At its core, Jen Villa’s medium is Cape Cod. Villa’s photography and collages are rife with iconic Cape images: ocean, dunes, and skylines, capturing a sentiment that both Villa and her clients embrace.
Villa, “a beach baby from day one,” as she describes herself, grew up summering in West Hyannisport. After graduating from Trinity College in Hartford, she traveled to California and graduated from the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. And then she experienced the wham of the heart that deep love inflicts: Villa knew she had to return to the Cape. “There’s always a lingering feeling of wanting to be back,” she says. She quickly discovered that her deep affection for this special place rang true with a wider audience.
The discovery led Villa, a Hyannisport resident, to open The Little Beach Gallery in Hyannis, where she shows the works of 40 artists, including her own. The art here reflects a common inspiration: the ocean. The concept of community is obvious, too. Villa thrives on bringing artists together, holding fundraisers, and practicing local environmentalism, including heading up the local chapter of Green Drinks
(www.greendrinks.org). It all fits seamlessly with Villa’s art. As she says, “My artwork is solely based on the beauty of this place. The environmental part goes hand in hand with it. It’s kind of a nice collaboration.”
The environment that Villa works to protect is on display in her collages, which she calls J’coupage. The photography and collages—artful arrangements of photos with short narratives and graphics—embody the Cape’s indefinable appeal. Villa’s clients often report back to her, no doubt to renew their connection in a mutual love. “People say ‘I look at the art every day; it takes me back to the Cape,’” Villa says.
In her collage The Waves of the Sea Help Me Get Back to Me, the words of writer Jill Davis are dropped over Villa’s sepia-toned image of a beach line and dunes, beach grass waving in the wind. “The photo collages incorporate inspirational words—words that remind you to stay present,” she says. The mood is subtle, peaceful. Villa says, “It’s the ocean, the magic, the serenity of finding yourself at the edge of the earth.”
Look outside any Cape Cod window and try to sort the shades of green, brown, gold, and blue. The colors are uncountable and the hues almost impossible to replicate. But Tim Struna has an extraordinary knack for homing in on the nuances of the Cape’s natural world. His style captures this realism with precise abstract details and reveals the truth about nature—not in a photographic way, but the truth that lies in impressions.
“I’m a very detailed person,” says Struna, a Brewster painter and printmaker. “I try to put enough abstract detail that if you hone in, you’ll see the manipulation of color. That’s the fun part of my painting, the tones of color.”
Struna started painting as a kid in Cleveland, taking a bus to the Cleveland Museum of Art for lessons. Now it has evolved into a passion of more than 50 years. A signature member of the Copley Society of Art in Boston, Struna uses watercolor and acrylic to paint his surroundings, turning out approximately 20 paintings a year. He is also a printmaker, creating hand-colored pieces from copper plate engravings.
Struna’s series “One Square Foot” attests to nature’s infinite colors, textures, and shapes. A painting in the series, One Square Foot of P-town Harbor, is an array of shells on beach sand, wildly varied in color and form, but elegantly composed, as only nature can master. This work, like his others, is based on watching life. “I get my inspiration in everyday things,” Struna says, “whether I’m chopping firewood, walking the beach, or cutting grass.”
He walks the beach almost daily. “I look down at the sand and at the horizon,” he says. “At low tide when the wrack line appears, it leaves stuff. I see shells, beach glass, and beautiful patterns.” Cape architecture, particularly his 1880 home, also inspires him, especially places “where nature takes back man-made structures.”
It takes a deep, long look to really see the range of colors imbedded in Struna’s work. “My palette always looks like a mess,” he says with a laugh. “But it’s all these colors I use to create my own signature colors.” While the technique is very precise, the colors are welcoming and warm. “I keep pretty much the same colors, an earthy palette,” Struna adds. “My model is nature.”
In today’s kinetic, noise-filled world, Paul Schulenburg’s art offers a meditative look at everyday life.
Landscapes are among Schulenburg’s works, but his figures—the woman standing in a storefront in Front Door, Café Heaven or the lone figure in Fisherman in the Shadows—may be the most arresting focal points. Schulenburg’s figures, all everyday people, seem unique and yet like the rest of us, pulling us in, Edward Hopper-style. “I look for the overlooked,” Schulenburg says. “I look for things that are a little unusual.”
The people in his paintings wouldn’t hold as much fascination without Schulenburg’s remarkable sense of place. “It’s something you feel,” he says. “I’m always exploring to see what I find interesting.” Schulenburg, of Eastham, has been lauded as a master at using light and shade, a big influence on his settings. This may date back to his days at Boston University, where he studied classic painting in the style of William Paxton and John Singer Sargent. “This was the late ‘70s,” Schulenburg says. “It was very unpopular. Most art schools were encouraging abstraction and expressionism; they would say, ‘Do your own thing. ’”
At 24, Schulenburg became a single father when his first wife died of leukemia. He put his fine art aside and worked at home as an illustrator with great success. Schulenburg eventually married the painter Pharr Schulenburg, and his daughter grew up. At that point, he began to paint again. He started with occasional landscapes and small Cape scenes, and his paintings began to sell.
