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Interview with Deborah Cavenaugh, October 31, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Deborah Cavenaugh, October 31, 2006
October 31, 2006
Although born in North Carolina, Ms. Cavenaugh was raised in the Washington D.C. area. Despite her family's financial hardships, she was able to attend the University of Virginia-Charlottesville on a scholarship. After graduating with a BS in Special Education, Ms. Cavenaugh met and married her husband. After her 18-year marriage ended in divorce, Ms. Cavenaugh relocated to Wilmington with her two children, whose Mothers' Day gifts of paints sparked her career in the visual arts. In 1994, after taking her paintings to be framed at a local shop, the owner requested that she bring more pieces to be sold on consignment. Now, her paintings are available in galleries up and down the East Coast, and she has recently licensed her images to a national firm.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Cavenaugh, Deborah Interviewer:  Jones, Carroll Date of Interview:  10/31/2006 Series:  Arts Length  59 minutes


Jones: Today is 31st October 2006; I'm Carroll Jones with Jennifer Dail for Randall Library Special Collections Oral History program. Today, we're pleased to be talking with Deborah Cavenaugh, well known artist, illustrator, mother and inspiration to many. Hello Deborah, how are you?

Deborah Cavenaugh: I'm great Carroll, how are you?

Jones: I'm so glad you've come to visit us.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Thank you.

Jones: Would you start off by talking a little bit about you growing up where your parent's education, goals you might have had as a young person?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Okay. Well I was born in Harrisonburg, Virginia in the Blue Ridge; my parents are both from farms in North Carolina. My father was born in Ten City, North Carolina, not far from Wallace and my mother was born in Lincoln County up in the foothills and they met and married near Harellstore [ph?], North Carolina where I still have a lot of family now. But they moved away when they were young, before I was born and went north looking for opportunity for my father and we ended up in Washington, DC shortly after I was born at various areas in the suburbs or downtown DC from kind of Baltimore to the northern Virginia suburbs, lived a lot of different places. I had two younger brothers, Michael and Kenneth, they have both predeceased me but we were really close and tight knit growing up like a lot of families that move a lot are. And my father worked construction in the building of high voltage wire systems, that's basically what he did and my mother didn't work until my youngest brother was in school and she worked in the cafeteria, the Prince Georgia's County, 4 or 5 cafeterias up there, that's what she did. I went to high school in DC, in Washington DC.

Jones: Which high school did you go to?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Sulin [ph?] High School and I took art through the 8th grade, I was a little straight A student and I got a B- in art and I thought well we can't do this and it really floored me, you know, I came so close to getting a C and that just wouldn't have worked out for me at that time and but I've always been a singer, I sang my whole life and so I switched my devotion to music at that point.

Jones: Did you do art at home as a child?

Deborah Cavenaugh: No, you know, we weren't the-- we were very, very poor so we did not have the luxury of art supplies and things like that, you know, I remember the first time that I ever got my own money, I got a quarter when I was 5 and I bought a tablet and a pencil because I wanted to draw and write and things like that. But I never really thought of myself after the 8th grade experience as any type of artist and indeed, you know, when little children are in school there's always the boy that can draw the perfect car and the girl that can paint, that can draw the perfect horse and I wasn't either of those. So, you know, sometimes I get to stir the paint for them when we're making a bulletin board but I was never the one chosen for those auspicious tasks.

Jones: And you showed them.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Maybe, maybe not, I don't know so after the 8th grade I sort of put any thoughts of art behind me and I loved music and I come from a family where everyone sings and in fact I was a really big girl before I realized all people don't sing. Because my father and my mother both come from very large families and were just likely to break out in song at any moment, you know.

Jones: That was entertainment.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yeah so I didn't know that everyone didn't, it was a big surprise to me and so I was saying actually starting getting paid to sing when I was only 12 and...

Jones: And how was that in the church?

Deborah Cavenaugh: No I started singing, a friend of mine, we both sang and had guitars and we put together a little group and we started entertaining in basically like retirement homes and things like that for like their functions. But they would pay us and then we got a couple of like fashion shows and things like that and then by the time I was 16, the coffee shop circuit had begun and so we would sing in coffee shops around Washington and get paid for that and into college I was actually the girl singer in a rock band and so I did that. But I got married in college and my last year of college; I have a Bachelor's of Science from the University of Virginia. And...

Jones: What did you major in?

Deborah Cavenaugh: There they have their special education degree is all about the science of the ideologies and such and so you actually get a Bachelor's of Science but that's what I majored in, but I never ever did anything with it except that I think it's helped me to raise my own children, I will say that. It was largely a behavior modification oriented program and it taught me a lot about.

Jones: But you went to (inaudible) that's not such a bad deal.

Deborah Cavenaugh: I went there on a scholarship, yeah a big old scholarship and I was way out of my league when I got there, you know, I was in the first class of women to attend there, it was an all male university up to then and I didn't know that. I mean I went there because they gave me a nice scholarship (laughs) you know, that's how it is for, you know, when you don't.

Jones: And that worked out?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Right but, you know, in my family there was no going to college and so.

Jones: You told them.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yeah well I actually had in the realm that one person can change your whole life for you; in the 12th grade I was the assistant for the 10th grade guidance counselor and early in the fall she called me in and my family had made me go to the Secretarial High School so I was gonna get a degree and go to work for the government, that's what I was gonna do.

Jones: Like everybody else.

Deborah Cavenaugh: That was the plan, I was going to have, get my high school, I'd get my G whatever, G4 I think that you were out of high school and go into the government and so she called me and her name was Mrs. McGandra, I will never forget her and she said, "Why are you in the secretarial program, I've looked at your scores, I've looked at your IQ tests, what are you doing here?" And I said, "Well, you know, I can't go to college, you need to have a job," and she said, "Well, you can go to college if you want to," and as the Lord is my witness, no one had ever told me that you can get scholarships that there are other avenues. So she helped me pick out a few schools and I applied; I had never even taken any high school math or anything.

