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Weather and Wax

Cherie Mittenthal’s Atmospheric Encaustics

by Rebecca M. Alvin

“There’s always a horizon line somewhere.” Sitting with one of her two dogs cuddled up in her lap in the grass behind the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill office on a perfect August day, Cherie Mittenthal reflects upon her encaustic paintings. “Living out here, you just—me personally, but probably most people, are just so aware of the surface of the sky and the line of the water and just the whole, the beautifulness of where we live.”

Red Boat with Big Cloud (2018, encaustic and mixed media, 12×12)

The Connecticut native came to Cape Cod 15 years ago when she became the director of Castle Hill, the now 47-year-old institution located in Truro. Even as she says she always identified more closely with New York, looking at Mittenthal’s work, one can really feel her New England roots, not only in terms of the subject matter—often boats, cottages, and nature—but also in terms of the moodiness of her palette. Rarely do bright colors show up in these works, and when they do they are like a flash, standing out against the dominant, almost monotone backgrounds.

Mittenthal works primarily in encaustic now, although her education at Harford Art School and then State Univeristy of New York – Purchase was in printmaking and bookmaking. “And then as soon as I finished, I started painting,” she laughs.
She started out working with oil stick on handmade paper, but then about 13 years ago Mittenthal began working with wax.

She’d been interested in it for some time. “I just saw a painting done in encaustic, and I was like ‘Oh my god, I love that!’… So I started doing stuff with cold wax because I really loved that surface, that blurryish kind of thing,” she recalls. But she determined cold wax was not really what she wanted, so she bought “a hunk of wax” online. “I carried it around in my studio for like two years before I knew what to do with it,” she laughs.
Eventually, she got the company, R&F Paint, to come to Castle Hill and do a workshop, which she took. The rest, as they say, is history. And now it is almost exclusively what she shows.

Two Tulips, Three Houses (2018, encaustic and mixed media on panel, 24×18)

Her upcoming exhibition at Kobalt Gallery will feature brand new encaustic/mixed-media work. In the past few years, Mittenthal has been bringing in three-dimensional elements attached to the surface of her encaustic paintings, usually by nails, as, she says, most adhesives do not stick permanently to wax.

This show, called Atmospheric Phenomenon, specifically showcases the influence of the weather on Mittenthal’s recent work. “This is a little bit of a different series for me,” she says. “This was kind of a tumultuous weather year, so there’s a lot of weather-related paintings in there. You know, like with boats unhooking from their moorings, you know wildness with the waves, and the craziness of a million nor’easters this past winter. It seems like that came into my work a little bit.”

Stormy with House and Boat (2018, encaustic and mixed media, 12×12)

Personally significant, and locally relatable, this series of weather-related pieces takes on a greater significance as we are confronted more and more by the phenomenon of climate change and the ecological shifts that affect the Cape so profoundly. The beauty and fragility of our area are reflected in these works, and it is clear that they were created off-season. But there are also a few images in the show that feature tulips. While they are created with the same muted palette, there is always a hopefulness to flowers, which is a lovely accompaniment to the stormy images in the rest of the show. They also speak to Mittenthal’s own way of coping with the dreariness of winter that can sometimes sap one’s energy out here.

“I try to have flowers in the house all winter long. So it’s like a crazy dark day of wind and wildness, and I always seem to have either tulips or daffodils or whatever I can get,” she says.

Cherie Mittenthal: Atmospheric Phenomenon opens August 31 and runs through September 6 at Kobalt Gallery, 366 Commercial St., Provincetown. There will be an opening reception on Friday, August 31, 7 – 9 p.m. For more information, call 508.487.1132 or visit For more information on Castle Hill, visit

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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