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Siren of the Sea: Painter Elizabeth Mumford

Siren of the Sea

In “The Odyssey,” Homer’s classic tale of Greek mythology, the hero Odysseus asks his crew to lash him to the mast so that he could hear the beckoning calls of the Sirens of the Sea but not submit to their enchanting temptations. The story presents these half-woman, half-birdlike mystical creatures as beauties whose songs render a trance-like effect upon sailors, who will abandon everything in order to immerse themselves in a fantastical world of carefree happiness and contentment.

For decades, residents and visitors to the Cape similarly have been lured by the charm of whimsical mermaids, sea creatures and cheerful folk depicted in Elizabeth Mumford’s paintings. Given the keen understanding of colonial life in New England that Mumford deftly portrays, most might be surprised to discover her roots are firmly planted in the cornfields of Indiana, where she was raised as a child. As she talks about her love and discovery of art in the third grade—where she taught herself to draw three-dimensional Indians, teepees and creeks with crayons on paper—the vernacular of her Midwest sensibility still rises to the top, like cream from fresh milk. “When I asked my mother for glue, she handed me flour and water and told me to mix up some paste. I wanted Elmer’s! But we lived an hour out of town and we weren’t running in to town every whipstitch just to buy glue,” she explains. Ninth grade found her in an all-girls school that offered life drawing, and Mumford eagerly looked forward to learning how to draw trees, flowers and other elements of nature. To her surprise, she discovered life drawing refers to live, nude figure drawing. In tenth grade, it was decided she was taking too many art classes and singing in the choir was added to her creative endeavors. Thus began her long career of a life of learning, discovering and mastering a myriad of artistic expression.

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