Painting Dogs, Healing Kids

May 17, 2019
Topics: Donors, About Us

mari image
Marilyn Evans with her very first dog painting from when she was 7-years-old

Marilyn Evans is onto something.

She’s tapped into both the rising trend of dog ownership in Indiana and the passion people have for Riley Hospital for Children. This Indianapolis artist created  “Paintings for Patients,” a fund to benefit Riley Hospital’s Art Therapy program, by requesting that patrons make a donation in lieu of payment for her dog “pawtraits,” as she likes to call them.  

How did she get started painting dog portraits? “I was seven years old when I painted my own dog, a Dalmatian named Pepper. I’ve just always loved dogs AND art.” It wasn’t a niche that she sought, but after a friend asked if she would paint her Black Lab, word spread and she soon found herself with an ongoing list of dog commissions.  

Early years as an artist

Marilyn grew up from that creative 7 year old and went on to marry Dan Evans, former CEO of IU Health. As a young mom with four kids, Marilyn’s own mom thought she needed a creative outlet and gave her a gift certificate for a class at the Indianapolis Art Center.  A watercolor class proved to be quite frustrating. “I freely admit that I flunked watercolor; I even took a second class,” laughs Marilyn. Wanting to try another medium, a class in oil painting turned out to be a happy experience. Over 100 dog portraits later, the switch proved to be an astute one. 

She has been painting dog portraits, as well as other animals, for over 15 years. Her first donation to Riley came in a roundabout way: A friend visited her art studio over the Starbucks in Broad Ripple and saw a painting of a sheep that she asked to buy. Marilyn wanted to just GIVE the painting to her, and a bit of going back and forth ensued. A deal was finally struck: Marilyn asked her friend to write a check to Riley. 

Fun fact: Marilyn shares the same birthday, October 7th, with Riley Hospital’s namesake, the Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley and remembers memorizing his most famous poems, Little Orphan Annie and The Raggedy Man, in grade school. 

During the past 15 years Marilyn has honed her skills. She takes a serious approach to her art; it’s more than just a hobby to her. Her high degree of commitment is affirmed in the faces of the dogs she captures on canvas. We’ve all seen portraits where the artist ALMOST got the subject right; Marilyn nails it. Her paintings accurately capture the dogs’ expressions and innate goodness.    

A famous subject!

Last year, she painted Indiana’s First Dog, Henry Holcomb.  Henry’s humans are Governor Eric Holcomb and First Lady Janet Holcomb.  The Governor’s Chief of Staff, Earl Goode, whose four Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Marilyn has painted, commissioned Henry’s portrait as a Christmas present.  “Henry is definitely the most famous of my subjects, but no more beloved that the other 100-plus dogs I’ve painted.  In their families THEY are the top dog too!” says Marilyn.  

Marilyn is a founding member of Riley’s Art Therapy Committee.  “I’m so pleased that the program is on such a good trajectory because art can be so important to recovery.  A quote from Thomas Merton on the wall of my studio says it so well:  “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”   For kids at Riley Hospital undergoing serious medical challenges, art therapy can be a game changer between surviving and thriving.  “I understand that so well, because this is MY therapy,” says Marilyn, pointing to the dozens of animal portraits adorning her studio, several in various stages of completion.  “This gives me a purpose for my art.”

That last sentiment reflects an emerging paradigm:  donors expressing their generosity through things that they are dedicated to.  Marilyn is passionate about her art and the Art Therapy program at Riley.  Raising more than $100,000 for the program, she has found a wonderful way to give back that benefits both.  

If you’d like to learn more about Paintings for Patients, please contact Riley Children’s Foundation, Pamela Fairchild-Clark at 

Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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