Some may not be too familiar with her name, but there’s no doubt that Carol Dyer’s unmistakable artistic talent captures the authenticity and simplistic beauty of the local area.
Born in Boston, Mass., in 1933, Dyer now lives with her husband in Bethesda, Md., where she continues her love of painting. Her painting has taken her across the country, from Washington, D.C., to Chicago, even out to San Francisco. It’s Bethany Beach, however, that brings her the most inspiration.
Originally a vacation spot for her and her family, Bethany has fueled most of Dyer’s work on the canvas. She began painting in Bethany in 1978, after the purchase of a summer resort home. Her contemporary folk art was an immediate hit, rendering a nostalgic era of Bethany nearly 100 years ago.
Her first two prints, “Bethany by the Sea” and “Saltwater Festival” both sold out instantly. Her work with the Rehoboth Art League helped get her name out and, before long, Dyer was commissioned to paint the “Washington Christmas Series,” her well-known holiday collection depicting the buildings of the nation’s capitol.
Dyer’s artwork was represented once again this year at the Bethany Boardwalk Art Festival, where all eight pieces she contributed were quickly sold.
“It is the only one-man-show exhibit that I do the entire year,” Dyer said. “Every year, I tell myself I’m getting too old for this, but [the Boardwalk Festival] is such a high and it’s such a wonderful day that I’ll be doing it again next year.”
One look at her paintings and it’s easy to see why people cannot seem to get enough of her work. The history of the area is represented beautifully in the architecture she recreates on canvas. The names of authentic buildings that once stood are portrayed with incredible accuracy. Buildings like the Holiday House, which stood on the Bethany boardwalk where Mango’s currently resides, Harry’s Bait and Tackle, and The Beach Plum, are often represented in her work, dating back to her early memories of the town.
“I don’t necessarily like the term ‘folk,’” Dyer said. “It tends to imply being naïve.” This rendering of real places, Dyer explained, is what sets her aside from other folk artists.
What makes Dyer’s masterpieces even more unique is her attention to detail. From the careful coloration of houses and stores to the meticulous expressions on the people’s faces, Dyer’s precision offers us an accurate, but still original, peek into history.
“You really have to take in my paintings as if you were reading a book,” she said. “There is so much to observe.”
And indeed, there is. Every horse-drawn carriage, every street vendor, every group of children in every painting tells a story.
Before starting a new project, Dyer will visit the area she plans to portray in her painting and take numerous photos. She pays close attention to the detail of architecture. Countless hours are spent in learning the area’s history, researching the layout and topography of the land. New photos are compared to older ones to ensure historical accuracy.
Dyer works on as many as four paintings at any given time, jumping from project to project. One of her current works is a scenic view of Mount Vernon College in Washington, D.C. An upcoming work of hers will include the Homestead at Rehoboth, the historic Victorian-style bed and breakfast.
With more than 200 works under her belt, Dyer said painting keeps her very busy. She admitted that she paints for at least four hours every day, seven days a week. “Some people pick up a book to relax,” she said. “I pick up a brush. I can just lose myself in painting.”
In 2004, Mystic Seaports commissioned Dyer to compile her works together and published “Album of American Traditions: Folk Art Paintings by Carol Dyer.” The book, available at most book stores, including Bethany Books, shows 89 works and offers background to each scene, describing how the setting appeared at the turn of the last century.
Dyer’s original artwork and prints can also be found at Sea Crest on the Bethany Boardwalk, the Nassau Gallery in Millville and at the Seaside Country Store in Fenwick Island. Displays of Dyer’s work are not limited to this area alone by any means, as her paintings can be seen in the Smithsonian, Library of Congress and Mount Vernon museum shops.
“My career started in Bethany Beach,” Dyer explained, “And I paint Bethany more than I paint anything else.” Dyer said she will never stop painting and, with so much history out there, she will never run out of ideas.