Deirdre Cavanagh, surrounded by her artwork

Meira Bienstock photo

BETHEL — There is a black and white print of a young girl with a bird on her head and two windows in the background. The sky is darkened and there is an etched out moon and star. The piece pops out when entering Cavanagh Ink Studio, owned by local artist, Deirdre Cavanagh who has put her collection of 50 years of work inside.

Examining the detailed sketches from her time in college in the 60s, alongside landscapes of the trees in Portland, to books of her paintings paired with her short poems, Cavanagh has created so much, there must be an answer to life hidden among the details.

“It’s not that simple,” says Cavanagh. “All of this, and this is how I’ve come to feel about life: nothing is just one thing. When you go back to the root and look for the meaning, that’s where I think all of us who are – if you are a poet, or a writer, or a painter, you want to get to the basic, to the reality of the words … but it all shifts … so sometimes you’ve got it … and then sometimes you go poof! Ha!”

Cavanagh recollects that she was always painting her entire life.

“I was going to art classes when I was little at the art center and I still remember this vivid image in my mind … the guy who was there, a young man, showed me how to do dry brush in ink. It’s still thrilling for me to think [about]. My mind is visual, not linear.”

Cavanagh carries a hand-made sketchbook with her at all times. She created it out of poetry she wrote and ripped out of notebooks then glued together to become one big sketchbook. Her brother, Charles, reflect on Cavanagh’s birthday dinner the last week. They sat outside and she had pulled out her sketchbook and started sketching.


Cavanagh talks mostly about two main series collections of hers. The first series is about The Development of music, and the second, the Noh Masks series.

As for The Development of music series, “I took the sheet music [Beethoven], which was so beautiful. I feel in love with the sheet music before I started to paint the music. I wanted to understand as much as I could about that.”

When you walk into the studio, one of pieces from the music series is looking at you from straight ahead.

Noh Masks comes from a classical Japanese dance-drama. It features iconic masks to represent the roles being played. Cavanagh became interested in them when she was doing dances in Albany.

“So I made drawings of the Noh Masks, because you know an artist has a terrible tendency to draw her own face, without evening mean to, ha ha!” she laughs. “But it’s also because I sort of love the contradiction in the masks, sometimes it’s Noh or just No. There’s this thought that I have, that we all wear masks to not show your outer skin.”

Whether you’re a fan of Tim Burton’s Gothic black and white checkered prints, or Pablo Picasso cubism, or simply love the trees of Maine, Cavanagh is able to blend all three genres and put a significant twist on them all, with poetry, hope, and lots of New England blended inside.

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