For decades the name Dick was one of the most well-known in the Drakenstein Valley, associated with hardware and furniture. Now the name James Dick has become well known in the world of art.
Dick, from the well-known family who owned renowned stores such as Dick & Allsop and Dicks, was a popular and very promising rugby player at Paarl Boys High School.
After school and the army, he went on to study agriculture, horticulture and oenology at Elsenburg College.
A few years of overseas work and travel followed, and on his return to South Africa Dick started work at a nursery in the Eastern Cape that specialised in growing roses. In his spare time he used his rugby skills to teach farm workers to play rugby and established a rugby league for them. In return, they taught him to speak Xhosa.
Two years later, Dick started working for Redhill Superplant and Pickstones Nursery in Groot Drakenstein. Eventually the travel bug hit again, and he packed up and set off for the United States.
Shortly after his arrival in Tucson, Arizona in 1991 he met the woman of his dreams in an art gallery. “I saw Sarah, who had just graduated from Yale and was working in a local gallery,” Dick recalled. “With a bottle of window cleaner in my hand I asked her if I could wash the gallery windows. A week later I asked her to marry me.”
In February 1992, he returned home with his bride-to-be, and the couple were married in the Congregational church in Paarl.
Afterwards, well-known horticulturist Keith Kirsten offered Dick a job and he worked in Johannesburg and Durban. But wife Sarah became homesick and the couple moved back to America, returning only when it came to assuaging a husband’s own feelings of homesickness.
Back in South Africa he started a butchery in Agter-Paarl with friend Tikkie Briers-Louw, named Uncle Jimmies Biltong and Droëwors.
The couple returned to Tucson after Sarah had again become homesick, this time with their little son, also named James, in tow.
Sarah, interestingly, had also learnt to speak Afrikaans quite well while holding her own among the offal and other fleshy things.
Her husband worked in agricultural financial services, managing close to 2 000 accounts.
A serious two-year stint in and out of hospitals, almost loosing his right leg to a staphylococcus infection, brought Dick and his wife to a crossroads.
“By then I had dabbled in painting, but nothing too serious,” he said. “One day, Sarah, who studied art history, sat me down and seriously encouraged me to follow my heart, and my love for painting. She handed me a palette knife and said, ‘Now you are going to be a full time artist.’
“I smiled and took her challenge. That was over 14 years ago.” And so this scion of Drakenstein pursued his artistic dreams.
Because of his love for nature, he spent a lot of time observing his natural surroundings. This is very much evident in his art, which he infuses with the forces of nature (the sky, sea, flora, fauna). And though much of his current art is based on the surrounds of his current home in Arizona, Dick still loves to paint scenes of South Africa, especially its fauna and flora.
He has been featured in art publications in America, such as the Southwest Art Magazine, and has exhibited in various galleries in America and at home, such as Kanonkop and Blaauklippen, and in Cape Town. “This is all because Sarah believed I could do it,” he says. “Now I see what she meant.”
Dick’s sons, James (21), the last Dick to be born in Paarl, and Gordon (17), have to an extent followed in their father’s footsteps, and are natural sportsmen excelling in American football.
He will be back on home ground soon for an art tour and exhibits in Franschhoek, among other places.
“I love visiting home and remain at heart a Boys High Paarliet.”