Retired arts educator goes back to work as a Riverdale artist

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It’s been 10 years since Doris Cordero retired as an arts educator. Now, it’s time to make art herself. 

As she navigated her way through raising a child, teaching and eventually mentoring art teachers in her later years, Cordero also juggled being an artist when she had the time. Her work primarily focused on vibrant florals and other scenes of nature. And last December, The Riverdale Y exhibited 27 of her pieces Cordero created before she started pursuing a full-time artistic career.

When you’re retired “you’re freer to explore,” Cordero said. “You’re freer to create, and then that understanding becomes truer for who you are.” 

Cordero’s roots are planted in Puerto Rico. She lived there until she was 12 before moving to the Bronx. Cordero cites her original environment as having a significant impact on her as an artist. 

“Being surrounded by so (much nature in Puerto Rico) and seeing it and smelling it and touching it and being always a part of flowers and plants is something that really stayed with me,” she said. “I think that sometimes we take it for granted how intricate nature can be, how explosive nature can be. There’s never an end to a variety from working outdoors like the impressionists” did.

Today, one of Cordero’s pieces, “The Flowering Lily,” is on display as part of a group show at The Riverdale Y hosted by the Riverdale Art Association. 

Cordero has lived in Riverdale for 38 years and stands behind the belief there is an art scene in the area based on what she and her group has to offer.

“I think our work represents where we live in a way,” she said. “The unique place that Riverdale is that wherever you stand outside your terrace, it’s beautiful to look at. There’s beauty all around you in Riverdale. And I think that makes being an artist so much more important.” 

After working on watercolor and oil paintings for a number of years, Cordero is ready to move forward in her art. She’s recently taken up printmaking — something she started learning about and even dedicated a summer in Florence, Italy, to when she followed another artist’s direction — and hopes that in the future, she moves on to etching and stone sculptures. 

But Cordero hasn’t forgotten her teaching days. When she looks back on them, she thinks about how much she’s helped influence students in Manhattan and the Bronx, and how they’ve helped her as an artist. 

“Bringing children to that ‘aha’ moment as an art teacher was something that is so fulfilling,” she said. 

However, Cordero still faces challenges stemming from the hustle and bustle of lesson planning.

“Sometimes it gets in the way, because sometimes when you teach art, you go from one thing to another to another rapidly,” Cordero said. “I think it’s where it’s become a liability for me.”  

The last decade has been eye opening for Cordero. Retirement has helped her pick up a few lessons along the way.

I’ve learned “to believe in myself a little more,” Cordero said. “To believe in my work and really trust my work and my instincts when I work. That’s been the hardest thing to stick to. 

“And to find that it’s more personal for me as I get older, it becomes more personal. It becomes more intimate.”

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