For those of us fortunate enough to live or vacation on LBI, its special places and breathtaking scenery can give us both joy and peace. Cathleen Engelsen captures these images and emotions in her artwork. She is well known for her historical pieces and coastal scenes of the Jersey shore, as well as many other Jersey locations, which she paints in watercolor, oils, or acrylics. Nestled within a small pine forest is the house that is both home and art studio to Cathleen, where we met up to talk about her inspiration.
Bay: Cathleen, how did you get started painting?
Cathleen: I grew up on the Island and went to Beach Haven Elementary School, where I had inspirational teachers. At the same time, the Long Beach Island Art Foundation was being formed. I entered its art contest when I was in fifth grade and won ballet lessons, which started my love of dance, another art form! In addition, my mother was a teacher. We always had paints and brushes to use.
B: Has painting always been your profession?
C: No, I was a secretary for a dredging company for five years and I worked for St. Francis Center for a few years. In the evening, I pursued my love of art by attending the Samuel Fleischer Art Memorial in Philadelphia and the Philadelphia College of Art with my father, who loved painting and sculpture. I also took lessons at a dock in Barnegat Light from Martin Zipin, a famous artist on the island. Art became my full-time occupation in 1977 when Harry Chapman, owner of several McDonald’s restaurants, asked me to paint two murals for the restaurant on Route 72 in Manahawkin.
B: How do you get your inspiration to paint?
C: I think it’s the design. I took a class in color and design at the Philadelphia College of Art. Sometimes when I look at something and the design is so beautiful, I think, “I’d love to paint that.” Other times I am commissioned to paint and I must look for the design and create the color. That’s a fun mystery. In my research for historical paintings, I look at black-and-white photos. Then I must create colors that were prevalent during that time period.
B: What do you consider to be the most significant accomplishment in your career?
C: One has to be the two murals I did for McDonald’s on Route 72. That was my breakthrough commission. The mural of Tuckerton Creek is now at Tuckerton Seaport and the one of Long Beach Island landmarks is at the New Jersey Maritime Museum in Beach Haven. My other significant accomplishment would be the historical paintings of Trenton, Burlington, Newark, and Perth Amboy that I did for PSE&G, and which hang in their executive and public offices. I was raising four daughters at the time and just being able to paint from home couldn’t have been more perfect.
B: Is there anywhere or anyone you would love to paint but haven’t?
C: Sure, there are some scenes inland and in South Jersey that have survived storms and the test of time that I would love to paint. I have an active painting list and when I’ve finished a piece, I highlight it in red.
B: What would you like to paint next?
C: I’d love to paint Sunset Point on the bay in Ship Bottom. That is a beautifully maintained garden and a special place.
B: What is your next commission?
C: Coastal Consignment, Bankston’s, Cunningham’s and North End Trilogy need some more of my framed prints to sell at their shops. So I will be busy getting things ready for them.
B: Do you have a favorite piece?
C: I think whatever piece I’ve just completed is my favorite. No one has seen it yet and that’s fun!
B: How lucky you are to have your passion be your profession! But if not art, then what?
C: I have to think about that, since I have always wanted to be an artist. But I’d probably love to have a store. I like merchandising. Or maybe I’d be a tour guide. I love to dance but I’m too short for a career in dancing.
B: Will you share something about yourself that people may not know?
C: That would have to be that I do country line dancing. Most people don’t know that I love it and I love music. I took piano lessons for years when I was growing up.