Jones: Oh really?

Deborah Cavenaugh: No, because I was in the secretarial program, so I worked every day after school and I went to the local drugstore, which had a bookstore in the back, and I bought a book about college math in it, and so I'd go to school, I'd go to work, I'd come home, I'd do my homework and then I'd study my book. And so I took my SATs and I scored very highly and did great, and so I got a couple of scholarships and I chose the University of Virginia because it was the best scholarship and went off there, and ended up graduating there, and met my husband there, and in fact, my eldest son just graduated from there in May, so the world's an interesting place, and it can change on a dime and give you 9 cents change. So anyway I gave up my singing at that point and never really thought of myself as an artist, always thought of myself as someone who could sing, I'm a pretty good writer, I've had a few things published that way. I do have a literary agent, although I've never sold a book yet but I actually have a literary agent in New York.

Jones: How do you have a literary agent without having-- did you have?

Deborah Cavenaugh: I have a lot of books written but they just haven't sold so I was shop in one of my books that I wrote with the Professor of International Nursing at East Carolina, we wrote a book together and in shopping that book I got a letter from one of the agencies saying that I can't do anything with your book, which is the big stack letters you get with your books, but she said I've been to your website and I think you're a great undiscovered talent and I'd like to see what you have and so she signed me and, you know, I'm working for her too now trying to come up with the right.

Jones: But you're illustration, right?

Deborah Cavenaugh: No, writing.

Jones: Just writing.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Just writing, right.

Jones: I think the reason I said that was because Susan Taylor Block had...

Deborah Cavenaugh: I did illustrate a book for Susan, yes I did. I do some drawings for her, and I've done work for the Carolina Book Award Book Covers and a lot of magazine covers and things like that, and definitely I can illustrate but this particular agent is a literary agent, not an agent for illustrators.

Jones: No, I understand that. Well, I hope you do get something published someday; you know that giving birth to a book is like giving birth to quadruplets.

Deborah Cavenaugh: It's harder than art, I'll tell you; writing is much harder than art.

Jones: You think so, my husband tells me that.

Deborah Cavenaugh: It's much harder than art to write.

Jones: He's been really successful but he's still beats his brains out.

Deborah Cavenaugh: It beats your brains out, that's exactly what it's like, it's like a continuous final exam I think.

Jones: So when you graduated from UVA, proud of you for doing that and proud of your son, second generation. You'd met your husband; you were married while you were still in college?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Right.

Jones: Your senior year or earlier?

Deborah Cavenaugh: We actually married just before graduation.

Jones: Okay so you had the good grace to at least wait that long.

Deborah Cavenaugh: We did that because of the families were coming in from all over and so we just sort of rolled it into one thing and also, you know, we were young and couldn't live without each other.

Jones: I know. I know. So then what happens?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Well we moved back to Washington and he got a job in a bank and I got a job initially with a custom photographer who did a lot of work for the government, you know, for manuals and things like that and then I left there and went to work for a company that is a large family owned company, they're still in business and they were importers of gourmet foods and I ended up managing that place for a while and we sold up and down the east coast. But when I turned 30, I stopped working and had my first child and never went back to work from there, just stayed home and had a second child a few years later and then a few years after that ended up divorced and then I had to figure out something to do with myself.

Jones: So you had two small children?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yes, two small children.

Jones: And you were divorced?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yes.

Jones: And what did you do with two, where were you living at that time?

Deborah Cavenaugh: I was in Washington DC living near the American University up in Wesley Heights in DC and a year before we'd bought a house in Wilmington, North Carolina and we came to...

Jones: Why Wilmington?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Well, we came down to visit relatives twice a year, I have a lot of relatives out towards the Clinton area, if you go 421 to Clinton you'll just drive by tons of people I'm related to, and so we would come down and stop.

Jones: Carolina to me is the great cousin of all time, my husband is from Wilmington but his relatives are all over the place.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yeah. So we would come down, we'd see everybody and then we'd, for instance, Memorial Day we'd spend the night out in the country, and then we'd come and stay at the Blockade Runner and be on the beach for a while. And one particular Memorial Day, which was a year before the separation and divorce, it rained the whole time and so we went wandering the historic overlay in the historic areas and he saw a house, he bought the house and that's how I had a house here and so before that I always spent the summers on Martha's Vineyard, which is a very popular place for people from DC to go for the summer. And so that particular first summer I came down here to Wilmington and worked on the house, which was literally vines were growing in through the windows across the ceilings.

Jones: This was downtown?

Deborah Cavenaugh: It was in the overlay and it was two blocks behind the Chancellors house, that's right where it was and there were animals living in the house and it was just a horrible wreck of a house. But I spent the summer there and with my children and we worked on it and we went back to DC in the fall and separation happened in September, sorry, November, we went back in September, separated in November and when the house in DC sold, the plan was always that this house would sell too down here but my ex husband said, "Why don't you go and take the children too, move to the house in North Carolina." And I had never considered moving to North Carolina, not one day in my life, but when I thought about it, I decided to do it because I knew the house was in a wreck of a shape and so I had this sense of the chop wood, carry water, restoration of myself. I would come down here for one year, that was my goal, I was gonna come for a year.

Jones: And when was that?

Deborah Cavenaugh: 1993 I think it was, '92, the fall of 92. I was gonna come for one year and I was gonna, you know, scrub and patch and sand and nail and cry and scrub and patch and sand and nail and cry. Work therapy, which something I really believe in, just turn in and work and let the time pass and in a year my goal was I'd have the house fixed up and I'd sell the house and then I'd move back to DC and it seemed like a good way to sort of make the break. Because I was married as a child and the marriage had lasted 18 1/2 years so I'd lived like the first 20 years as my father's daughter and in those days you really were your father's daughter, you know, and you were under his dominion and his say was the say, there was no crossing that. And then I got married.

