Dorrie McKinley finds her artistic niche in small town Saluda

Published 10:00 pm Friday, June 6, 2014


No day is long enough for Dorrie McKinley, a former Atlantan who has found her niche in Saluda.
Those who meet her on the street, or at the Saluda Grade Cafe, during her waitress shifts witness her trademark smile and her boundless creative energy.
With a father and grandfather who were artistic painters, and a mother who was a musician, McKinley has no problem being a musician and a painter. On the musical side, she’s been strongly influenced by the Beatles, whom inspired her early career as a rocking guitarist.
She also treasures her Saluda friends, both human and feline.
Art is a major part of McKinley’s background. Her grandfather, Ollie Reeves, was poet laureate of Georgia for many years.
A one-time fourth-generation Atlantan, McKinley first visited Saluda in 2004.
“I just fell in love with it,” she remembers. “I felt like I had a connection here. This is the coolest town ever! I had the dream of a small town that’s a lovely small town.”
In Atlanta, McKinley was employed by a gallery selling art. When the financial crisis struck some seven years ago that fell through.
Nothing daunted, Dorrie rented a small cabin in Saluda, downsized, and moved in.
“Every day is something more wonderful to me up here,” she gushed about her adopted home.
After meeting artist Ray Pague, and others, she said, “I felt like I’d been living here all my life.”
Looking back at her childhood, Dorrie recalls, “The first thing I remember is drawing and painting. My father really encouraged me.”
So much so that he had his six-year-old daughter outside painting images of houses, in oil. That was a bit intense, but still, “I enjoy making stuff.”
Currently her paintings (McKinley refers to them as “far-out landscapes”) are on display at the Saluda Grade Cafe, but she plans to hang more work in several other Saluda venues.
She also paints cats and dogs, in an admittedly “far-out” style.
Much earlier, someone paid McKinley a compliment by comparing her work to a cross between Henri Matisse and Peter Max. That’s just the painting side. “The Beatles helped me become a musician,” McKinley said. In 1968 she watched them perform Hey Jude and Revolution on TV.
“That really blew my mind,” she said.
She knew she had to buy a guitar, and when she got it home, she began learning chords that night.
“I say George Harrison taught me to play guitar,” McKinley said of her early inspiration.
A year earlier, after watching the Beatles movie Sergeant Pepper, “The world went to color on me.” That influenced her to paint with more vivid colors.
“To me, they (the Beatles) were wonderful and full of hope,” said McKinley.
Music and art were fulfilling, but did not pay all the bills. Later in Atlanta, McKinley and a partner formed a drafting business, McKinley CADD.
“I was a draftsmen by day and a rocker by night,” she recalled, performing original music and covers. “It was a lot of fun,” and the music still is.
“I’ve been loving doing that,” she notes, though currently, her performances are closer to home, occasionally joining friends at local venues, and also hosting and playing in impromptu concerts on her porch in Saluda. She has returned to playing an acoustic guitar.
“Ladies’ Nights,” something McKinley and two friends began about two months ago, are held the first Monday each month, beginning around 6 to 6:30 p.m. at Meanwhile, Back in Saluda.
They offer women a chance to share their company, enjoy snacks and watch movies. They also help McKinley be with some of her close friends, whom she cherishes.
Dorrie said while the event began at the Purple Onion she would like to host it at the Saluda Grade.
If the venue was open on Mondays, “it would be here,” she emphasized.
Probably because she likes people so much, McKinley also works part-time at Random Arts in Saluda.
“We have so much fun up there,” she said. “I have the two coolest jobs. Work or not, if I had my druthers, I’d be on the porch with my friends, guitar and something on the grill.”
And maybe cats somewhere.
“I love kittens,” admits McKinley.
She has devoted much time and energy helping get feral cats neutered and into good homes. So far she has helped place 15 cats in new homes. What does she get in return, as if she looks beyond helping the animals have a chance at a healthy life?
“They’ve given me so much love,”  she said.
She wasn’t looking to be a cat rescuer but “sometimes God puts something in your path that you have to do something about.”
Though “I had a good life in Atlanta,” she admits, “Saluda is the perfect place for me.” What keeps Dorrie McKinley smiling?
“Compassion, forgiveness, and of course, love. That’s my mantra. It’s impossible for me not to smile. I’m happy and grateful to be here,” McKinley said.

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