Star News Interview (by Lois Carol Wheatley)

Posted on January 4, 2011

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