Jones: Somebody's wife, but then you became somebody's mother.

Deborah Cavenaugh: And then I was somebody's mother and so.

Jones: You were never just...

Deborah Cavenaugh: I was basically 42 years old and I'd never lived on my own before, you know, so what I was unprepared for was how difficult it is to leave the only home you've ever had, you know, I had friends that I'd had since childhood, moving back to DC and settling there again and to leave everything you know, you know, your way of living is a different culture, everything is very different, you know, when you're a city girl. And so I was not prepared to how hard it is to start over by yourself somewhere else.

Jones: And you didn't really know anybody particularly here in Wilmington?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Right. I had some family out in the country, an hour out, but no I knew no one in town and I, because I've always sort of lived the same place, I really didn't even know how to go about it because it never had come up before, you know, how to sort of mingle into a new area.

Jones: How about your children, they went to school?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Well, they went to St. Mary's and that's actually the reason I ended up staying here is that, it's two things, at the end of that year, one I was absolutely exhausted and drained completely dry. I was really worn out and had a hard time just getting myself on my feet, wasn't prepared for that. But my children had blossomed, living in North Carolina versus living in Washington DC is like living in Disneyworld because in Washington DC all children are handed from adult to adult, you know, you don't even let them...

Jones: Raise children up there.

Deborah Cavenaugh: You don't let 'em play in the front yard, much less let them ride their bike around the block, you know, so it was...

Jones: But you lived really in the district, so that makes a difference.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yes.

Jones: We raised our kids in Mount Vernon, Virginia (inaudible).

Deborah Cavenaugh: Oh yes, beautiful, I love Mount Vernon.

Jones: Yeah, so that for them they loved it, we had a little, there's that little- the creek that runs over there through those neighborhoods, there were tons of kids, we had alleys, they rode their bikes all over the place. The ice cream man came down the street and they had made a lot of friends.

Jones: Small town America.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yeah, and they, which were my complete and total focus, would they be okay, they were fabulous and I knew that I was exhausted, I didn't realize how hard it was to move until I did it but now I'd have to reverse it and try to do it all over again, back in the opposite direction. We had a pretty good lifestyle here that would be difficult to manage up there. But the big thing was my children were happy, you know.

Jones: Do you think St Mary's- as being a nurturing place that it is- was good for them too?

Deborah Cavenaugh: They absolutely both have and, you know, one's graduated, the other one's in college now, they have nothing but praise for St Mary's.

Jones: I do too.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yeah, nothing but praise, everyone was really great but the fundamental, my daughter who is a brilliant student in university now, she still says that all the fundamentals she builds her education on came out of St. Mary's, just the simple things.

Jones: I mean that business was love.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Right and you, if you wanted your child to have, you know, a lot of extracurricular activities you had to join em up somewhere else, there's not a lot of art and music going on over there. But they will be able to write.

Jones: There is today, but that's changed.

Deborah Cavenaugh: They'll be able to write a beautiful essay, they'll know their math, they'll be able to recite some famous speeches, their history facts will be good and it's just a really good education, and so they really liked it and they were really happy and they had friends and they were healthy and they were strong and all the things that I feared for them weren't true, didn't happen. We were good, and so I thought, well, I'll stay another year at least then and so now after the end of another year of course I realize if I ever move back to Washington, which I still miss if I'm honest, you know, I grew up in the city, I'm a city girl. If I ever moved back, I couldn't do it until they graduated from school because they're happy here, this is their home.

Jones: Deborah, do you go up to Washington a lot?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Hardly ever.

Jones: And you don't feel on 95, the closer you get, the traffic builds up and it's madness that oh my gosh I've left all this, I begin to tense up a bit.

Deborah Cavenaugh: I really don't because, you know, when I was 16 my father took me over to Pennsylvania Avenue and got out of the car and put me in the other side and I started driving and so that yes it's really tense, I think it's probably like this like when a race car driver gets in their race car in the race track, they don't feel oh my lord, they feel ooh hoo I'm ready, that's how I feel like woo hoo, you know, I love it.

Jones: Well there's a lot to do up there, you know, you don't have to spend a lot of money to have fun.

Deborah Cavenaugh: It's a great place to be a poor child because there are.

Jones: Something going on all the time free.

Deborah Cavenaugh: And everything is free, festivals, music, Shakespeare, plays.

Jones: But then you have to eat and you have to sleep somewhere.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yeah it's an expensive place to live, that's for sure.

Jones: So your kids were how old at this time?

Deborah Cavenaugh: My daughter was in. When we moved here my daughter was rising first grader, my son was a rising 4th grader, so they pretty much lived their whole childhood here.

Jones: So you were a single mother, not working, pulling the rats out of an old house, making it into a palace type of thing and watching your kids grow healthy but what happened after that, what spurred you on to do the things you've done, you must have always had a creative (inaudible).

Deborah Cavenaugh: I say that I was creative in the way that a lot of home makers are and it's sort of sacrileges.

Jones: Decorating.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yeah, you know, it's sort of sacrileges to say but like I think that one of the things I have is I have very good compositional sense. But in one way that's almost the same sort of understanding of space that you have when you create a beautiful thanksgiving table that if you just had a little red in your flowers, if you just a little shorter piece over here, if you just had and so a lot of the things that I use in my art were things that I used in being a homemaker and that's definitely the truth. But no I did not think of myself as an artist in any way except that I did think of myself as a singer and I did even at that time write all the time but I didn't think of myself as a visual artist. But the spring that we were going through our separation before we moved to North Carolina it came to be Mother's Day and my son who was in the 3rd grade knew that Mother's Day required a present and so he said to me, you know, "Momma how are we gonna get your Mother's Day present?" And near our house on Wisconsin Avenue around the corner on Wisconsin Avenue there was a little sort of a shop around the corner, toy store and the ladies in there had been in there forever and they knew the children who came in and in the back of this toy store they had a little crafty section. So I said, "You know, in the back of the Sullivan's Toys they have all those kits and things that you can make things and I like to make things, maybe you could get me one of those because I could let you shop in there without watching you." So I spent several days hinting strongly that I needed new potholders, thinking I was gonna get a little pot holder kit, this is what I expected and lo and behold on Mother's Day, they had bought me a little set of student paints and a pad of paper and a paint brush and I really was like.