Then something changed. “It was a gray Cape Cod day,” Schulenburg recalls. “I was driving around and saw fishermen in their orange overalls, so colorful with the blue water.” That kicked off his figurative work. He brought some of his pieces to Helen Addison of Addison Art Gallery in Orleans, and his path was firmly forged.
Today, Schulenburg shares a studio with Pharr, painting from life as much as possible. He recently began teaching. He plans more figurative work, particularly on his “Fish Pier Series.” What comes next is anyone’s guess. “I can’t worry about where I’m going,” he says. “When I start painting, I’ll know.”
Life is lush and bountiful in Debra Ruddeforth’s world. Whether it’s a profusion of wild irises, fruit spread on a linen napkin, or hydrangeas in a basket, Ruddeforth’s art is very easy on the eyes.
It is not to say there is anything shallow about her oils, pastels, and watercolors. Ruddeforth doesn’t recall a time that she was not an artist. She began her formal training with the inestimable Robert Douglas Hunter, who taught her at the Vesper George School of Art in Boston. Today the artist, a signature member of the Copley Society of Art in Boston, has a packed schedule of painting and gallery work.
The Brewster resident couldn’t be happier that her work is soul-filling rather than heart-wrenching. “That’s my purpose in painting, to have people feel an emotion or memory, to make them happy,” she says. “There’s enough going on in the world that if I can make someone smile, I’ve done my job.”
Ruddeforth has experienced change in both medium and subject. She began by working in watercolor, but today leans toward oil and pastels. “I’ve always loved pastels,” she says. “I’m very pleased with what I’ve produced.” Her subject matter has evolved from flowers and food to still lifes with decorative items such as Chinese porcelain and copper. The copper—deep burnished pieces painted from a collection of her late mother’s—is a more recent development for her. “I’ve always loved beautiful things,” she says. “I love to set up still lifes.” Ruddeforth continues to experiment, not knowing what will come next. “I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied,” she says.
She finds inspiration all around her, in her home, in the open spaces of the Cape, and in life’s little moments. Ruddeforth’s husband, the photographer Tom Ruddeforth, takes many shots for her to consider. “He’s my eyes. He knows what I like,” she says.
People think she has a “dream job,” Ruddeforth says, and she often agrees. But, she adds, “If you work and aspire, you can be an artist. You have to take that first big step.” It’s not easy, she says, estimating that she works 75 hours a week. But it’s all good. “Some days when I’m exhausted, I have to remind myself, I am living someone else’s dream,” Ruddeforth says. “And I count my blessings.”
For all the precise composition and fine brushwork in Sergio Roffo’s paintings, the landscape artist holds a remarkably simple view of what art means to him. “I am inspired by life,” Roffo says. “Life is art, art is life.”
A devoted family man, Roffo lives life to the fullest, intertwining art with almost everything he does. “Art goes with everything, whether it’s vacation, relaxing with the family, cooking, drinking fabulous wine, listening to opera,” he says. “It’s all one entity.”
Born in Italy’s Abruzzi region, Roffo became aware very early of nature’s goodness. “When I was seven years old, I had this feeling of being affected by its sublime beauty,” he says, then pauses. “I don’t know if it is possible at that early an age.” Considering the stillness and serenity in his paintings, an early connection between Roffo and nature seems not just possible, but a given.
The Dunes at Cliffside, a gold-flecked beach scene with a swath of grass and a house in the distance, is imbued with glimmering subtleties. The same understated energy emanates from the pastoral Breaking Light, painted in Stowe, Vermont. “I try to convey the harmony of nature through color and light,” Roffo says.
Roffo studied art formally in the 1980s at the Vesper George School of Art in Boston, under the tutelage of Robert Douglas Hunter. “He was a mentor, a big influence on my life,” Roffo says. He first painted watercolors of Boston cityscapes, and switched to oils when he and his family moved to Scituate in 1991. He still lives in Scituate, painting, teaching workshops, and drinking in life like a cool glass of water.
Roffo’s work has earned him many accolades: he is a Fellow of the American Society of Marine Artists, a member of the Guild of Boston Artists, and a designated Copley Master at the Copley Society of Boston. But even without all these feathers in his cap, Roffo would certainly still have the same driven devotion to art. “We can never get bored at what we do,” he says. “Every painting is a challenge, and we can’t ever get it perfect the way nature does it. That’s what keeps us coming back.”
Francie Randolph says that the best solutions are found by paring things down to their essence. Randolph’s latest works, two series called “Structure and Flow” and “Coral,” have an aura that feels as old as the universe, conveying messages of time and change.
