Many of the scenes are familiar to anyone who’s ever spent time in Central Louisiana – cotton fields, pecan orchards, fishing holes and old-fashioned syrup-making.

But it’s the stories behind the artwork that tell the tale.
The 25 pieces of folk art now on display in Rapides Regional Medical Center’s sixth floor oncology unit are donated by Doug and Cathy Gitter in memory of Cathy’s parents, Nelder and Billie Dawson. The Dawsons were longtime Alexandria residents – and were, at different times, both patients at RRMC.

Nelder Dawson worked at The Town Talk for 35 years and his wife Billie was a guidance counselor at Menard. The gallery will be unveiled at 10 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 28 on the 6th floor of Rapides Regional Medical Center.

“Our decision to donate this artwork to Rapides Regional Medical Center was a result of my wife’s connection to the area,” said Doug Gitter, who began collecting contemporary American folk art when he was 23 years old and in law school. “She wanted to give something back.  For us, that means art.”

The Giclee prints donated by Gitter are from some of the most famous contemporary American self-taught artists of our time, including: Clementine Hunter, Howard Finster, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Mary Klein, Malcah Zeldis, “Uncle Jack” Day, Rev. Benjamin F. Perkins, Toby Hollinghead, Bernice Sims and Philo “Chief” Willey. Many of these artists are recognized in museums around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution and The American Folk Art Museum in New York.

But that’s not the only thing they have in common. Many of these artists also had to overcome injury, illness and adversity – which led them to create beautiful artwork later in life. Through their work, these artists were able to heal themselves and inspire others.    

“What I love about this art is that it is genuine,” Gitter said. “These artists had no formal training in art itself. Many didn’t start painting until later in life. They were just trying to express themselves. Someone else had to tell them they had created a work of art.”

The Gitters’ hope is that the art will have a healing effect on the patients, families, physicians and staff who walk the Rapides Regional halls.

“If for a moment in time it captures their attention, it will have accomplished its objective,” said Gitter, who plans to attend the dedication ceremony on Nov. 28 along with his wife, children and sister-in-law Stacey Blum. “Our hope is that it will make people feel better. If for a moment in time it captures their attention and takes their mind off their own adversity, it will have accomplished its objective.”

The artwork on display is also available for purchase through Choate’s Interiors in Natchitoches, John Ward Interiors in Alexandria and Delta Interiors in Pineville. For information on more of the Gitter Gallery’s folk art, visit