Updated: Aug 1, 2020
“To draw is to see,” reads the first page of Dennis Law’s sketchbook. Inside, the pages serve as canvases for the sketches and stories of his many adventures— trips around the world, reflections of the marvels he’s seen.
An author, orator, architect and artist— Law is a man of many talents.
Originally from the city of Lubbock, in the panhandle of West Texas, he grew up on a cotton farm where his family raised pigs.
“You don’t learn much about landscape architecture where I was,” he said.
After taking a horticulture class in college, Law quickly fell in love with landscape design. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Park Administration from Texas Tech, continuing to develop his eye and admiration for the outdoors. He went on to follow his dreams, becoming a landscape architect park planner for AstroWorld in Houston— marrying together his passions for plants and design. Eventually, his desire to teach this craft led his family to pack up and head to Kansas State University, where they would call Manhattan home for the last 52 years.
“I moved three babies and a wife up here,” Law said. “It’s been the best home we’ve ever had.”
After receiving his Master of Landscape Architecture degree, Law taught as an assistant professor at K-State and later was the department head for five years. In 1995, Law was named the dean of the College of Architecture, Planning and Design, where he served for 15 years.
“It was a good ride,” he said.
Throughout his successful career, Law has written three books on various environmental topics, including land management in Wyoming, the reclamation of disturbed landscapes and the destruction tropical forests — for which he spent two sabbaticals conducting research in Costa Rica.
On the first anniversary of the drop of communism, Law was asked to represent the United States at a conference in Hungary where he gave a lecture on environmental sustainability. According to Law, the communist regime in Hungary wasn’t very good at preserving plant life due to the way they plowed their fields slowly up and down, causing erosion. Law said he gave a fiery sermon on protecting the environment in the Hungarian parliament building, which went on to inspire the creation of one of his favorite pieces of art — a watercolor painting which showcases the ornate architecture of the building and currently hangs in his living room.
For Law, art and architecture are tightly intertwined.
“Art and architecture are very connected,” Law said. “I’m a landscape architect and to me, it’s an opportunity to express yourself — to take what you learned and to build an environment that people would walk by, see and enjoy the place that they are. You take a building without any plant materials around and it looks undone, you know?”
From plants and petals, to pens and paint, Law’s artistic touch extends beyond his work and has become his favorite pastime. He said that as far back as he can remember, he has enjoyed art. Looking at his impressive creations, one would never guess that he has never had an art class. His pieces include watercolor scenes from his travels around the world, acrylic paintings of dramatic landscapes and countless exquisitely detailed sketches inspired by architecture that has caught his eye and his wandering imagination on long flights.
“I would often sit on an airplane going to another town somewhere and I would draw sketches on the back of the vomit bags,” Law said with a laugh. “I would get on a plane and grab the vomit bag and whoever was sitting next to me would lean away, then as I would draw, they would lean back towards me.” Surveying the many airplane sketches Law has collected, it comes as a surprise to hear that the elaborate works would usually only take him about 10 minutes.
Law is a prolific artist. His art is diverse and abundant, covering the walls of the home he shares with his wife of 56 years, Linda Law. Every winter, the couple sends out around 220 Christmas cards featuring one of his sketches.
However, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in recent years, Law has had to make a shift from sketch art and to change the subject of his work.
“When I got Parkinson’s disease, I had to quit painting and move to another subject,” Law said, explaining that sketching required a lot of control that he doesn’t have anymore. Despite his disease, Law’s innovation and imagination is as strong as ever as he finds ways to continue his passion for art.
“I’m experimenting with some modern materials,” Law said. “I’ve done some abstract things that I’m very proud of.” It is clear that Law isn’t letting life’s circumstances affect his desire to create or his positivity. In fact, Law said that the piece of art he’s using for their Christmas card this year is “one of the best paintings” he’s ever done.