Meredith Howard is in a bit of conflict. For 10 years, her pastel landscapes brought her the satisfaction of an artist who had found her medium and a way to make a living. Then, three years ago, encaustic entered her life. Something about the sculptural qualities of the ancient method—mixing pigment with beeswax and fixing it with heat—moved her deeply. “I love encaustic’s abstract sensual quality, its three-dimensional aspect,” Howard says. “It’s very immediate.”
An artist advised Howard, a West Falmouth resident, to develop one medium. But, Howard says a little sheepishly, “I don’t want to settle on one thing. Maybe it’s immature of me.”
If working in pastels and encaustic means Howard is immature, she might reconsider the value of growing up. In Howard’s hands, both mediums are celebrations of color, shape, and form. She is the first to admit that her encaustic work, such as her three-piece “Joy Series,” can be almost childlike. But the pieces are more than the unaffected whimsy of youth. “In the series, I strived to express that we as humans are similar yet different,” she says. “As we come together in life we can stay close yet be separate, and shine individually or as a group.” In different combinations, the shapes in each piece morph from mood to mood, light and dark—the full range of human emotion.
Howard’s landscapes represent the other side of her nature. Lush renderings of Cape Cod settings, they are cloaked in an aura of the region’s misty air, nature’s mysteries interwoven with unspoiled beauty. Howard credits her mother, West Falmouth watercolorist Phyllis Kendrick Howard, for inspiring her love of painting landscapes en plein air. “She taught me a lot,” Howard says of her late mother. “It’s because of her that I do art.”
Howard eventually attended art school in Boston, but then she questioned her path and chose work in carpet restoration. She still has beautiful carpet patterns taped on the walls around her art studio. Howard went on to attend the Culinary Institute of America. At one time, she was the personal chef to the Kennedy family in Hyannisport.
As often happens, intentions of creating artwork called to her. “All those years, I wanted to get back to my art,” she says. She began attending classes at the Creative Arts Center in Chatham and thrived. Now, she has found her real passion. “I really dug into it,” Howard says. “It was full circle, a fulfillment.”
The deep nostalgia in Judy Harmon’s paintings is no accident. One of the artist’s strongest girlhood memories is of the day her family pulled up stakes in Needham and moved to the Midwest. “I was devastated,” Harmon says. “It was so flat.” Drawing as a child helped her to express those emotions, and it was a happy day when, as an adult, she returned to the place where she had spent her youth. “The New England landscape drew me back,” she says.
Whether it is a Wellfleet church steeple framed by hardwood trees, as in Main Street, or the painter and skiff in Summer on the Cove, Harmon’s images ring with light and color. “I love glows of light,” she says. “The light effects in New England are luminous.”
Although she sometimes has to fight the region’s blue haze, Harmon revels in Cape Cod’s famous diffused light, especially the way it plays on water. She recalls following her artist’s instinct one late afternoon, looking for that certain light. “I was going down Commercial Street in Wellfleet at sunset, approaching the harbor,” she relates. “I saw this glow, a beautiful glow of light illuminating the marsh.” Suddenly, what had been a dead brown was, as Harmon says, “covered with a brilliant peach, late-day light.” Almost indescribable in words, she translated the scene’s deep effect through her painting Winter Marsh.
Harmon is also adept at creating patterns, which goes back to her college days, when she was a fine arts major. “I was bored in one class,” she recalls, “and then I created a pattern and liked it.” After graduation she worked for an art director in Manhattan and, as she simply relates, “he pushed.” Today, she says, “I love patterns.”
Harmon, of Harwichport, began her serious artwork in watercolors and continued with the medium for 40 years. About 12 years ago, she switched to oils and loved it and its application, the way “you push the paint.” Her style of loose realism is very studied, though it may not appear that way at first.
Harmon’s art pulls at the hearts of her viewers, especially those who have a deep attachment to the New England landscape. “I respond emotionally to the visual world around me,” Harmon says. “I’m driven to record it and share the impressions.”
Jack Goldsmith boils his words down to their essence. He credits his polished verbal skills to his 40 years of art direction and design in Manhattan. What he doesn’t take credit for is how he gets to the heart of the matter of ethereal subjects in spot-on fashion, whether he is expressing them in words or acrylics.