Jones: These were little kid watercolors?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Well they were in tubes, they were little Koi watercolor sets, which I still think are really brilliant colors and they bought me these colors, a brush and a pad and, you know, I was happy to get the gift but I was like, you know, crap what am I gonna do with this, I can't paint. But, you know, children they're just (humming) now we'll do art, now we'll draw the Grand Canyon, now we'll draw, you know, Tyrannosaurus Rex and so that's how they were, you know, and so they're like "Let's draw all this paint momma" you know, if I showed any hesitation it would crush them, so I made some paintings to make them happy, you know, a dozen or so and then they kind of eased off me and let me go. And come the fall we moved to North-- August we moved to North Carolina and I got the house kind of rudimentarily set up and everything was the marital things, I had not-- this was probably a year later, you know, had really nothing except what I-- because I'd always been married and I decided I wanted to put something in the house that was my own and I thought about my box under my bed that had these little paintings in em. So the welcome wagon lady had forced herself into my home, she was relentless on me and I kept saying, you know, "No, no, no thank you, I really don't need the welcome wagon lady." But finally I decided I'm gonna have to buy a pound cake and make some lemonade and let her come, so I did and she brought me a little bag of, you know, all kinds of treats and welcomed me and one of the things in the bags was a coupon for framing, it was one little coupons. So I got my little coupon and I got my paintings and I went down to get them framed and the frame shop was owned by a gallery called Randall Gallery, which is no longer here in town. But I didn't really know all that at that point and I go in with my paintings and of course they're not signed and I'm not saying, look at my paintings. I feel like that I'm getting one of my paintings framed, you go now, look, woo, you're wild, this is amazing, you know, but what happened was Chloe who owned the gallery and I think her last name was Chloe Smith not Chloe Randall but I can't recall for sure. I was working with the framer guy and she came walking through and she picks up one of my paintings and she says "Whoa this is very nice and they're not signed, who did these?" I had no idea what to say because I'm certainly not fessing it was me and so she sought of accused me of it, she said "You painted them didn't you?" And I'm like "Well" and she said "Well I really love them, if you can part with them I can sell them." And she said "Have you others?" And I said "Yes" and she said "Where are they?" And that yeah like now I know she meant, you know, where are your galleries, where do you show, but I said "They're at home under the bed." (laughs) she said "Would you go get them and let me see them?" And I said "When?" She said "Right now" so I said "Well okay" and really I kind of equate it to singing and I have had a short on stage type of career but nothing big but it's like if you sang your whole life or you liked to sing and you're out in the back yard hanging the sheets, singing away and all of a sudden a car pulls up and says "Quick, come with me, we're gonna let you sing on stage tomorrow night" you know, you're just don't know what to say, you have no place inside you to put that to take it even seriously. But I went home and got my work, when I came back, she had a contract drawn up and she sold 3 paintings the next week and indeed I took every painting to her but one, which I still have and she sold them all and I did not take it seriously still.

Jones: Even then?

Deborah Cavenaugh: No because it seemed like an absolute fluke. Well I was married a long time, we were pretty wealthy in the marriage so initially when I came out of it, I was okay for a while, I was okay for a while. But with fixing up the house and everything, the funds were depleting quickly and to back track a little bit when I told the children that their father and I were gonna be getting a divorce. Their only question was, does this mean we're gonna have to go to day care? That was their big question because they went to the National Presbyterian School in Washington and every day the little children came out of the class in two lines and one line went to the day care line and one line went to the mommy line and they didn't want to have to-- they wanted to stay in the mommy line.

Jones: It's funny what kids.

Deborah Cavenaugh: And so that was weighing heavy on me and I was like almost willing to go completely down to zero to just sort of-- that was a component for them of keeping their life normal and so I was working really hard and I was, you know, I'm a very religious person and I was praying constantly, you know, give me something that I can do and keep the children with me. Show me a way, show me a way, help me, help me, I mean I kept working on the house and this and that and the other and so a few months passed and I get a call that there's, from the Café Phoenix that there's been a cancellation of an art show and that they had seen my work at the Randall Gallery and would I be willing to put an art show in there and for the life of me I don't know why I said yes but I said "Yes" and it was only a month away, it was actually less than a month.

Jones: And you'd sold all your paintings.

Deborah Cavenaugh: I had no paintings and the Café Phoenix takes about 25 paintings, it's big, because you have to hang in both floors, you know, I still had just my little set of student paints and my brush, you know, I mean I had two sheets of paper left so I don't know why I said yes, I have for the life of me-- it was ridiculous. But I did say yes and so we flew into what I finally think of as the chicken with the head cut off phase where I just ran around the house, you know, and I had one of the rooms upstairs, I mean I had to paint on the floor, I had no easels, I had nothing, I just painted and painted and the children would bring me sandwiches and hang round and lo and behold, you know, and I had to paint this show in about 3 weeks because they had to be framed.

Jones: Where did you get your inspirations, what did you paint, just things that you saw?

Deborah Cavenaugh: You know what, I knew enough from being involved in other parts of the arts that your art is about you, if you wanna be a successful singer, every song has to sound like it happened to you and that's how you leave it on the stage, you make it about what you know, you bring it to yourself.

