Humanitarian adds color to dentistry

May 17, 2012

As skilled with a paint brush as with a drill, retired dentist Richard Schilling has found inspiration for his watercolor paintings from a variety of places he has visited while on dental missions including the prairies of Nebraska, the plains of the Serengeti, the Royal Palace of Monaco, and the snow swept landscape of Siberia.

As skilled with a paint brush as with a drill, retired dentistRichard Schilling has found inspiration for his watercolor paintings from a variety of places he has visited while on dental missions including the prairies of Nebraska, the plains of the Serengeti, the Royal Palace of Monaco, and the snow swept landscape of Siberia.

His volunteer work on dental missions abroad and a 10-year stint as a cruise ship dentist enabled Schilling the opportunities to travel to spots where he practiced his art as a master water colorist, and also pursued his passion for humanitarian work.

Schilling’s artwork has been published in two books. The first is “Water Color Journeys: Create Your Own Travel Sketchbook,” which is part travelogue and part instructional manual for anyone wanting to learn to paint.

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The second, “Portraits of the Prairie: The Land that Inspired Willa Cather” allowed Schiller to rediscover his roots in Nebraska were he grew up. His mother was from Red Cloud, which also was Cather’s hometown.

“I was excited about returning there and illustrating the landscapes in Cather’s books,” he said. “The country looks the same as it did a hundred years ago. I felt an attachment to my mother, walking the streets and knowing my mother had known them.”

Schiller, who now lives in Loveland, Colo., spent three years working on the book. 

“I read all of Cather’s books,” he said. “I highlighted passages that would make great paintings and ones that I could literally find.”

The work paid off. The book, which features both landscapes and architectural paintings, was chosen by Publishers Weekly as a top 10 art and architecture title for spring 2011. 

Schilling’s interest in art was spurred early in life when he was selected at the age of 12 by a teacher to take part in Saturday morning art classes at the University of Nebraska. Watercolor was, and still is, the medium that most appealed to him.

“I am a realistic artist,” he said. “I just enjoy the uniqueness and freshness of water color.”

Schilling’s career as a dentist was fostered by his parents who thought he had the aptitude to succeed in the career.

“I followed that track and they were right,” he said. “I really enjoyed dentistry.”

After earning his dental degree at the University of Nebraska, Schilling worked for 10 years in public health service. He then opened his own practice in Loveland.

Schilling said art and dentistry are compatible.

“I always said the two professions went hand-in-hand,” he said. “When we (dentists) restore teeth to a natural appearance that’s really an artistic endeavor.”

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After retiring in the mid-1990s, he worked part-time for Holland America Line ships where he treated crew members. His wife, Marlene, went along too, as his on-board dental assistant.

“I spent a great deal of time on shore –painting and exploring,” he said. “Those paintings became the content for my first book.”

He also squeezed in time to volunteer on dental missions that took him to Mexico, Africa, Nicaragua, and Siberia. After his volunteer mission in Siberia was finished he was prevented from flying out for 10 days by bad weather. The paintings he made during that period may be the focal point of his next book.

“Every day was boring,” he said. “I went to each window of the quarters we were in and painted what I saw from the window.”

In 1998, Schilling, who is a member of the Rotary Club of Loveland, Colo., worked with two other Rotarians to form the Smiles Without Borders Foundation, which provides portable dental clinics to elementary schools in developing countries. The clinics are staffed by recent graduates of dental schools in the host countries. The foundation has 15 clinics in Mexico.

“We provided complete, beautiful portable dental clinics,” he said. “We’ve treated thousand of kids.”  

He said the foundation needs financial support to continue to offer the care to children in need.

“It’s difficult with the economy,” he said.

Meanwhile he continues to paint and feels grateful for a life that has allowed him to pursue his passions.

“I’ve been blessed,” he said.