Painting alleviates suffering for Stanford cancer patient

While receiving chemo treatment at CMMC, Dixson continues to paint. This is one of his recent works.

Don Dixson holds up two recent paintings he made during chemo treatment at Central Montana Medical Center. Dixson and his girlfriend, Carol 

Photo by Charlie Denison

Charlie Denison

If you’ve stayed up late channel surfing, chances are you’ve stumbled upon painter Bob Ross.

“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”

“Ever make mistakes in life? Let’s make them birds.”

“There’s nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend.”

Chances are you can see him now: the bearded middle-aged man with an afro, most-likely wearing a light-blue long-sleeve button down. His instructional show, the “Joy of Painting,” aired on American Public Television for 31 seasons, from 1983 to 1994, and reruns are available on YouTube and Netflix.

Don Dixson, an eastern Montana native currently living in Stanford, found inspiration through Ross’s words and techniques. He felt encouraged by the TV personality and felt motivated to pick up a brush.

As Bob Ross said, “Talent is a pursued interest.”

However, that’s not the message Dixson got from his high school art teacher in Terry.

“He told me to quit because I had no talent,” Dixson said. “He was right. I don’t have talent for traditional art, but the Bob Ross style works for me.”

One thing Ross said that’s really stuck with Dixson is “you only need one thing to paint: desire.”

“He’s right,” Dixson said. “Anybody can paint, and [Ross] proved that to me and so many others. I can’t think of someone who has done more for art.”

By 1997, Dixson started pursuing art with ferocity. His girlfriend, Carol Lawen, did the same, and together they decided to not only paint but also instruct. They took a Bob Ross Painting class in Lewiston, Idaho, where they learned Ross’s secrets, and in 2002 they were certified as Bob Ross Painting instructors.

 For the last 15 years, Dixson and Lawen have taught all over the West: Spokane, Washington; Couer D’alene, Idaho; Billings, Laurel, Conrad, Havre and elsewhere. Last month, they taught their first Bob Ross painting class in Lewistown at Lewistown’s Sew Pieceful on Main Street.

However, classes have slowed down of late. In May of this year, Dixson was diagnosed with stage-three colon cancer.

“[Dixson] couldn’t sit up or get out of bed on his own,” Lawen said. “I was worried about him, so I called 9-1-1 and an ambulance took him to the hospital. He had surgery done right away, which saved his life.”

“I learned an important lesson,” Dixson said. “If someone says you should get a colonoscopy, do it.”


Painting through pain

Soon after surgery, Dixson started chemotherapy treatments. They’re not so bad, he said, because he gets to paint while he’s recovering.

“Having the chance to do his oil paintings at CMMC really brings him joy,” Lawen said. “It totally relaxes him. He actually looks forward to the chemo days just so he can sit and paint.”

Dixson wouldn’t go that far.

“I can paint other places, too,” he said, laughing.

Nevertheless, Dixson said he couldn’t be happier about the treatment he’s received at Central Montana Medical Center. He jokes that he expected “at least one cranky nurse,” but that hasn’t been the case at all.

“Really, I can’t say enough about this hospital,” Dixson said. “Everyone has been so caring.”

As a way to give back to CMMC, Dixson is giving significant discounts to any CMMC employee who signs up for his Bob Ross Painting Class.

“They deserve it,” he said.

The next classes are Thursday, Jan. 18 and Saturday, Jan. 20 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The class will focus on landscape paintings, using one of Dixson’s recent pieces he did at CMMC as a template.

“Come to our class,” Dixson said. “We’ll teach you the method and you take it from there.”

All are welcome, Dixson added, whether beginner or advanced.

For more information on the Bob Ross Painting Class, call Lewistown’s Sew Pieceful at 535-3122 or Lawen at (406) 781-6771.





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