“Once I come upon an image I want to paint, I like to attack it and do it quickly,” Goldsmith says. “I refuse to labor over a painting.”
Goldsmith’s canvases are vibrant glimpses of life in all its nuances of light, color, and feel. Perhaps owing to his early career in art direction, the Osterville resident speaks frequently of “staging” his art. The Kite Flyers features one of his favorite subjects, Cape Cod’s ocean edge. “I like to paint children on the beach,” he says. “I also like to paint the beach with nobody around. It all becomes kind of a stage.” All of his pieces, including his still lifes, are arranged almost like choreography, to render a very natural experience.
Goldsmith was trained in the 1940s at the Syracuse University School of Fine Arts and the Rochester Institute of Technology School of Art and Design, before starting his career in art direction and teaching at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan. As Goldsmith succinctly says, “My life has always been holding a pencil or a brush.”
Finally, he came home to a life of fine art when he and his wife moved to Osterville in 1993, drawn by good friends and the Cape’s renowned light. Among his influences are the 19th-century Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla and the late Cape Cod artist Charles Sovek, as well as members of the French Impressionist School.
Although his paintings are filled with highlights, shadows, and other subtleties, for Goldsmith it all goes back to first blocking the painting with brush on canvas. “It’s the most crucial part of the painting for me,” he says. “If you don’t design it well, you’ll struggle.”
Betty Carroll Fuller believes that paintings are not simply to be viewed; they are to be experienced. As she says, “I try to capture the essence, not the image.”
Fuller’s paintings testify to life’s moments—good coffee, a colorful weed, an unexpected storm—in vivid abstract strokes. She primarily works in oil, but often laces her art with materials such as gold leaf, glitter, and found objects. The Falmouth resident also works in acrylics, which she applies to birch panels, sometimes cutting them to shape.
Her colors are seductive and strong, hues meaty enough to carry a particular feeling or emotion. As Fuller says, “Something might look blue but feel yellow to me.” She often uses poetic or musical metaphors to describe painting; she particularly loves a quote from the writer Kofi Natambu, who described jazz musician Miles Davis as “blowing blue holes through a red sky.”
Behind the emotion is a studied work style. “I try to combine good draftsmanship and technical skill with abstraction,” Fuller says. The language of her canvas may be a bit esoteric for some, but her many fans have no trouble interpreting it. The soft colors and shapes of Spring Thaw perfectly bespeak the experience of
seeing nature’s annual awakening. Perfect Summer Day captures that exquisite peak of color and form in the high season on Cape Cod.
Fuller once tried working in a different style, which lasted one painting. “People say ‘you don’t do realism,’” she remarks. “I did one of lilies and I felt so dead. My daughter really liked lilies, so I wanted to do one for her. It didn’t feel real. You can’t understand a lily unless you know how it smells.”
When Fuller is not painting, she teaches art at Cape Cod Community College and is the director and curator of the college’s Higgins Art Gallery. But for Fuller, painting is not a choice—it’s a given. “For artists, it’s like breathing,” she says. “You get lost in it. You have this need to go to that space and make things; it’s an empirical demand to make things.”
Life is an experiential feast for painter Traeger di Pietro. He has a particularly sharp eye for people and their quirks, and doesn’t hesitate to say his full-time job of driving a truck melds perfectly with his life as an artist.
“I drive a truck 50 hours a week,” says di Pietro, of Vineyard Haven. “It’s perfect for what I do.” Besides being great fodder for people watching, he also unearths objects for his mixed-media pieces, such as a red tag for his new work, Price Check, a painting of a zebra in a fancy room wrapped in a fur coat. “The fur is obviously from another animal,” di Pietro says. The fur is painted, but the red tag is real.
The beauty of mixed media, di Pietro says, is “having the freedom to create whatever I want, with whatever I can get my hands on—crayons, charcoal, paint, found objects, archival paper.” In Dressed to Impress, a swan in a red tie ruffles its feathers in a hierarchal show of power, against a vivid backdrop of paint, newsprint, and glitter. The swan represents di Pietro’s stance on social status and possessions. “It’s not about money,” he says. “I couldn’t pay enough for the (treasures) I’ve found on the beach.”
