I simplified it, added the ashtray with burning cigarette, and tweaked the colors to be more lurid looking, inspired by Van Gogh's "The Night Café." He said: "I have tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green. ...In my picture of the Night Café I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime." Notice not only the burning cigarette (and everyone smoked in those days) but the marks on the bed like someone was just sitting or reclining there. It is called "Dorothy's Room" (singular) rather than Dorothy's Rooms. The houseplant is a dracaena marginata, or "dragon tree," not "palm trees" as some speculated, and was in the original photo. It is an interesting coincidence that this "dragon tree" thus links with the Dragon Wall!

Above is a replica-enlargement of a 1973 article in the Walla Walla, Washington newspaper on the closing of the establishment and the death of Dorothy soon after. It was printed out by Signs Now in downtown Helena and applied with adhesive. I decided to make the article very big, to look like a crime novel in a way, and although some might find the fact that the article has a missing section annoying, it also reminds us that we really never know the full story about anything.

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