ST. GEORGE, Utah — Four years ago on Memorial Day Weekend, Kim Mayne lost her 23-year-old daughter to a brain tumor.
Then last year, Mayne, a Cedar City resident, discovered the art of Dotti Durtschi, who specializes in pencil-drawn portraits of people, both living and dead. Durtschi often depicts the departed loved ones with their living relatives or with something that was important to them during their mortal journey. Many customers request to have their loved ones portrayed with Jesus Christ, the Spectrum reported.
Mayne commissioned Durtschi to draw a portrait of her daughter with Christ as a gift for Mayne’s husband on Father’s Day last year.
“She could not have drawn a better picture,” Mayne says. “She does beautiful, beautiful work. She really captures the essence of our loved ones.”
Three other Durtschi portraits have since joined the Mayne Family’s collection. And Mayne says she has a few more she would like Durtschi to draw.
Mayne says Durtschi’s portraits are the greatest gifts she has ever given anyone.
“She just seems to capture their souls,” Mayne says. “It’s unique.”
Durtschi estimates she has completed more than 1,000 portraits in the past few years, with that number quickly adding up in the past three years as she transitioned to doing it full time.
The St. George-based artist first began drawing as a kid and continued through her teenage years in northern Utah. She earned a bachelor’s degree in illustration from Utah State University.
As a single mother of three children, Durtschi worked in a variety of fields, operating a cleaning business, creating her own magazine for single mothers and building a couponing company. Through it all she continued to draw portraits.
But after a major automobile accident a few years ago, she decided to pursue her art full time. She wasn’t sure if she could make a living from it but she has managed to build it into a successful business that also brings comfort to her customers.
The portraits of departed loved ones with Christ are part of Durtschi’s “Welcome Home” series. Sometimes they include clouds and angels to emphasize the heavenly meeting.
“These portraits have given such peace and joy to the family members and spouses that hang them in their homes,” Durtschi says. “They are a reminder that all is well.”
Durtschi says drawing people who have died is a sacred responsibility. She says she feels the presence of their spirits when she draws them.
“I understand from them that they are aware of the impact their portrait will have for their loved ones to find peace and move on with their lives,” she says.
One instance she remembers in particular was a portrait of a mother and daughter, both in old age. Durtschi says she could feel their spiritual presence from the first day she brought their photo into her home, where she creates her art.
Durtschi describes their spirits as “very chatty.” As she drew the portrait, she sensed the mother watching over her shoulder and asking if she really looked that old. Then Durtschi says she sensed the daughter responding and telling her mother to leave Durtschi alone because their loved ones remembered them as old women and the portrait is for those living descendants.
When the artist presented the portrait to the daughter and granddaughter of the two women, she described the experience she had while drawing it. The woman then started to cry, saying Durtschi perfectly described their personalities.
“She was amazed that I knew them when I have never met them nor knew their family,” Durtschi says. “I told her that the portrait was not only a gift from me but from her mother and grandmother because they influenced the finished piece.”
Because of experiences like this, Durtschi says she looks at what she does not only as a job but also a calling.
“She must feel their presence,” Mayne says. “It’s just astounding how she captures in their expressions everything about them.”
Through the years Durtschi has drawn a variety of subjects. Not all of them are dead.
She has been commissioned to draw living children with Christ as gifts for the children at baptism. Some families commemorate children leaving to serve religious missions with a portrait by Durtschi. And she often commemorates special moments like 50th wedding anniversaries.
Commissioned veteran portraits are also common. Durtschi will typically portray them in uniform with a flag. Sometimes there are images associated with their service included around the veteran in collage format.
Yet many of the more memorable pieces she has created were depictions of those who have died, including suicides.
“People trust me because I’m sensitive to that,” Durtschi says of suicide deaths.
She has also drawn babies who died before birth, leaving their parents without any photos of them while alive. Durtschi uses her artistic license to portray them alive, providing an emotional gift to the grieving parents.
Whether live or dead, the artist says she enjoys learning about her subjects.
“It’s the stories behind the portraits that make them so interesting,” she says.
Durtschi gives the original drawings to her customers but retains the copyright for each image. She typically charges somewhere between $90 and $250 for each original and $8-$11 for additional copies.
Christmas is, by far, the most popular time for portrait orders and she often starts as early as September on orders for the holiday. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are also busy times of the year for the artist.