It is with sadness that we announce the death in November 2022 of Dorothy McCourt, Co-founder of NIGAT with Rita Simon, Alice Graham and Brenda Blaney.
After graduating from Queen’s University Belfast with a BSc (Hons) in Zoology, Dorothy taught Zoology at Belfast College of Technology. Here she met her husband-to-be. She later taught Biology at Sullivan Upper School until the early’70s.
Dorothy was living in Holywood and met Rita Simon shortly after Rita came to live there around 1968/69. Both were members of the Steering Committee of the Praeger (Rosamund Praeger, Artist and Sculptor) Art Workshops in 1973, which attempted to set up an Arts Centre in Holywood. Since no premises were available, Rita began to hold groups in her own home – the origin of the Kitchen Art Groups which Dorothy felt was the beginning of her understanding of art as therapy. She herself followed the tradition and hosted a collage and painting group for over 10 years in her own home.
Rita had begun introductory courses on art as therapy in 1975 which Dorothy attended. NIGAT was formed in 1976 as a response to the expressed wish of participants to continue to meet for support, and the development of this method of communication and therapy.
Dorothy was the Group’s Secretary/Treasurer from 1976-1988 and continued to act as ‘advisor’ to the incoming Secretary, then accepting Honorary Membership.
Her 12-year term of office was characterised by dedication, unfailing hard work and attention to detail. Her beautiful handwriting features in Day Meetings reports over many years, carefully written up and reflecting vital artmaking processes. Further archive material yields her extensive lists of the Group’s reference and lending library, financial matters meticulously completed and carbon copies of any required material – all prior to photocopying facilities! These treasured objects are testimony to Dorothy’s attentive and serious application to her role as NIGAT Secretary/Treasurer.
Her particular interest lay in the provision of art as therapy to elderly people and children. In 1976 she held a painting group for elderly patients in a Holywood nursing home and in 1977, when Rita introduced art therapy to a group of geriatric patients in Ards Hospital, she asked Dorothy to assist her: this was the beginning of an art therapy service in the Ards, Bangor and Crawfordsburn Hospitals.
Dorothy continued to work alongside Rita in the Eastern Health and Social Services Board for many years, in both hospital-based and domiciliary work with older people. She was confirmed in her position as art therapist in 1981 because of her ‘sensitive and thoughtful art therapy with old people in Scrabo House, Ards Hospital’.
Her experience in these many and varied contexts – in hospital, care homes, domiciliary care and in the community – ensured a depth of knowledge, expertise and skill as demonstrated in the joint authorship (with Rita and Alice) of ‘The Art of Ageing’ published in Changes: The Psychology and Psychotherapy Journal (1984).
Dorothy officially retired as art therapist at Bangor and Ards Hospital in 1992 but continued in a voluntary basis in this capacity in the Ards district including Crawfordsburn Hospital.
As a Co-founder, Dorothy was a mainstay of NIGAT over a long number of years, contributing steadily to promoting art as a therapy: providing workshops and information to statutory and voluntary agencies, attending meetings of Nigat’s affiliated organisations, representing the Group at AGMs and providing information at Careers Conventions.
She presented her work at Day Meetings and courses, and was quietly satisfied to know that the Group was flourishing and thriving beyond her retirement.
She was a valued guest at the Group’s milestone celebrations. At the 20th anniversary (Autumn 1996) where she and Alice spoke of NIGAT’s origins, Dorothy presented an illuminating case study illustrating her early work in the Ards area.
NIGAT’s 25th anniversary was marked by a retrospective exhibition at the prestigious Linenhall Library in 2001 where Dr Caryl Sibbett, NIGAT Chair, presented Dorothy with the Group’s original Membership Book, which she had constructed over many years as Secretary.
Dorothy and Rita’s fond and mutually respectful relationship continued beyond Rita’s return to London in 1984 and she was a member of a group which visited Rita at her home to mark the publication of Rita’s 3rd book ‘ Self-healing Through Visual and Verbal Art Therapy’.
Besides art, her other enduring passion was gardening and she created a most beautiful garden in Holywood, continuing in this vein when she moved to Armagh to be near her daughter Moira. She was later joined by her daughter Sheelagh. A warm welcome awaited visitors; Alice, Brenda and Eileen as well as others visited her, marvelling at Dorothy’s intimate knowledge of plants and touched deeply by her obvious love of the natural world.
She had an abiding love for Fair Head and its surrounding area and on retirement, NIGAT presented her with a painting of this beloved scene.
Dorothy’s grace, sensitivity and gentle approach were apparent in her every word and gesture. Her calm presence and softly-spoken delivery were engaging qualities while her quiet and modest demeanour belied a mischievous sense of humour. Her sense of wonder and appreciation of the latent creativity in each and every individual were ever present.
NIGAT will be forever grateful for Dorothy’s huge contribution to its foundation and development.
Sadly, she was widowed in 1983, when her husband Harold died suddenly. Archive material indicates his generous help with NIGAT’s administration and his support of Dorothy’s activities for the Group.
In latter years she was cared for at home with love and devotion by her daughter Sheelagh who lived with her, daughter Moira and son Brian.
NIGAT Committee 20 Dec. 22