Ben Lippen Stories

Beyond Ben Lippen: Judee Dickinson

Although Judee Dickinson never really dreamed of being a full-time artist as a girl, it has certainly become a reality. Art has always been a part of her life and over the years, she’s gained recognition for her beautifully realistic portraits. And her motivation: ministry.

Her fascination with portraits began when she was a child. As the daughter of a pastor, Judee was expected to be well-behaved in church and she stayed occupied during services by drawing. The budding artist found inspiration in her environment and began drawing people in the neighboring aisles. This was just the start.

The ’68 alumnae’s years at Ben Lippen were some of the best of her life. Very active in student life, Judee was involved in athletics, the music program and enjoyed her studies. She fondly remembers her Bible teacher and mentor, Virna Birkey, who taught her to strive for excellence and “go deeper into God’s Word.” Their faith was for more than the “surface,” Birkey opined. During this time, Judee’s art journey was furthered by an older, fellow believer who lived near campus who she painted with every month. Among other things, Norman Rockwell magazines inspired her practice. 

Today, her stunning, lifelike portraits, many of nature and daily life in the American West and Africa, convey emotion and tell stories inspired by her subjects and their environments. Each work is “a story of the eyes,” which she cites as a favorite feature of the human face.

Her ministry in Africa with her husband Gary provides many subjects for Judee’s work, and these are especially meaningful pieces because of their broader purpose. After a trip to Uganda in 2002, Gary founded Olive Branch Ministries to offer support for young people in Uganda and Rwanda. They help build schools, refurbish huts, teach farming techniques, provide clean water, and establish churches. In 2006, Judee started painting full-time, and proceeds from her art help with this mission. She recalls the early inspiration for her African art and tells a story of an 18 year old girl she met in Rwanda. At age four, she had lived through genocide, but the rest of her family was killed. She shared she had never felt loved or had anyone “tell her story,” so Judee has told this woman’s story, as well as other Rwandans and Ugandans, through the ministry and with her art.

Earlier this year, Judee returned to Arizona to participate in the Scottsdale Art Expo where she painted every day in front of visitors who came to meet and watch the artists. For 3 months she cherished her 2.5 mile walk to the venue. Enjoying the sunrise over the Arizona desert was a “time of solitude with the Lord,” a crucial aspect of her creative process.

Over the years, Judee’s work has received numerous awards and honors, appeared in art shows, and she has completed commissions for interesting projects like a portrait of Elisabeth Elliott, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Judge Judy.

Judee’s free time is dedicated to family, ministry, and painting. She uses the remarkable talent “put in her” for creating in a way that honors God, marking every piece with “To His Glory.”

When asked what advice she has for young Ben Lippen alumni on staying grounded in their faith and pursuing their dreams, she said God wants your success more than you do. “Trust Him. He will show you the way.”

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