The artist also works in impressionistic oils, inspired by his daily life on the Vineyard.Draggin’ is a moody rendering of a fisherman on a workboat, moving through his day on an unsettled ocean. The gulls alongside are an important part of di Pietro’s sensibilities. “There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of a bird,” he says.
He is fascinated by people, their possessions, and their relationship with nature. A neighbor of his childhood home in Swampscott was a lobsterman who left a deep impression on young di Pietro. The simplest things were stored in the artist’s memory bank: the man’s calluses, what he looked like unloading traps from his truck. “In a weird way,” di Pietro says, “I think the details of life have been training me all along.”
Until eight years ago, Ross Coppelman’s jewelry designs had the aura of ancient Egyptian artifacts: stylized lines and the richness of precious stones and high-carat gold. It was most definitely not traditional Cape Cod jewelry. In fact, Coppelman says, “I took this sort of wrong-headed pride that I wasn’t inspired by Cape Cod. I was inspired more by very old archeological design and imagery.”
Coppelman’s almost subconscious draw toward Egyptian jewelry worked well for the goldsmith, who has been creating jewelry for more than 40 years. Then, several years ago, he and his family moved to a spot near the Great Marsh in Dennis, and something strange happened: The Cape’s natural lines and contours began appearing in his rings, bracelets, and necklaces. Coppelman had changed deep inside, and his art jewelry changed with it.
“I was working on a curve (in a piece of jewelry) and suddenly it turned into a wave. I went, ‘What’s going on?’ I had never done anything even mildly representational before,” he says. “My work took a complete change.” Suddenly, inspiration was not in the decorative pieces worn by ancient Egyptian pharaohs, but in the quiet beauty of the marsh. As Coppelman says, “There was no traffic, no noise; there was water, birds, and sunset. Suddenly, nature took over in terms of what’s inspiring.”
After his metamorphosis, Coppelman designed a series of polished silver and gold jewelry in a wave and sunset motif, and then, he says, “I got restless again.” He upped the energy of his thematic development and did a series based on the Dennis tidal flats, with a “sandy” effect imparted by high-carat gold dust infused into the metal.
Not that anything ever gets too literal in the Coppelman studio. His new “Landscape Series” features a ring and cuff bracelet with a sterling silver background that has been oxidized to turn grey-black to contrast with the gold, its pattern calling on the lines in the marsh sand. Each piece features one beautiful opal, offset with a small diamond underneath.
Today, Coppelman ponders the new direction that his art jewelry has taken. “What I didn’t know is that there’s more than one way to be inspired by the Cape,” he says. “I had to get out of the way and let it evolve.” But there may be yet another fork in Coppelman’s road. “I tend to get into a style for two or three years, then I get bored and restless,” he reflects. “I’m feeling it now—big time. I don’t know what will come out of it.”
Deborah T. Colter’s unique sense of place gives her work a rare perspective. “My mind constantly takes in everything,” she says. “Then I try to turn it off and see what happens.”
The names of her mixed media works are fascinating clues, but Colter’s paintings hold much unknown territory. “I love color; I love textures, those elements of finding the mystery of what we see every day, when we look down from an airplane, or through the fog,” she says. “Even open space has a lot going on.”
Growing up with an architect father, Colter was introduced to graphic design and geometric elements early on. “That was always part of my being,” she says. She sharpened her skills at the Rhode Island School of Design. On her summers off from RISD, she waited tables on Martha’s Vineyard, where she met her husband, Richard Colter. The parents of two sons, the Edgartown couple has been on the island now for 30 years.
In Colter’s work, even circles, lines, and squares are mysterious things. Bolstering the effect is her technical working style: a collage-like process of building layers of acrylic paint with paper and other materials, sanding the surface, scratching it, and building again. “I love building texture and patterns and making them speak their own tongues, talk to each other,” she says. Her challenge is nailing the relationship among them and the surrounding space: “There has to be order among chaos, a balance of energy, something that is alive, in motion, and yet motionless at the same time.”
Ultimately, Colter says, a painting needs to have a life, and achieving that is the ultimate gratification. “A painting is a world of its own,” she says. “Creating something out of nothing—it’s just magical to be able to do that.”
