Art Annual 2023

Artist Profile: Phyllis Dobbyn Adams 

Cape Cod Art  /  ART Annual 2023 /

Writer: Chris White

Cottage Table With Kitty • acrylic • 36″ x 36″

If Alice of Wonderland fame were to rent a cabin on the Outer Cape, she’d feel most at home in a room furnished with the Tipsy Tables that artist Phyllis Dobbyn Adams depicts in her new series of paintings. Adams created these abstracted still lifes over the winter as she dreamed of spending summertime by the sea. Early in the process, she decided to “place them off kilter and play around with shapes and color.” The results include overlapping tea cloths in opposing striped or checkerboard-patterns of pastel colors set on tables as though viewed through a distorted lens. Some of the tables are round, others are square, and Summer Table seems to have no actual edge. Most have been set for two guests with teapots, salt-and-pepper shakers, various fruit, and vases of flowers. The chairs, in the same pastel range of pinks, blues, greens, and reds, splay and bend in ways warm and inviting. One could easily imagine eating eggs and toast or scones and clotted cream in any of the settings. Cottage Table With Kitty even includes a cat to keep an Alice company.

Phyllis Adams’ table series didn’t start out “tipsy,” but the process that she worked through exemplifies some of the way she paints in general. She says, “These were going to be more realistic at first, like straight-on still lifes. I’ll get a ball point pen and start drawing. When I started putting in the tablecloths, they began evolving.” In her artist statement, Adams explains: “I strive to pare down and find the essence of my subject by abstracting shapes and exaggerating color. Color and shape is the language I use to capture the feeling, mood, or impression of my subject matter. I find straddling the edges of realism and abstraction the most exciting and challenging aspect of my art.”

With a deep connection to Buzzards Bay, the South Coast, and the Cape, Adams’ main sources of inspiration include the sea, marshes, and cottage communities. She spent many of her summers in Westport, then moved there about 20 years ago. In 2022, she and her husband moved inland to Rochester, but they maintain a houseboat on the Westport River—which extends her connections with coastal colors and shapes. 

Then she majored in sociology before going into the computer industry. She worked for 15 years at Lotus 1-2-3, where she rose to the position of Manager of Software Testing. After 15 years, she decided to retire and set forth on an artist’s journey to become a professional painter. She took a variety of classes and workshops, and she says, “Some were realistic, some were not.” One of her most influential teachers was Frankie Tolman of Dublin, New Hampshire, who guided students to focus on one word to center their art. She also introduced Adams to the work of many other artists. “This is when I started finding my style,” she concludes.

Generally, Adams’ process involves taking in her surroundings, making sketches, then bringing everything back to her studio to paint. She works in acrylics on canvas, and her pieces are usually fairly large, from 24” x 24” to 36” x 36.” Her subjects include animals, “bathing beauties” in swimsuits at the beach, seascapes and boats, and “beach bums”—or abstracted seabirds.  She says, “I love playing with the backgrounds and marshes. When I go en plein air painting, my stuff becomes more realistic, but more often I come home and think about shapes. I love graphic work: shapes and colors. If I hadn’t gone into computers, I might have gone into graphic design.” 

Rounding The Buoy • acrylic • 24″ x 24″
Harbor Town • acrylic • 24″ x 24″

Adams has numerous commissioned work in several New England hospitals, including Boston Children’s Hospital, Woman and Infants Oncology in Providence, Rhode Island, and is currently working on a commission piece for Stanford Children’s Hospital, Dallas, Texas.

Audrey Sherwin Parent of Left Bank Gallery represents Phyllis Dobbyn Adams on the Cape, in a long-standing relationship that marked an important turning point in the painter’s career. “One of my first goals was to get into her gallery,” says Adams. “It took me about six years, and then I sent an email with the ambiguous subject line of ‘artist inquiry.’ Now I’ve been with Audrey for over nine years. I try to get a lot of painting done before summer so I can drop off paintings with her in the spring and again in August.” 

Phyllis Dobbyn Adams’ work can be seen at Left Bank Gallery in Wellfleet,, The Drawing Room in New Bedford,, and 6 1/2 Bridge Street Gallery in Dartmouth. Visit her website,

Chris White

Chris White is a frequent writer for Cape Cod Life Publications and has written on topics ranging from the history of Smith’s Tavern on Wellfleet Island to the sinking of the SS Andrea Doria off Nantucket. Chris also teaches English at Tabor Academy in Marion.