By Carol K. Dumas
Photography by Julia Cumes
Our four featured artists differ in their approaches and media: Amy Dare Middleton chooses acrylics for her expressionist seascapes and vibrant still lifes; Julie Dykens creates whimsical ceramic scenes of Chatham’s fishing life and nature; Carol Odell works in oils to paint her exuberant contemporary oil paintings that invite interpretation, and husband Tom Odell fashions handsome vessels and sculpture from bronze and creates striking gold jewelry. One thing they have in common: Using beautiful Chatham as their muse.
Amy Dare Middleton
Cherished memories of childhood summers spent at her family’s cottage in Chatham were the foundation for artist Amy Dare Middleton’s free-flowing artwork.
Raised in Atlanta and Vero Beach, Florida, Middleton graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where she majored in studio art and advertising (“My grandfather encouraged me to study something practical; I couldn’t just earn a living being an artist”). After moving to Boston after graduation, she pursued post-graduate studies at Massachusetts College of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts.
While Middleton loved Boston and its proximity to the Cape and other parts of New England, Chatham continued to beckon; she and her husband moved in 2000 to Chatham, where they raised a family of three sons who are now 20, 17 and 12.
Raising a family put her art on “pause” for a while, she admits, but now that her boys are older, Middleton has immersed herself in painting as well as teaching art at Chatham Elementary School. She also serves as director of Christian Education and Family Ministries at First Congregational Church, which also includes teaching art at the Main Street Bible Camp and directing weekly summer tie-dye events.
Middleton’s work features colorful acrylics of seascapes and landscapes, rendered in a free-flowing expressionist style; vibrant floral still lifes; and unique pastel paintings on cedar shingles. “I like how the grain of the wood can mimic the sea or the sand.”
She also paints scenes on sea scallop shells, which have been a hit with visitors to Mark August, the Main Street gift shop that sells her work. The shell art began when her friends, who operate the Midnight Our fishing vessel out of Wychmere Harbor in Harwich, dropped off a load of shells. “I think Abby [Our] thought I was going to use them in the kids’ art classes!”
The vast seascapes of Cape Cod never fail to inspire her. Her favorite places to paint include Morris Island, Pleasant Bay and Cape Cod Bay (“the tide transforms the bay beaches”), as well as the view from shore of North Beach Island and its remaining camps (“I often embellish the composition with a few more, like it used to be”).
A Middleton composition often begins with a photo (her own or someone else’s) as a resource. Back in her studio—an adorable “she shed” in her backyard—she uses watered-down paint or charcoal to sketch out the composition before her imagination takes over and the subject is interpreted with shape and color.
She approaches florals differently. “I get more lost in it and play around with color and shapes and abstraction.”
Amy Dare Middleton’s work is available at Mark August, 490 Main St. For more information on Middleton’s work, visit amydaremiddleton.com
Julie Dykens’ distinctive clay and metal work reflects an intimacy with her subject matter that only someone with a true knowledge of the sea and the beach can convey.
Fishermen plying the ocean’s waters, fish, birds and crabs are among her favorite subjects. Her work is whimsical, detailed and thoughtful, from single and multiple panels of tile collages to mixed media such as crafting cod with clay bodies and metal fins. (Dykens uses a bandsaw to shape pieces of metal.) “I always liked my dad’s tools,” says Dykens, who owns Local Color Art Gallery, a space that showcases local artwork in a variety of media.
Dykens grew up in Chatham. When she was an art student at Smith College, she would come home to work summers shucking scallops and crewing on fishing boats.
Dykens (nee Eldredge) knows the town’s history and its people well. She notes how the town’s fishing fleet transitioned from long-lining to gill nets and recalls the sad demise of the scallop industry. The talented artist can easily name legendary captains; remembers the amazing sight of attracting bluefin tuna while chumming for cod offshore; and recalls the camaraderie between the fishing fleet and town. Her tile collage “Memories of Bay Scalloping” pays tribute to a time when the entire community would turn out for bay scalloping, a few days of harvest in the fall each year.
