Back in 1983, Dawn Mark's father, a fisherman in the Louisiana bayous, started encouraging his daughter to begin expressing herself as a painter on a wood plank, which he gave her. For the past 35 years, she hasn't stopped painting, and wood has been her primary medium -- initially on those distinctive structures that grow above the roots of cypress trees, called cypress knees, later on the planks cut from cypress timbers and, occasionally, on old tin.
Today, Marks teaches the painting skills she has honed over the years to children, youth and adults who want to manifest their creative drives in small classes (no more than a dozen students) that assemble at churches, other not-for-profit groups and house parties in southwest Mississippi and Louisiana from Wesson to Houma.
During the holiday seasoon, she guided novice painters in creating nativity scenes on cypress planks for their Christmas decor at an Institute for Learning in Retirement workshop at Co-Lin.
Marks offers her classes through Original Cypress, a small home-based company operated by Marks and her husband Mike. Original Cypress began 15 years ago, selling her cypress works, which feature Louisiana motifs, such as pelicans and swamp scenes, to gifts and crafts stores. While Marks continues to paint her own works to sell, teaching others to paint has become the main thrust of Original Cypress. Since September, she has been teaching five classes a week.
"We have been blessed," she says. "The classes have really taken off." Marks sees her teaching as a ministry that provides a venue, where people can enjoy food and fellowship, while "creating something meaningful which they can hang on their walls." "God has given me this tool to use my talent," she summarizes.
Mark's husband dives into Lake Maurepas, adjacent Lake Pontchartrain at New Orleans, to retrieve the cypress timbers -- some thousands of years old, which he fashions into planks and prepares for the painting. Marks draws the outlines of subject matter on the media for her student painters to add colors. Many of them are religious in nature, although others are whimsical like one with a deer eating a snowman's carrot nose. With Mike's help or the assistance for her good friend, Debbie Bertrand, Marks brings all the materials to the class -- the cypress planks or sometimes old tin, which she also uses as a medium; usually house paints and sometimes watercolors for the palettes of her student painters. "We make things as easy as possible for our classes," she says.
Marks grew up in Prairieville, Louisiana, south of Baton Rouge, graduated from high school in Louisiana, and studied fashion design in college for two years. After leaving college, she worked in a variety of jobs, while continuing to paint as an avocation before staring Original Cypress. Marks and her husband acquired an old farm, where they rode horses, in Amite County, Mississippi, and resettled there from Louisiana. Contact Dawn and Mike Marks at 601-551-5467 or through Facebook@Original Cypress.