Jones: Authors too.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Same thing for a writer, you have to write about what you know and so I painted about what I know, I painted, I mean I, you know.

Jones: They came from the mind?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yes I only paint from inside my head basically even if I paint something that actually exists I study it and I think about it and I kinda memorize it and then I go paint it from in my head and because my paintings really are less about a true vase of flowers and more about how we remember being with a vase of flowers. So I painted, you know.

Jones: Did you always include a little saying?

Deborah Cavenaugh: No, no, that was a break through moment when I start putting that on there so I painted this show and it went up and they wanted to give me an opening and I said "Oh no way man" that just seemed the most ridiculous of everything for me to have an opening as an artist and a couple of weeks passed. I had not gone into the Café Phoenix since I hung the show and I decided this one day while the children were in school I was gonna go get lunch in the Café Phoenix and just see if I could stand what that felt-- I mean I never even been with that many pieces, you know, this was like piece 13 through 48 or something that I've ever painted in my life. So while I was in there at lunch, one of the owners of Atmy [ph?] Art was there and their lunch partner didn't show up and her children went to St Mary's too, we didn't know each other very well but we knew each other, well she invited me to sit with her and became revealed that, you know, these were the 10 to 20 number and I hadn't painted in my whole life, I had never had a lesson, I don't know what I'm doing and she said "Well now that this has happened to you, what are you gonna do about it?" And that's the question I hadn't even posted to myself and I said "I don't know" and she said "Maybe you should take a studio and see what you can do with this." And so after lunch we went over to Atmy [ph?] Art, like now there's about 18 art studios in there but at that time there were just a few, it was a lot younger in those days and just mostly big open spaces. And I was standing in the middle of Atmy [ph?] Art and I said "Well do people bring their children here?" And she said "Yeah actually a lot of us have children, they come in after school or Saturdays, often a lot of kids here on Saturday" and just in a sort of a way that you absolutely know something when you know it, I knew right then that if I could figure out how to make a living from the arts, then I could also raise my children and indeed both my children came to my studio until they 16 after school every day. They never balked, they never said no momma because ultimately I think kids kinda wanna be with their mother if they can, you know, and so it worked out really well for us and so I took the studio on March 1st, 1994, I gave myself one year which is ridiculous now I realize how ridiculous but at the time I said "Okay you have one year Deborah to prove it or not prove it." And I didn't know a thing about being an artist, not a darn thing, I did know a lot about being a good worker and running a business, I had some sense of that and so I did a lot of things different than a lot of artists do but it worked for me. And I just started showing like a wild woman and painting like a wild woman and at the end of one year I was selling every month, I had quite a few galleries and we had made some progress and so I gave myself another year and so now from 1994 to 2006 we're March 1st, my 12th year, I give myself another year. I can quit if I want to if it's not working out but I give myself another year to see what I can do and so that's sort of it really was inspired by the gift of my children and inspired by the needs of my family and of course I love painting so that.

Jones: Are you happy when you're painting?

Deborah Cavenaugh: The most happiest I am when I'm painting is when I'm making a painting.

Jones: And do you paint to please yourself?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Well yes I'm a very popular commission painter, most artists who earn a living wage are commission painters as well and many, many of the pieces of art that we see in museums of the antiquities, these are commissions painted for someone, many, many of them. So I do a lot of commission paintings but even in those at the end of the taking the order of the commission I give my little speech that says, you know, I'm the artist and I will try to please you in every way but I won't make bad art for you, I won't make art that's not exactly the kind of art I make and so even my commissions they have to ultimately please me.

Jones: Well don't you feel somebody would choose you because they know what kind of art you do and they're putting it into your hands?

Deborah Cavenaugh: That's really true but of course when you're doing commissions, many people have an opinion and they might want something done that will absolutely flat out ruin this painting, you know, it's kind of like decorating with your husband, he loves this chair, he's got to have this chair, he's got to have it, can't get rid of it, gotta fit into the room and so it's sort of like that for some. Some folks are just like here's my stuff, please just make it pretty like you do and I'm happy, but some people can be consistent but, you know, I still for that, but yes to answer your question I am the most free, I have the greatest understanding of faith in God and beauty and all those things when I'm sitting down privately, painting what I want to paint and it's a wonderful experience to paint.

Jones: Do you still live in this old house?

Deborah Cavenaugh: No we moved from that house and we sold it about 9 years ago and I live down not too far from the waterway now, not on the water but in one of those neighborhoods down in there.

Jones: So there's where you wanted to be ultimately anyway close to the water, get close to the water.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Well I moved down there because what finally-- an older house like that it's a constant, it never stops and so I was very tired from the house, you know, single and everything and there's a fair amount of crime and it kinda pops up at times and so we were going through this time when there was a whole lot of crime around our neighborhood and then my son was actually jumped their playing basketball in the Baptist Church on Market Street and so it just came to me that I couldn't protect my children. Even though I came out of the city I had lived without-- with my father and my husband were the kind of men you could wake up and say "I heard something" and they'd just get their clothes on and go outside, you know, I couldn't do that so it just started weighing on me. The sounds in the night started weighing on me so we moved out there, I've never lived in sort of a suburban type setting before, I've never lived in a subdivision before but it's really nice, I have about an acre of woods, I have a stream in the back yard. Sit on my back porch, I can't see another house so it's very lovely, it's very private and that's turned out to be something I really enjoy that I didn't know I would.

