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Building a Family Foundation: Dorff Family rooted in Faith and Arts

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by M.D. Pitman

“When Dan and I got married, we had no idea that we were creating a future,” said Martha Dorff. “We just thought we were getting married.”

As the Over-the-Rhine couple, formerly of Loveland, discovers life as a retired couple – Dan from a career as a graphic designer and Martha from Schickel Design, a company started by her father, they continue to hold tight to the things important to them: family, creativity and their Catholic faith.

“We’re called as Christians to be the salt and light,” said Dan, a native of Philadelphia. “If we’re going to be salt and light, we have to be that in all we do, as much as possible.”

Dan grew up as one of 12 children, and moved to Ohio as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. He worked in grounds maintenance at Grailville in Loveland, where Martha’s mother happened to be involved as a member of the Grail, a national female-operated Catholic lay organization. Dan’s mother was a member of the Grail in Philadelphia.

Dan’s first love was music, but he eventually fell in love with art, and continues to create both today.

I’ve always loved painting ever since I was a kid,” he said. “We went to museums in Philadelphia all the time. I was always amazed by the different ways of seeing things. It was kind of like an introduction of color, to me. Color and gesture, different ways impressionists in particular – to present reality.”

Like his art, Dan’s music is a mixture of what he was exposed to as a child: classical, folk, country, bluegrass, blues, gospel, rhythm and blues and jazz.

Martha admired her father, which is why she went on to be a designer, mixing her love of art and architecture.

“I’m an architect and a painter, but underneath everything, really, I’m a designer,” she said. “My dad was a designer, and I idolized him as a child. I thought he was just wonderful – still do, actually – and I wanted to do what he did.”

Dan and Martha Dorff with their grandchild and children.

Martha worked beside her father beginning in 1970, and took over his design firm in 2000 until her retirement last year. Her daughter Rebecca now runs the family business. Dan and Martha met in the early 1970s, and married on June 16, 1974, during the summer of Dan’s second year at the Art Academy in Cincinnati. Their life together as Catholics didn’t begin until 1987, when Dan rediscovered Christ. He had always been a person of faith, but was finding himself “in a desert land” where he couldn’t find happiness in what he did.

A friend led him to Christ again, and since then his faith has played an important part in his life. His art and music are reflections of his religious rediscovery. The Dorffs, including their four children, made multiple albums, including Cool Water and Grace, both of which can be found on Spotify.

They were also involved in the Angelico Project’s Mid Winter Light Exhibition. The Angelico Project’s mission is about transforming culture by “evangelizing souls and transforming the culture by promoting the good, the true and the beautiful through the arts, thought and culture.” This supports Martha’s view of faith in Christ as a “link in a cultural chain.” The Dorffs link is being artists, and for Martha, it includes architecture as well as music and painting.

“I think we have a cultural chain that we are born into, and … we need to create our culture every day,” she said. “If we feel it’s going to be given to us, we need to keep making it.”

Dan Dorff’s painting, “Holy Man of Humble Heart” was featured in the Angelico Project’s Mid Winter Light Exhibition

This article appeared in the July Edition of The Catholic Telegraph. For your complimentary subscription, click here

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