by Len Lear
Dora Ficher, 63, was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and raised in a family of accomplished musicians and visual artists. Her formal training started at a young age when her aunt, a well-known Argentinean painter, taught her to paint in oils. Though interrupted by family moves to Missouri and Philadelphia, Dora continued her training and entered the Instituto de Bellas Artes Beato Angelico in Buenos Aires, where she received her degree in fine arts and art education. After graduation, Dora returned to Philadelphia to teach art to grade-school children. The innocence and fresh quality of children’s art inspires her to this day.
Dora, who lived in Mt. Airy from 1992 to 2007 “because it is the best place to raise children” and taught at Plymouth Meeting Friends School (PMFS) from 1991 to 2008, is an exponent of the brightest, most explosive colors you will ever see in works of art. Prior to 1991 she worked at St. Christopher’s Hospital doing art and play therapy with the inpatient and then outpatient children. Her works have been exhibited in numerous solo and group shows all over the Delaware Valley.
“I have always used bright, bold, vivid colors when I paint,” Dora said last week. “I believe that it has a lot to do with my upbringing and where I come from. I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a very colorful city in every aspect. There are so many colorful feelings I have about my childhood memories in Buenos Aires.
“One example is the color of the sky. It is deep blue. I remember clear blue days with not a cloud in the sky. It’s a different kind of blue than the sky here. I’m not sure why, but I still see it every time I go for a visit. You can see every color possible when you go to their markets. Buenos Aires doesn’t have a White House; it has a Pink House. That pretty much sums it up.”
Dora has a son, Jonathan, who is now 31. When he was in elementary school at PMFS, Dora met his teacher, Heidi Schifferli. They became very good friends, and that friendship eventually turned to love. Dora and Heidi have now been together for 23 years, and they will be getting married April 26 at Material Culture, an upscale home décor emporium in East Falls.
“We were both married to men before,” explained Dora, “and I always told my son, ‘You don’t fall in love with a man or woman; you fall in love with the person.’ And we fell in love.” When asked, “Did you always know you were gay?”
Dora replied, “Not really, until I met Heidi.” (Schifferli, 67, originally from Buffalo, N.Y., moved to the Philadelphia area in the early 1980s.) According to Heidi, this is a case of opposites attracting. “She (Dora) is very outgoing, sort of willing to try everything, be part of the action all the time. That’s the antithesis of my behavior; I’m more introspective and like to sort of stand back more. She brought me out. I’d probably be a recluse without her!”
When asked about the change in attitude towards gay relationships by many Americans during the 23 years that she and Heidi have been a couple, Dora said, “Wow, so much has happened in 23 years. I believe that we were very fortunate to live in a neighborhood where everyone was accepted. It really was not an issue for us because of that. We both also worked in a school where it was accepted, so we really never had to hide anything. It feels good to be able now to have the same rights as everyone else. Getting married is something that we had never dreamt about. I wasn’t sure we would have seen this in our lifetime.”
Also an artist, Schifferli works with yarn and fabric and shares a studio with Ficher. The duo, who now live in center city, also run an art camp called Fun in the Sun. For many years it has been based out of the Crefeld School in Chestnut Hill, but Crefeld will be doing construction throughout the summer on the space they used, so Dora and Heidi will operate the camp this summer at the Unitarian Society of Germantown (USG), 6511 Lincoln Drive in Mt. Airy.
In addition to its art program, the camp offers games, swimming, bowling, miniature golf, roller skating, etc. (More information at www.funinthesun3.com)
Dora said that her son, Jonathan, who was inadvertently responsible for her meeting Heidi more than two decades ago, is her hero. During his junior year at the University of Pennsylvania, he was involved in a horrific car accident with three of his friends in October of 2005. He was not able to go back to school that semester because he had to have two surgeries. During his time off, he lived at home, and Dora took care of him while he recuperated both physically and emotionally.
“We had long conversations during that time when he realized that he didn’t really want to go to law school,” said Dora. “Having gone through a traumatic experience made him evaluate what life is all about, and he decided to pursue his photography. He has been working for himself freelancing ever since. He started out in Philly and then moved to New York City, where he lives with his wife, whom he met at Penn and who also wanted to go to law school. “She worked in a firm for two to three years and is now a chef. “So why is he my hero? He is doing what I wish I would have done back in my 20s but didn’t have the guts to do. Watching how Jonathan is doing gave me the courage to do it. He is following his dream. He is a professional photographer in New York City. Taking cues from him, after much soul searching I retired from teaching and am now following my dream (to be a full-time artist)…
“You have to be who you are. Don’t worry about what people think. You have to think with your heart, feel with your heart and do what you feel is right for you.”
For more information, visit doraficherartblog.com.