Deborah Cavenaugh pictures paint way more than 1,000 words

Article from Wilmington Star News January 4th, 2011 By Lois Carol Wheatley

A certain storybook quality inhabits everything in the studio; fairy tales told in the form of candlesticks, clocks, lamps, glassware, jewelry, picture frames, small furniture, sculptures, cards and prints. “People walk in here and the first thing they say is this place makes me so happy,” said artist Deborah Cavenaugh.

She is the creator of the 2010 StarNews Media Commemorative Cup, a prime example of the storytelling motif of her artwork. Bright colors and a whimsical style depict Mott’s Seafood in Wrightsville Beach, all the way down to the fat cat on the porch and the miniature delivery truck—real details in an otherwise surreal setting.

“I’m a narrative painter, and my interior decorating is a narration,” she said. “I am a lifestyle artist, which means I have a cohesive, complete thought and I put art into everything. I think that home should be beautiful and I think that home should tell your story.”

That story should vary from the family room to the bedroom to the kitchen, and she said that families should build on their unique experiences—collections, souvenirs, heirlooms—to bring artistry to their home and illustrate their lives and their values.

“At the end of the day home is what you have, and it can be beautiful and wonderful and completely about what’s important to you. The reality is that’s often done in the smallest of ways, the perfect mug that you have your evening tea out of. You have fewer things but the things you have are important and beautiful in your eyes.”

She does commissioned paintings based as much on how things look from the exterior as the stories that inhabit their interiors. “I listen to you, I hear what you say and I interpret it into a painting. That’s a story about your family or whatever it is you’ve come to me for, and those go all over the world.”

She specializes in painting family portraits and she’s also portrayed significant scenes like a home or a bridal bouquet. “I take what I think and put it together with what you think. That’s what folks want. They want me to paint a painting of their house, but they want me to paint it like a Deborah Cavenaugh painting, so I bring it forward to a little story level.”

The items in her shop are no such collaborations, but rather her own complete artistic vision. “Everything from a little hand-painted box to a little vase that I’ve added a few jewels to a little table, it all works together. Nothing is out of place. It’s all one thought.”

Many are Wilmington scenes and themes, but some are from various different places and others are not rooted anywhere in particular. “My cards and prints have gone international. I’ve been in shops from Maine to Florida pretty steadily, and from time to time out in the Great Lakes.”

Children are inexorably drawn to her studio and she has about 30 students, an even mix of boys and girls, who come to take lessons and learn to work with their hands in various media. “They are really powerful young artists,” she said. “They’re highly motivated. I push them hard and we get incredible results.”

They don’t necessarily learn to paint bright pictures of happy scenes. “I want to see their point of view. I want to direct them and help them with technical skills but I definitely want them to develop along their own line. I’m very successful with my kids because I find out what they’re good at and as they get better at what they are good at all the other things follow along.”

She raised her own two children by herself and they grew up in her studio, contented to watch, learn and help out. In the sense that her studio is her home, it models what she thinks a home should be.

“What I think you should do in your house is you should build collections, that your house should talk about you, the same way if you’re an artist someone can look at your painting and know something about you. If they can’t you’re not putting much of yourself into your art. You just have good hands but your heart isn’t coming out into it.”

For some colorful illustrations of hand and heart, visit her studio at 4113-E Oleander Drive, call 367-5211, or go online at

Little Big Shots

July, 2010 - Focus on the Coast
Jennifer-Jon Choate Article about Deborah Cavenaugh's student Charlotte Armitage

"Deborah helps me with my strokes, layering paint the right way, blending the paint and learning cutting out techniques. Like Like mosts artists, Charlotte has a favorite time and place to paint, but her mom shares with a smile, "Charlotte would paint night and day if I let her.""

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This is Charlotte

June 17, 2010 - Wilmington Star News - Ben Steelman Article about Deborah Cavenaugh's Student "Charlotte Armitage" and her new show "This is Charlotte".

"The thing about her work is, it's clear, it's innocent," Cavenaugh said. "Charlotte paints like a storyteller. She paints what delights her."

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Art is in her heart

May 2, 2010 - Wilmington Star News - Pam Sander Article about Deborah Cavenaugh's life and her teaching.

"In the 15 years since that first trip to the frame shop, Cavenaugh's reach has grown to the far reaches of the world. Her original paintings, prints and card lines are distributed internationally."

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The isle of dreams

November 08, 2009 - Wilmington Star News - Pam Sanders Article about Deborah Cavenaugh's new work.

"Look closely at the artwork covering the walls of Deborah Cavenaugh's gallery and you'll get to know her, both through what the works say and what they don't say."

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Deborah Cavenaugh's Art World

July, 2009 - Encore Magazine - Joel Fernando Article about Deborah Cavenaugh and the WAWAS (Wrightsville Avenue Working Artists Studios)

"Her work, in its rich whimsy and dreamy visuals, represents an imagination that is figuratively uncluttered and free of doubt. She carries a joyous manner and has a very special talent in helping others find their way."

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Gift from a child launches an art career

January 09, 2009 - Wilmington Business Journal - Woody Westlake Article about Deborah Cavenaugh's art career.

"The show date was only a month away. I agreed to do it and said to myself, "What have I done?" I didn't even know where to buy art supplies in this town."

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Americana on Canvas

October 22, 2008 - Encore Magazine - Lauren Hodges Article about Deborah Cavenaugh's new joint show with Gail Sue.

"Most of Cavenaugh's heartwarming collection, meant to draw from the "inside," seem like stories from a children's book: buying fruits and veggies from a farmer's stand, flying a kit, and frolicking on the beach"

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