Resident Shares Talent to Spread Holiday Cheer

June 04, 2021  |  by WesleyLife

The holiday season wouldn't be the holiday season at Edgewater in West Des Moines without Ruth Dotterer's Santas.

Resident Shares Talent to Spread Holiday Cheer

Longtime resident Ruth began carving Santas and other holiday decorations later in life after noticing the driftwood that washed up on the beach near her lake home in central Iowa. She had no idea why the weathered and battered wood was capturing her attention, but she felt compelled to try to put it to use.

"My husband was retiring, and I didn't know what I was going to do with myself," Ruth said. "It sounds funny, but that driftwood was speaking to me and telling me to pick it up. I don't have an art degree; I never even had a particular talent in art. But I kept seeing more and more wood wash up, and it had so much character that I just knew I had to do something with it."

Ruth mentioned her fascination to an artist neighbor, who encouraged her to try working with the wood and set her up with a set of carving tools. Ruth didn't have the faintest idea how to begin, but she picked up the first tool and "it just seemed to know what to do."

"I cut into the wood and it felt like I'd been doing it forever, although I had no idea how to make anything," she recalled. "I tried carving some faces but had no idea how to do a nose, so none of my earlier pieces had noses!"

Since that day, Ruth has carved hundreds of decorations, with her Santas being among her most popular. At one time, her art was sold in several stores and also was displayed at the Museum of Folk Art in New York City. Now, it's marketed locally by select stores, including West End Salvage in Des Moines -- but primarily, it's enjoyed by family members and fellow Edgewater residents.

"What I care most about now is the satisfaction that people close to me get from the things I make," Ruth said. "I can remember a time when all I ever thought I'd be was a doctor's wife -- and don't get me wrong; I'm very proud of my husband and the work he did. But I didn't know there was another Ruth in there who could do something like this! I'm proud of how far I've come."

Ruth said she's grateful to Edgewater for helping to facilitate her passion; she was able to turn one of her apartment's bedrooms into a carving room, with vinyl flooring instead of carpet. On any given day, she can be found there, carving or painting as music -- often the Hamilton soundtrack -- plays in the background.

"Ruth is an example of the kind of resident we love to see -- someone who continues to live life to the fullest, and to create and contribute without giving age a second thought," Dawn Ethofer, Edgewater's executive director, said.

"At WesleyLife, we encourage people to live lives of purpose and meaning, and Ruth not only continues to find purpose and meaning in her own life, but her beautiful art brings joy to so many people. She truly is an example and a treasure."

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