Eye Of The Beholder

Helen Doemland finds art in the unexpected

BY Amanda Lisk

Azure Arrival, 11 x 14 inches, watercolor on paper.
Azure Arrival, 11 x 14 inches, watercolor on paper.

Walks along the Cape Fear River become more frequent and enticing for artist Helen Doemland with each treasure she finds. The treasures are pieces of driftwood that appear along the riverbanks following a storm near her newly built home at Riverlights in Wilmington.

“One of the most amazing things about the wood is it will look like nothing until you take an angle grinder and sandpaper to it and then you see all the wood grain and all the color and all the spalting, so it’s an adventure and discovery, which was really the very addictive part of it. It would drive me to go back and find another piece of wood where that one was,” says Doemland.

Stumbling upon sections of American sycamore, spalted maple, cherry, cypress and rainbow poplar driftwoods, weathered by the fast-moving waters of the river, is like striking gold.

Artist Helen Doemland embraces the elements of nature whether working with paint, wood or clay. She has recently begun focusing on handbuilt ceramics. Photo by Allison Potter

In the eye of the beholder, Doelmand sees a masterpiece.

“I’ve taken friends out or my husband and I will say, ‘Oh look at that!’ And they will say, ‘You’re going to do what with that?’” laughs Doemland.

She transforms the wood through sculpture, her favorite medium which she perfected at Buffalo State College, where she received a master’s degree in art therapy. Using power tools, she shapes the driftwood into purposeful, couture art. Fruit bowls, charcuterie boards and decorative accent pieces are some of her creations.

Helen is a classically trained fine artist who has segued into this new art form of transforming old logs from the shores of our Cape Fear River into stunning pieces of functional art,” says Jean Allen, art enthusiast. “My husband and I enjoy owning several pieces and use them often. She has the unique ability and vision to let the wood talk to her and tell her what it needs to be.”

A vase entitled Edge of the World has deep blue and aqua hues achieved by “being dyed by nature and the elements,” Doemland says. Edge of the World is currently on exhibit at The Gallery at Grandover Resort in Greensboro, North Carolina. Downtown Wilmington’s Gallery Citrine on Second Street has some of her pieces as well.

Helen’s work is a true local treasure as she sources her materials from our own Cape Fear River. She is passionate about her work and creates magical pieces that are unique expressions of our region,” says Gallery Citrine owner Donna Launey.

Doemland and her husband relocated to the warmth of the coast in 2017, leaving behind the cold of Buffalo, New York, and enjoy being close to the water. In addition to driftwood, Doemland also sees art in dead trees, otherwise known as ghost trees.

“Oh, the ghost trees, I’m just fascinated with the way the light hits them at different times and seasons, they are just gorgeous,” says Doemland.

She sold many of her ghost tree watercolor paintings to a therapist in Carrboro, North Carolina.

She found them to be very calming,” Doemland says.

When at the south end of Wrightsville Beach, where the couple own a home, Doemland spends time on the beach taking pictures that are later turned into detailed watercolor paintings. The series is simply called “Waves.”

“My art is a transformation of what was and what can be. Sometimes I build up raw materials and sometimes I take away natural elements. Therein lies the passion and drive for me,” says Doemland.

Her “Surf and Turf” series captures the energy of the beach. One piece is of SUNdays café. Another is of bikes leaning up against the iconic Wrightsville Beach dune fencing. Many are of surfers.

After working as a physician’s assistant in New York, Doemland now immerses herself into art full time.

“I’ve always been someone who likes to make things,” she says. “I come from a family of artistic people. My father was an architect and oil painter. My maternal grandmother was a potter back in the 1930s. She was a very strong influence in me being able to push through and do what I want to do.”

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