As a little girl in Norwalk, Connecticut, Cherie Mittenthal lived and breathed art. “Growing up, I was never without a sketchbook in my hand,” the artist says. A talented musician—Mittenthal played the oboe and saxophone—she faced a tough decision as she approached college: pursue art or music. Ultimately, she selected the former and attended the Hartford Art School before receiving a Master of Fine Arts degree from SUNY Purchase. This artistic immersion prepared Mittenthal well for her current role as executive director of the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill, a position she has held since 2002.
Mittenthal’s degree is in printmaking, although she has made a name for herself as a painter. “After I left graduate school I just started painting,” she says, “and I’ve pretty much been painting ever since.” For the last decade, she has worked almost exclusively in encaustic (a combination of beeswax and colored pigments). “It’s a funny thing,” Mittenthal says. “A lot of printmakers like working in wax because you can do so much with the material.” She was first struck by the medium’s unique qualities after viewing another artist’s work at a gallery. “There’s this depth and luminosity that’s so beautiful with wax that really drew me to it,” she explains.
Mittenthal’s portfolio features land and seascapes. “My work is very influenced by the surroundings that I live in,” she says. Mittenthal’s paintings use layers to reconstruct imagery. “The majority of people who work in encaustic are abstract painters,” Mittenthal says. Although the medium is seldom associated with realism, her paintings have a photographic quality, albeit in an abstract style. “When I look at my work, I try to make it a moment in time,” she says. “If the wind is blowing in this direction, then the boats must face that way.”
Due to the nature of her medium, Mittenthal does not paint on canvas. “You really shouldn’t work on canvas with encaustic because it moves too much,” she says. Fluctuations in temperature, for example, can cause materials to pop off the fabric. “[Wooden] panels are a much more sturdy substrate to paint on,” Mittenthal explains. She also paints on handmade paper. “You can layer things up, scrape things in, and the wax absorbs beautifully into the paper,” the artist notes. She often integrates other materials into her work—pigment sticks, marble dust, and tar, just to name a few.
Mittenthal, who lives in Provincetown, paints primarily in the off-season due to the flurry of activity at Castle Hill every summer. She often works 60-hour weeks overseeing the center’s daily operations and educational programming. This summer, Castle Hill is offering 164 classes across every medium—painting, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, photography, and writing—and instructors hail from all over the world. Despite her busy schedule, Mittenthal strives to teach at least one encaustic class each year. “I try to keep my hand in it because I think it’s important to do, and I love teaching,” she says.
As much as she enjoys the busy season, the end of summer offers a refreshing change of pace for the artist. “I really love the quiet of winter,” says Mittenthal, speaking like a true Cape Codder. “For me, it’s completely needed given how crazy it gets in the summer. It’s very nice to have that contrast.”