Jones: Now have you, since that time, since this beginning, you've undoubtedly assimilated into the art community here and gotten to know many of them and their different styles and such. Have you become a part of well they used to be the Arts Council, now they're other things or even No Boundaries which is a little bit different but they've certainly done some marvelous work too. Is this appealing to you or do you prefer to keep a closed group of friends that may or may not be artists or do you do both? In other words you get your inspiration in different places I know, how have you, but for somebody who came here in '93, you didn't know anybody, how have you fit in as in your art is in the subject to or the topic that's taken you some place?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Well let's see, I don't belong to any of the art organizations although I have participated in the past in No Boundaries, I participated a couple of years and I was on their board of director's a couple of years. But the reality of being the head of a household and the head of my business, the absolute reality is I work at least 60 hours every week, it's not the kind of business, I mean I have to make everything basically, you know. So it's a hard-- I have two children in colleges, I'm under the gun to perform and so I work at least 60 hours a week and then I still have the house to run after that. So, you know, I go to church, I probably have dinner with friends once or twice a month but I don't have a big social life other than family.

Jones: Do you do any art mentoring, teaching or with children?

Deborah Cavenaugh: I do on occasion like about a month ago I went to the Wrightsville Beach School and I taught every class in there and I talked to them about bringing yourself to your art in all the ways that you are that if I had listened to all the rules and parameters of you have to be able to draw straight lines, you have to be able to draw this, you have to be able to do that, you have to understand perspective, you have to understand shading. You have to understand all these things, well I'm sorry you're just not an artist, I really wouldn't be one and there are a lot of ways that people appreciate, that's what's appreciated in the arts no matter what they are is the bringing of oneself in a true and authentic way. And the more you're willing to reveal your true and authentic self through your art, no matter what it is, no matter how flawed you may be, the greater success you'll have in terms of your art being a communication with other folks, you know, they'll get to know you and they will understand you and my style of painting is very much a narrative style. 90% of my paintings at least, maybe higher than that I'm telling you a story and the story is open enough that I, in my story there is this space for you and your story. I'm talking about the true authentic accountagraphic parts of life on earth of being a mother, of being a child, of understanding what's beautiful, of understanding the momentary joy, of understanding that even on the worst day the list of what's going wrong is never longer than the list of what's going right and my work I think that bringing my true authentic philosophy and my path to my work. People don't buy my work because I'm a great artist, because I'm just not, people buy my work because they relate to me and I'm a real human being and in my art there's really two things that I try the hardest to do and the first is to hold myself to a standard of encouragement because it's easy to shock people, it's easy to make people feel bad about whatever it is that's out there to feel bad about. But I think that my special gift is I can encourage you, I don't know how life is gonna be made right, but I can assure you that it's really gonna be okay and I think that's.

Jones: Yeah I think you're right because this about-- I became attached to your work, it spoke to me as a woman and having experienced some of these things and I love the colors too, I have to admit. Have you become involved with women's groups or spoken to women's groups or hospitals or anything like this? You had sorrow in your life, you've had all kinds of things, you've come out of it, you're very inspirational and you're a survivor so that would just follow that you might do this.

Deborah Cavenaugh: I do, it is, if I could choose the future for myself, one of the things I'm extremely interested is public speaking because I have developed and am still in the act of developing a clear personal philosophy that I understand and I can articulate and communicate and I am a survivor. I actually survived childhood sexual abuse; I was beaten every day until I was 13.

Jones: By a family member obviously?

Deborah Cavenaugh: By my mother, we were neglected, we would be left sometimes by the side of the road and she said she wouldn't come back for us.

Jones: And yet your work is so (inaudible).

Deborah Cavenaugh: Both my brothers who predeceased me did so by suicide and so I've survived a lot but I'm on my feet.

Jones: Is art therapy for you?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Well the great thing about art, about visual arts as opposed to say writing, writing is so specific but a painting you can say so much without ever speaking a word and, you know, many people they think the children in my paintings are my children. Well sometimes they are but sometimes the children in the paintings are myself, sometimes it's me trying to work out on a child level. When you're not raised in a loving manner, a lot of questions, what is a loving mother, you know, what, do, how is it different for other people, what does all that mean and of course in getting to parent your own children you do get to learn a lot of things like that and to establish a new, you know, set, a new way of being and I used to think why was I born. But now I think I was born to change my family's line, to be the change. You know my children have never been struck, they've never been called a name and they can't even imagine any of these things, you know and it took 3 of us and only 1 was strong enough to make it and that was me. But in working out my art, you know, honestly like most people have gone through hard things, you remain tender towards your tragedies, you know, in your own self, you're tender towards them. And so I have a tenderness towards my childhood and my brothers and I work a lot of it out that way but I also work out my own-- every mother has her questions and doubts and I work out that, I work out relationships of all types and I work out for myself. I always say that I'm painting what it is I need to see and I'm writing what it is I need to remember on the painting and in that I'm not so different than anyone else. If I'm authentic, I'm authentically a part of many, many groups and so if I could speak authentically about what it is we need to see and what it is we need to remember that will make it easier for us to stand up and go another day.

Jones: But you've never felt sorry for yourself?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yeah sure I feel sorry for myself, yeah sure I do, you know, I think that's...

Jones: Let me rephrase this. I'm sure that being a human being you have to feel sorry for yourself, but I guess what I'm saying is to let it show, to be outward, to express it. You sound to me like, your children, thank God you had your children, you've been up beat and then you had your art and you speak of your faith, you wanna talk about that a little bit or is that too private?