Getting to Provincetown was a long and winding road for John Clayton, but he got there. Today he is firmly ensconced in the Cape-tip artist’s haven, painting and teaching in an atmosphere that feels like home.
Clayton’s first art class was at the YMCA in Brooklyn, where he says he often heard the same cry: “Go to the Art Students League!” So he scooted to New York City, where he studied at both the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design (now the National Academy Museum & School of Fine Arts). At the Art Students League, he started hearing about Provincetown. “So I came here,” Clayton says.
He has been in Provincetown since 1994, painting prolifically and teaching art at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum and the Cape School of Art in Provincetown, and the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill.
His first stop in Provincetown was the Cape School of Art. “I pretty much moved in,” he says. “The energy was so incredible. Provincetown is better than any college.” Everything about the Outer Cape—the incomparable light, beautiful colors, moody grays, topography, culture, creativity—spark Clayton’s eye and impressionist-style paintings.Cottage Street or Provincetown Beach in all their rich, dancing glory, are vibrant depictions of his favorite town.
In Provincetown, he also found an acceptance of his love for color. “When I was studying at the Art Students League, I would hear, ‘What is this, the fourth of July? Tune down those colors!’” On the Outer Cape, he has no color inhibitions, and he loves the colors that brighter weather brings.
“I’m really drawn to the sunny days,” Clayton says. “It’s part of who I am. I do use yellows, more colors like that. I’m trying to express the light.” He is primarily known for his landscapes and still lifes in oils. “You can do things with (oil) that you can’t do with other mediums,” he says. He also creates prints and etchings.
His philosophy is refreshingly straightforward. “I don’t take myself too seriously,” Clayton says. “I take my art seriously, but not myself.” The most difficult thing, he says, is finding the unadorned in art’s complexities. “I want the paintings to get simpler,” he says, “but it’s so hard to get simple.”
Ken Carson’s oil paintings have a dreamy quality. They seep into the soul and the mind surrenders.
“I’m not about specific places, with grass, buildings, or people,” Carson says. “The painting is about an emotional impact. If it connects with you, you can stay there and enjoy it. If it doesn’t connect, walk away.”
Water and sky, in their shifting shapes, colors, and layers, are central in Carson’s work. “The emotion of the sky interests me, whether it’s set by low light, high light, or clouds,” Carson says. “Nine times out of 10, there is a very low horizon.” Just as he is drawn to early morning or dusk in the skies he paints, Carson is most captured by water at its points of great change, such as the intersection of marshland with open water. “I’m very attracted to salt marshes, how they flow through, as opposed to straight, open ocean,” he says. Seasonal changes provide another vehicle for moving the emotions, such as the warm, ruddy shades of brown and gold in End of Season.
Carson’s ocean-centered art is usually anchored with an object, very often a dinghy that may be rotting and beyond repair. “They always seem to be waiting for something, or ready to go, or retired. That to me conveys the solitude, the peace,” Carson says. “It’s a positive solitude.”
His positive outlook is threaded through his career. Carson taught art for 35 years in the public school system in Bourne. “It was a wonderful ride,” he says. He then began art classes with such luminaries as Sig Purwin, Beverley Edwards, and Claude Croney. A stint as assistant director of the Market Barn Gallery in Falmouth, where jeweler Paulette Loomis taught him the business of art, was especially meaningful. Today, when the Sandwich resident isn’t painting, he is building custom frames at Cape Gallery Framer in Falmouth.
Carson continues to be moved by his subjects, long after the art is finished. He first glimpsed the focus of White Boat near a West Falmouth harbor last year and still likes to check in on the little boat. “It’s tied by a path, waiting for the seasons,” Carson says. “It’s just there. I still drive by it. I walk by it. It’s an ongoing process.”
One of the best things about living on Cape Cod is the diversity of its art world. There are artists of many kinds on the Cape and Islands, and the depth of their talents make it hard to choose who to profile in our arts edition. Some of the people profiled on these pages were suggested to me by friends, co-workers, and other artists. I have met some of them personally at cultural events. I wish that we had endless pages to present more of their work—it is always hard to pick photos reflecting an artist’s talent. Read more…