Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Doreyl Cain works remotely in her yurt studio not far from the Tuckasegee River near where the Macon and Jackson county lines converge, but her colorful, nature-inspired artwork is prominent in homes, businesses, and at libraries throughout the counties and the region.
Cain, who grew up in Western North Carolina, barely remembers a time when she was not drawing or painting. She recalls that around age four, she was drawing in the dirt. And then she was “thrilled” to have paper, pencils, and colors when she entered school. After a stint in the Air Force, she decided to pursue a career in art and achieved a master’s in fine art with a concentration in medical and biological illustration. For close to three decades, while living in California, Cain illustrated detailed aspects of the human anatomy for teaching purposes.
Her love of nature, the mountains, and painting drew her back to Western North Carolina about 20 years ago and she and her husband, Jerry, a retired engineer, built a home on 24 remote acres so that Cain could be surrounded by the natural environment that she longed to paint. They also installed two koi ponds. Her paintings in pastels and acrylics feature everything she sees from her yurt: the koi, deer, raccoons, myriad birds, flowers, pollinator insects, and more.
At this point, the septuagenarian estimates she has painted thousands of paintings. Her home is filled with the paintings that she or her husband decided they would like to keep instead of sell. She said she paints daily for up to five hours. Inspiration flows, and she said her “strokes” take on a “magic” of their own as she loses herself in the process. And the sometimes whimsical style and vibrant signature colors of her artwork is in contrast to her years of meticulous illustrations for medical purposes.
“My art now sometimes has a mind of its own,” said Cain. “I often don’t know what’s going to happen when I start painting. And, for me, color is everything. Life has color! And nature is color … an awesome, truly amazing thing to observe and have the privilege of drawing and painting. And I could not be living and working in a better place.”
Bill Abraham, a co-owner at Mountain Valley Health Foods in Franklin, was so taken with one of Cain’s large meadow and wildlife scene paintings that he purchased it a few years ago, and he explained that the work sets a “cheery tone” in his store.
Besides individual paintings, Cain also illustrates children’s books written by her sister, Amy Ammons, herself, and other authors. The books are published through the Catch the Spirit of Appalachia (CSA) imprint.
“Each book is so special and I truly enjoy creating every piece of art for each page of each book.”
Her current focus is primarily on murals. Not only does she do CSA “performance art” in schools and at colleges, which basically means Cain illustrates stories on large boards while her sister tells them, but she paints large weather-proof panels she calls “postage stamp murals.” In fact, because of her love of children’s books and her support of reading programs, she is also involved in an initiative, for which she received a grant, called Story Book Lane, that has her creating panel murals for libraries.
“I saw my first mural when I was in California,” she said, “and I thought, I want to do artwork like that one day. And then my husband and I traveled throughout Europe, and I began to realize that some of the great masterpieces are actually murals – like the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Murals are forever.”
Cain and Ammons are also the brainchild behind the Appalachian Mural Trail project (MuralTrail.com), which – similar to a barn quilt project – guides interested participants on a scavenger hunt of sorts throughout Appalachia to view murals. Appalachian Mural Trail has received national attention, according to Cain, and she appreciates how it brings communities together. A mural design she sketched for a building in Robbinsville, N.C., will be completed by Native American artists with ties to the historical figures featured on the mural. Currently, she is completing a mural for Sparta, N.C. that features aspects of the farming community, including present and historical figures. She conveyed that she would enjoy involving Macon County artists for a mural somewhere in Franklin.
She uses special weather-proof paints and then clear coats the murals at least three times. Some of her own outdoor paintings displayed near her yurt studio have been in the weather for at least 20 years and they show no signs of wear.
While some of Cain’s children’s books and her art are available online, she noted that the public can view them at the Shelton House Museum in Waynesville as well. An Author & Artist event is scheduled there on Aug. 20-21 as part of Blue Ridge Heritage Days.
“I want to continue painting and know that people are enjoying my work … for as long as possible,” she added.