The two series—encaustic, oil, and mixed media on wood panel—began six years ago. She and her husband, artist Tom Watson, share a barn studio behind their antique Truro home, with farm animals grazing the rolling lawn. This sublime setting is perfect for Randolph to “get swept along in the tidal pull of my mind.”
Randolph’s art is alive with connections, including how the medium is applied. “The ‘Water Series’ was created with encaustic; it’s heated and flows on,” Randolph says. “It represents time moving away from hard-edged reality.”
The “Coral Series” is more about connection. “Coral is one of the largest living organisms,” Randolph says. “Through its life cycle, it creates patterns. To me that’s a beautiful metaphor for the world. Connecting to each other and nature, we build something that’s much greater than ourselves.”
Art has brought many uncanny twists to Randolph’s life. Recently, she was invited to create a book based on a commencement speech given by author J.K. Rowling at Harvard University, Randolph’s alma mater. The book, a gift to Rowling and Harvard President Drew Faust is an exquisite presentation of the speech featuring Braille over vellum.
The project had many coincidences, something not lost on Randolph. “That was a wonderful project,” she says. “The coincidences were extraordinary.”
Randolph is a careful listener and remembers important words. “I had a prof at Harvard who said basically, ‘Francie, the work you make is yours.’ The rest of Harvard was saying, ‘you should get out there and make yourself a top lawyer or doctor.’”
The professor’s message hit her hard. Randolph got grant money to travel to Papua, New Guinea, where she saw the tie between art and culture. “I realized I wanted to work in a way that responded to the way we were living our lives,” she says. “That’s sort of how my life has unfolded.”
On a summer day 33 years ago, Page Railsback was in her kitchen, preparing a meal, when she was suddenly mesmerized by sunlight filtering through the flowers outside her window.
“It hit me like a bolt of lightning,” Railsback recalls. “I suddenly thought, what do you do with all this beauty? There must be more I can do.” Her personal call to action was simple: Don’t think, just pick up a paintbrush. So Railsback, a new mother and yoga teacher, began watercolor lessons. During her first year, she was invited to hold a show and sold one painting. Since then, she says, “It’s been a flow, a steady journey.”
Railsback’s deep appreciation of nature’s bounty—flowers, food, and all good things that spring from earth and water—is imbued in her art. Harvest is filled with expressive, deep-hued strokes that form zinnias and snapdragons, with ripe tomatoes tumbling around the vases. The aura is simple yet deeply mystical, nature at its ripest. Her landscapes and seascapes, such as Chairs of Summer, have the same sense of openness and fleeting beauty, qualities that prompt some people to call her work impressionistic. Railsback thinks it may be more expressionistic, or perhaps occupies a territory between the two labels. As she says, “Maybe it’s both. I consider my work expressive and intuitive.”
Railsback, now living in Hingham, has warm memories of summers in East Orleans when she was a teenager, living with her best friend’s family. “This is a familiar, favorite place for me,” she says of the Cape. Today, a member of the Copley Society of Art in Boston, Railsback paints and teaches art, traveling between her Hingham studio and a second studio in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico.
Nurturing art in herself and others seems to be natural for Railsback. “I try to stay in ‘beginner’s mind,’ a Buddhist term,” she says. “I suggest to my students to paint like a kindergartner, to let go of fear and judgment and to dare to have a bad painting.”
She continues to develop her art as a vehicle to express her lifelong study of how body, mind, and spirit work as a whole. “The essence of my creative work is heart centered,” Railsback says, “painting from the heart, authentically, letting the work come alive. My daily mantra is, ‘May I be happy and free, and may my actions contribute to the happiness and sense of freedom in others.’”
Behind the impeccable execution of Pamela Pindell’s artwork is a tender heart. Models often become friends, and even dishes and fruit become dear to her. “I tend to fall in love with my models, whether it’s an apple or a person,” Pindell says. She wants her viewers to see this heart, too. If a painting looks too perfect to her, she may go back and smudge a little spot. “I would rather see an imperfect painting that has passion than a perfect painting,” she says.
Pindell’s traditional style is based on classical techniques touched with impressionistic colors and light. The combination of pristine detailing and heartfelt emotion renders artworks of sensual power.
Her still lifes and portraits start with a “lean wash,” going from lean to fat layers of paint, such as in the painting, Boston. She also works alla prima, painting one layer quickly;French Pot, an alla prima still life of ripe grapefruit, is luscious and rich. Her subject matter is transitioning. “I got to a point where I really wanted to paint just people, flowers, fruit, living things,” she says. “I don’t feel that I can improve on nature; nature is so beautiful.”