Living here, one cannot help but embrace Chatham’s natural beauty. Dykens’ daily ritual includes walking along Hardings Beach, from the parking lot to the lighthouse, always observing birds. She has more than a passing knowledge of avian life, as her work showcases species such as the great blue heron, oystercatchers, fish crows, Brant geese, spotted sandpipers and yellowlegs.
For the clay work, she starts by rolling out a slab, then adds “the bits,” such as detailed yet whimsical birds, fish, seaweed, crabs, boats, or figures, depending on the theme. After the clay is fired, Dykens paints the piece and then it’s glazed and refired. She makes her own frames from found objects, such as old lobster pots or driftwood. She often receives special commissions from customers.
Local Color Art Gallery is seasonal, so pandemic business closures in 2020 were not a big factor. “It was a good season, and I’m so proud of the people who support local business,” she says.
Local Color Art Gallery, 1652 Main St., 508-945-0240, localcolorchatham.com
Carol and Tom Odell
Amid a region that’s abundant with realistic landscape paintings and sculptures of sea and bird life, contemporary artists Tom and Carol Odell have carved out a successful artistic life on Main Street, where they’ve been producing paintings, monotypes, jewelry and sculpture since 1975.
Married for more than 45 years, the couple first met at a summer creative arts fair. Tom hails from upstate New York, Carol from Maryland. Both had summered on the Cape for years.
“We had booths next to each other,” recalls Tom, who had been working in Cotuit making jewelry. Carol was working in silkscreen at the time and living in Orleans. “It was just so wonderful finding someone who had similar sensibilities and art interests.”
“We both appreciate what is important to the other person and the struggles they have, and we’ve always supported each other,” adds Carol, who has taught workshops in her studio, at the Creative Arts Center, Castle Hill, PAMM and the Cape Cod Art Center.
They live on the premises and work in a two-story timber frame barn behind
Their non-objective work complements each other’s. Tom creates sleek stainless-steel sculptures and irregularly shaped bronze vessels (both fabricated and cast) and unique jewelry in both precious metals and specialty Japanese alloys.
Carol creates vibrantly colored oils, encaustics and monotypes, where shapes swirl in a joyous, organized chaos. While her work is nonrepresentational, the titles she gives are a clue to her inspiration, such as “Blue Breeze Passage.”
“I approach my work intuitively. I work with very little plan,” says Carol. “There’s a kernel there, and I let the work flow. It directs me,” explains Carol.
Striking and unique, their work invites interpretation from the viewer, rather than in a realistic work where the subject is clear and predetermined. The couple is always willing to explain their creative processes to visitors, who might be unsure about how to “interpret” a more abstract work of art.
“Many people see our work and they have no reference point, but they think about it,” says Tom. “It’s like instrumental music. There’s no words, but there is harmony and meter.”
“Don’t ask what it is, ask how is it,” adds Carol. “There is no wrong way to interpret our work.”
Tom often begins a work with a cardboard or paper model, to work out the design. Metal smithing involves soldering, using machinery like a bandsaw or drills and sometimes using wax to shape a form before it is cast in metal.
Besides the usual collection of painting supplies, Carol’s studio space includes a printing press.
Thirty-five years ago, the couple spent a year in Kyoto, Japan, with their two children. Tom worked as an apprentice to a master metalsmith and Carol discovered block printing. They were intrigued by the order and proportion of shodo (calligraphy). The Japanese aesthetic, flowing through every part of the culture, impressed them and was an additional influence on their own art. “Even the way they arrange vegetables in the market is aesthetically pleasing,” says Tom.
Their experiences here and afar have served to shape their own aesthetic. “Our major focus is to create new things, find new colors, combine new textures,” says Tom. “We create a situation and then have to solve it,” continues Carol. “I think all artists do that, but that’s what’s so satisfying.”
Odell’s Studio and Gallery, 423 Main St., 508-945-3239, odellarts.com