After 30 years, Dotsie gets ready to hang up her paint brush
By Donna Vickroy email@example.com September 7, 2012 11:02PM
A child gets her face painted by Nancy Sims, aka Dotsie the Clown, in March 2009. | File photo
Updated: October 10, 2012 6:23AM
A stroke of red, a sweep of blue, a dab of purple in between. Top it off with a fluffy white cloud and a splash of glitter dust.
And just like that, a plain old forearm becomes a rainbow.
Nancy Sims is no magician but she knows how to transform a child into a Super Hero or a ferocious lion or a fairy princess.
It just takes a little Krylon face paint, and, of course, a heart as big as a circus tent.
At age 72, Sims, aka Dotsie the Clown, is hanging up her sequined hat. Well, for the most part. This was the first time in 30 years that she and her sidekicks, Sue Martin and P.D. Winkleman, did not work the three-day Frankfort Fest.
“All of us are getting up there; we’re not in our 40s any more,” she said.
“She made a lot of people happy, kids and adults alike,” said Karen Blake, executive director of the Frankfort Chamber of Commerce. “You really don’t see many people who face paint any more.”
Though Sims still plans to work her magic at farmers markets and birthday parties, including one coming up at Coopers Hawk restaurant in Orland Park, her days of working hourslong festivals are over, she said.
Beneath that happy-go-lucky painted-on smile are a host of health issues. She’s had bypass surgery and now has a pacemaker. She’s also dealing with a frozen shoulder and ever-encroaching arthritis.
But into her gradual retirement she carries Bozo bucketsful of fun memories.
Like the time a little girl spied her from the car as her mom was pulling into the parking lot at the Evergreen Park Farmers Market. She screamed, “There she is, there she is. The sun is shining on her red sequin hat.”
“It means so much to me that I could affect somebody like that,” she said.
Certainly, she’s encountered a fair share of youngsters who fear clowns.
“It’s like Santa and Mickey Mouse and Chuck E. Cheese,” she said. “Different characters make them nervous, especially if they’re already shy.”
Sims said she was able to calm most kids down by having them sit on their mother’s lap while she worked.
Some moms, though, she added, compound the fear by forcing their children to face it. And some parents, she added, could be very pushy about which designs their kids could choose.
“I say let them choose for themselves,” she said.
Sims grew up in Brookfield and Western Springs. After high school, she married and moved to Orland Park. She met Winkleman at an Orland Park women’s meeting. Martin lived down the street.
The friends loved crafts, and when Sims was invited in the early ‘80s by the owner of a local jewelry store to set up an art tent at the Taste of Chicago, the threesome was formed.
The following year, they worked their face paint magic at Navy Pier’s Chicago Fest. From there, they branched out to local farmers markets, company picnics and the popular Frankfort Fest.
Sims took the new-found profession to a higher level by attending classes at Clown College, including a program at Moraine Valley Community College, and Clown Conventions. She remembers one workshop in particular. The students watched as a clown put on her makeup.
“As she was finishing, her voice began to change, then her behavior. She actually became the new persona.”
Face paint can be that powerful, she said.
Sometimes, it can be too powerful. Sims recalled the time a young boy asked her to turn his face into a lion’s face. She did. When the child looked in the mirror, it was so realistic that it scared him and he started to cry.
“Some kids are just too young,” she said.
And some kids never grow up. Sims said.
The mother of two has worked the St. Patrick’s Day crowd at Kitty O’Shea’s in the Chicago Hilton for decades. Many, too many, she said, customers want shamrocks painted where the sun don’t shine.
“I tell them up front now that I only paint upper cheeks,” she said.