Open to openness: How Buddhism influenced the creative life of Philadelphia artist Doris Staffel

An obituary of Doris Staffel, one of the Philadelphia area’s most respected and beloved artists and teachers.

Konchog Norbu
1 November 2013
Doris Staffel, Untitled, from the ‘White Tara’ series, c. 1972-1973

Staffel passed away on September 13 at the age of 91. A celebration of her life, artistry, spirit, and legacy is to take place today at Philadelphia’s Arch Street Meeting House.

Doris Staffel began exploring Buddhist teachings and meditation in 1968, according to an extensive Philadelphia Inquirer obituary, and this quickly colored how she taught. Betsey Batchelor, a student of Staffel’s at the Philadelphia College of Art in 1972, remembers this:

“Her teaching methods were influenced by Buddhism, Batchelor said. She recalled struggling with a painting in class once and hearing Mrs. Staffel softly say: ‘When you have a necklace and it has a knot in it, you don’t yank at it.’”

Staffel was an early student of the Tibetan master Dudjom Rinpoche. After he passed on in 1987, for the next two decades Staffel found a spiritual home with Lama Losang Samten at the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center. The center’s memorial affectionately recalls Staffel simply as “Dolma-la,” Tibetan for the female Buddha and protectress Tara. Lama Losang also referred to her as “the pillar of our sangha.” Staffel created a series of abstractly expressive paintings around the theme of Tara, beginning in the 1970’s (see accompanying image).

Staffel designated the Chenresig Center as her preferred recipient of gifts made in her memory.

In this video made during one of Staffel’s final exhibitions, she speaks with humor and profundity about how Buddhism affected her creative life, especially from 3:08 onward.



Konchog Norbu

Konchog Norbu

Konchog Norbu became a Buddhist in 1990 and ordained as a monk in 1993. Since then, he has overseen communications and media relations for several dharma organizations, authored the widely-read blog Dreaming of Danzan Ravjaa during a four-year stint in Mongolia, and filled his begging bowl on occasion with freelance writing and editing gigs.