Deborah Cavenaugh: No it's not private. But just go back one second to the do you feel sorry for yourself or sad for yourself or whatever, I've come to understand that there's no way to make it become as if the things that have happened to you did not happen, just can't get to that part. Now I had to work really hard because I thought I gotta get over it, just gotta get. You can't unmake it, you know, you just can't, what is said, what has been done, it has been said and it has been done. But what can do is accept it and learn to manage it and so I have my times that it all rises up on me and I feel, you know, I just don't know how to deal with all these feelings, with all these unanswered questions, with all these issues. But those are about my feelings and your philosophy or your religion or whatever, you know, is about the parameters you place over-- it's a grid you put over your life and so yes you must accept this happened but today is another day and all these little sayings that I write on my paintings, these are my personal philosophy and I do have a very strong faith. I do completely; well I can get mad at my lord and rage a little bit at him. I completely believe that he's there and he's looking out for me and that that is one of the reasons I know that I was given this opportunity to paint. I believe that things will work out, I just don't know how they'll work out and so I believe that if I can accept that God knows me and he knows everything that's ever happened to me and he knew me before I was born and he would know me after I had passed away and he knew my mother and knew where I was coming and he saw that everything that happened. Then if I can accept that, then I can say and what in the world could the purpose of it be? But the reality is that much of what makes me who I am today is because of what I have been through and has made me strong and compassionate and has given me-- I know things that other people don't know because I've been through things that other people haven't been through and I didn't come through em perfect but I came through em well, I came through 'em well. I came through em well and I'm still working on it and it's one of the things that drives me to paint all the time because I really must work on it. If I don't work on it, it will work on me.

Jones: Do you paint every day?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Every day, I don't paint on Sunday.

Jones: You take the Sabbath off?

Deborah Cavenaugh: I take the Sabbath off; it's against my religion to work on Sundays.

Jones: Do you mind my asking?

Deborah Cavenaugh: I'm a Catholic.

Jones: So am I. You still, you don't go to St. Mary's anymore?

Deborah Cavenaugh: No, you know, we're converts actually, when my daughter graduated the 8th grade from St. Mary's we were Presbyterians and she says, the first summer she says "Mommy I must go to mass" and I said "Well we're not Catholic." But she said "I've been going to mass for 8 years and I like mass and I wanna go to mass." And so, you know, I didn't wanna take her but then I thought well she's not asking me to like to let her go to Las Vegas, I'll let her go to mass but I'll go with her and so I go to mass with her on Sundays and, you know, she was worried to death I'd embarrass her because, you know, I didn't know any of the rituals. But lo and behold and she told me after about a month or two that she was gonna convert and so I decided, you know, she's 15, 16, I think she was 15 by then, it would be foolish to try to fight. 15 is old enough, well I certainly knew my religion at 15, you know, so 15 was old enough. So I thought okay she can convert and I'm going to church with her and I'm learning more about the church and I'm learning that, you know, the mass is the same all over the world and the sheer incredible number of Catholics who are at mass every Sunday, saying the same words and I just have this sort of conversion experience. I became overwhelmed by the magnanimous magnificent hugeness of it.

Jones: The antiquity of it.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Oh yes well recently the little country church that my grandparents were, went to was 250 years old and so as a gift from my family to the church I painted a portrait of the church and I took it out there to give it to them and I hadn't been to a service in a Protestant Church for years but and it was a lovely service but the end I thought I just didn't get out of it, you know, I'm so used to the depth of the ritual which really does get you completely inside. So yeah that means a lot to me and it has a lot to do with my personal philosophies definitely based in Judaea Christian.

Jones: Do you have a garden?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yes I do.

Jones: I knew you did.

Deborah Cavenaugh: I love to garden.

Jones: You had to; do you use your yard, your garden sometimes and inspiration for some of your paintings?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Well my garden, I mean my paintings often come from a sense of being almost overwhelmed by whatever and my garden gives me that sense of, you know, people who do art of any kind, you know, know that there's a place in your brain you go to when you're ready to do your art and it's the same place for all the arts I think. But gardening, when I'm in my garden and I just see how wondrous and beautiful and amazing the world is, it's about that same place.

Jones: My kids used to say moms out playing mud pie.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yeah my children don't understand it at all.

Jones: It was just a sense of working in the dirt and making something beautiful happen. Say that you renew your, you say that you're gonna give yourself a year each year you give yourself another year. So is it too much for me to say, where do you want to be in 5 years?

Deborah Cavenaugh: No.

Jones: Are you gonna stay in Wilmington, has Wilmington become your home?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yes Wilmington is my home; the only thing that would cause me to leave is if both my children settled far away. Because I'm not married and it's just first off I'd like to be near family and so that would be something that would make me really consider going and living near one of my children because they are important to me and they are my only real family left right now. So, but Wilmington definitely is my home, you know, I've lived here a long time.

Jones: You've seen some changes in this short time haven't you?

Deborah Cavenaugh: I've seen a lot of changes.

Jones: Do you like them?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yes I like 'em very much.

Jones: Do you think the future of Wilmington with all the growth is a good thing?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Well, you know, I have a different perspective on it, I know a lot of people don't like that Wilmington's no longer a slow and sleepy as it might have been a decade or two ago. But I think it's way more exciting now, I find the people coming in to be very exciting. I find the new stuff coming in to be very exciting. If I had to make one slam down criticism it's not that there's growth but that there's not good zoning here (laughs).

Jones: It's indiscriminate.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yeah, you know, I mean I come from DC, we're zoned, everything is zoned and so because of that you get a homogeneous look so I think that there's some ugly going up and I don't like that of course. But I like that people are coming in, I like that the community's more vibrant, I like that it's growing, I like that the reputation of it as a good place to live is growing, you know, and as a-- I'm an artist but I'm also earning a living. So as a business person it's a fabulous place to be.

Jones: Do you have a? You work in studio?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yes I have a studio and then I also have a separate place that I do my cards and prints out of, I don't do them in my studio.