Pindell’s training is an artist’s dream of classical studies and solo travel. After graduating from Syracuse University, she studied at the Tyler School of Art in Rome. She then lived in France, traveling across Europe to see impressionist art. That is where, she says, “quite a love of classical art and drawing started growing.” Rembrandt’s paintings opened her to the excitement of shadow and light. “I’m absolutely mesmerized by chiaroscuro,” she says. Her mentor, Sidney Willis, introduced her to the Boston School style.
Now a resident of Boston’s Back Bay, Pindell lived on Nantucket for 28 years, where, she says, she “fell in love with the prismatic air.” She visits frequently, to see her daughter and grandchildren, good friends, and the island galleries that represent her work.
Pindell is feeling a change in the air, the exciting sense of venturing into the unknown. “The older I get, the more I want thick luscious paint and mystery going on,” she says, then pauses. “It’s something about essence.”
Tom Odell’s pieces—sculpture, jewelry, and hollowware—appear to be distinct modes of expression. But ultimately, it’s clear that they all inform each other. Whether it is an 18-carat yellow and white gold brooch, an eight-foot fabricated steel sculpture, or a beautifully simple bowl, all the metalwork is imbued with a clean, multidimensional aesthetic, each piece stamped pure Odell.
“The sculptural, three-dimensional aspects of all the work are my main concerns,” Odell says. “In every piece, the composition and design are in the forefront.” His jewelry is meant to be worn, but in a sculptural way, just as the client who purchases his cast bronze bench may rather gaze at it than sit on it. “All of the jewelry and hollowware pieces have a sculptural aspect, but a functional aspect as well,” Odell says.
The excitement for the Chatham resident is in creating “new things, new images that are compositions,” and balancing all the visual elements: shape, form, line, and color.
Odell went into jewelry making after he left college for a stint in woodworking with an architectural designer. After landing a job with former Cape Cod jeweler Bernard Kelly, Odell says, “I realized I wanted to make things.” His jewelry occupies two camps: pieces that are crafted in precious metals, including 18-carat gold and platinum, and pieces that add copper-based alloys used in traditional Japanese metalwork, perhaps treated with patina techniques.
His jewelry making evolved into sculpture. Odell says it’s a natural progression. “Bit by bit, you go from making jewelry to making larger things,” he says. Lately those “larger things” have been massive. He is currently working on an eight-foot freestanding sculpture for a client’s yard, all angles, flat plains, and triangular shapes, “a little different than the other things I’d been doing, which are more curved,” he says. Akin to the sculpture is his hollowware, now mostly cast bronze pieces finished with a patina technique for color.
Today, Odell and his wife, the artist Carol Odell, live in an 1800s Greek Revival house in downtown Chatham with a studio in back where the couple works on separate floors. His wife is an enormous inspiration. “We’re inventing problems for ourselves all the time,” Odell says with a laugh, “then creating an interesting visual solution.”
Andrew Moore’s studio, inside his Oak Bluffs home and a paintbrush throw from his gallery, is a natural world that is constantly in flux. “My studio morphs with the painting I’m working on,” Moore says. “It becomes an indoor version of the outdoor subject.”
This day, Moore is working on a painting of a barn swallow flying across a meadow. Surrounding him are flowers, grasses, drawings, photographs … and a partially frozen bird. About the bird, Moore explains, “I’m sort of a depository for birds that hit windows on the island.” To prepare for the painting, Moore and his daughter Hannah staged dozens of photos of the swallow in flight at a nearby meadow. Back in his studio, now an indoor meadow, Moore begins his paintings with pencil drawings and progresses to layers of oil.
Whether the painting centers on the natural wonderland of Hawk and Squirrel or the extremely realistic The Rigger, which depicts Vineyarder Gary Maynard rebuilding the island schooner Alabama, Moore’s work is beautifully intricate, flowing with unselfconscious respect for animals, people, and nature.
A realist painter, Moore is careful to distinguish between his work and photorealism. His deliberately composed work may start with an experience in nature or as an idea, but the painting evolves over many months.
“At its core, realism has an artist making countless choices and detours in a circuitous path,” he says.
That circuitous path has taken Moore to the most beautiful spots on the Vineyard and coastal Maine, and, occasionally more exotic places, such as a rainforest in Brazil. His subjects, he says, are “everything from hard-edged manmade environments to the fluid undersea world of fish.”
Moore’s work has a strong American stamp, reflected in his genes. “I am rooted in New England,” Moore says. Generations of his family lived in Connecticut. His great-great-grandfather, Nelson Augustus Moore, was a Hudson River School painter who traveled to the Vineyard as early as 1894 to paint the Aquinnah Cliffs. Today, Moore lives in Harthaven, an Oak Bluffs community begun by his family in the early 1900s, with his wife, Heather, and three children.
Moore’s New England has no pretensions. “Most of my paintings reflect my experiences exploring the Vineyard and its surrounding waters, but some of my strongest paintings grow from random everyday occurrences,” he says. “Of course, I have the advantage of living in one of the world’s most magical spots.”