Jones: Do you have a gallery where people can go or are your works shown in other galleries?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Yes I've been in a lot of galleries, you know, galleries are sort of a fluctuating thing, you know, but I've been in galleries in Maine and Florida, Pennsylvania, across the Carolinas and in South Carolina. So I've had a lot of gallery affiliations, now this year is a year that several galleries closed that I'm in and ___________ gallery downsized so now I'm having to re look at all of that again. But in the business of art you have to-- the biggest negative of the business of art is this, is that you have to constantly market whereas in other selling oriented professions, you can create a client base but for an artist, mostly your client base buys one or two and they're done with you and it doesn't mean they don't still love you but you have to constantly be creating a client base and things like that. So it's a difficult business in that regard so you can't just sort of set up your galleries and you're good there and also, you know, in some places you'll have a time for 2 or 3 years, you'll be very hot in the gallery and a lot of what sells in a gallery has to do with the owner of the gallery. Someone comes in, they say "Oh this is the person you must buy" and they're always looking for the next person who'll be the person you must buy. So you have to be real flexible with it, now locally here right now I was in the Tag Gallery which just closed; so for the next year.

Jones: Are they the ones that were flooded, it was flooded?

Deborah Cavenaugh: I don't know, no they just closed, they were down at Luminous Station and they closed. But I have not, for most of my career in Wilmington I've not been in a gallery, I've just been on my own in town, you know, because I like to be able to show if I wanna show, to be able to do with my art what I wanna do with it in my own home town.

Jones: Alright let me ask you this, I've noticed some of your works in various frame shops and there's one, what's the name of that place down at the Cotton Exchange?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Locations?

Jones: Yeah and down here in Oleander but that takes time to market your work, do you have somebody else do that, you do that too?

Deborah Cavenaugh: I do it all.

Jones: You are a one man band?

Deborah Cavenaugh: I'm a one man band, I have occasionally a child to help me here and there and then I have a woman who if I get completely overwhelmed I can call in but the day to day is all on me.

Jones: You have to take Sunday off.

Deborah Cavenaugh: (laughs) I do, so when you ask me where I wanna be in 5 years, okay so here goes, where I wanna be in 5 years, I want to always paint but I really want a big break, you know, writing, I also have-- I'm with Grace Licensing out of California and they just picked me up this year in the early summer so that is another venue that.

Jones: What will they be doing?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Well what licensing amounts to is the rent of your art to be used on things and so I have a 250 image print line and a 250 image card line. I never put-- anything you see in a gallery or hanging as an original, I never put into print, if you buy an original of my paintings, no one ever has one of them. But I have a whole separate image line of 250 images that in print and so all of those images are available to be used in other ways. So I also have a documentary that was shot last summer and it's in editing right now and that's gonna be submitted into film festivals and then I have a couple of other, a business thing that I'm working on right now is I'm creating a set of DVD's called the School of Art Smarts because it is very clear to me that a lot of people understand their art but they don't understand the art business and so I have a-- we own the web site name, the School of Art Smarts and we're gonna create a dozen DVD's that sort of talk about the different elements of how to be in the business of being an artist, which is way different than what people really think about it and everything from, you know, finding your themes and being true to them and really working on them in a cohesive way, not allowing yourself to badger all around. All the way down to how to create your art book, how to get galleries, alternatives to expensive framing because this is something I really own, I own this knowledge, I taught it to myself.

Jones: I was going to say that's a business that I think that if you were not smart enough you could really get lost with all the advice you get or all the different people that you have to deal with.

Deborah Cavenaugh: And it's just very very difficult because you're work is sold when you're not there, galleries close, people don't get paid, you're criticized a lot, you know, it's not what people think it's like, you know, they'll say "Oh I don't like that painting, oh that's too green" blah, blah. You really have to have a certain-- I really separate, you know, there's Deborah Cavenaugh who is the President of Deborah Cavenaugh Studio and then there's Deborah Cavenaugh who is the main artist with the Deb Cavenaugh Studio and they're two different people, they really have to be. When I sit down to paint, I don't think about all this other stuff.

Jones: You can't.

Deborah Cavenaugh: No and when I'm running the business I'm running the business and I keep them separated, I don't run the business out of my studio, my studio is where I create and so.

Jones: So nobody is allowed in there, do you have anybody working with you?

Deborah Cavenaugh: Help me in my studio? No.

Jones: Anywhere?

Deborah Cavenaugh: No, no and I do let people in my studio but by appointment but yeah when I'm in there I put on head phones, I listen to music and I paint and I kinda block the world out and it's the most peaceful place for me. And you ask me how I began to write on my paintings and that really changed my artwork because once I began to write on them, people really began to be able to relate to me and I think it's just because it's like me putting my hand out, you know, revealing the ways I'm vulnerable, what I'm trying to do and the very first show that had the writing on it was the first time I ever painted human figures which from the minute I got my box of paints is what I wanted to paint. Because I had read a story when I was pregnant with my son, which was 8 years before I ever got my box of paints and in the story a woman passes away and her children come from out of town from their big lives to deal with their mother's effects and in her laundry room they find a dozen or so paintings and they're of ordinary women doing ordinary things a mother would do and the girls are like "Whoa did you know mom paint?" "And I thought she used to in college" I mean they were just completely "Oh what about this?" And being pregnant with my son I was overwhelmed with emotion that, you know, and she was a good mother and all this but they just didn't know her and I could see in my mind's eye these women doing ordinary things, doing cooking at the stove, hanging clothes on the line and when I had painted for two years, I decided to try and make them and the first group I painted I painted a woman in her kitchen, a woman in her bedroom and they all looked so incredibly encumbered by their maintenance issues. Which was exactly how I felt but not what I was trying to represent and at the same time someone asked me to make a painting of the beach, a commission, I'd never painted a beach painting. So I put these women aside and I started painting my beach painting and at the last moment I put a women bent over a basket of food on the edge and I wrote on it and it was just an impulsive thing and I'm living in my own world.

Jones: And you are.

Deborah Cavenaugh: And I am.

Jones: And we're grateful for that.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Thank you.

Jones: Deborah this has been fun, it's been very enjoyable and I sit here thinking about all the things I can relate to and I think that's good and I hope you come back again.

Deborah Cavenaugh: Thank you of course I will.

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