Interview with Otty Merrill

Otty Merrill was recently interviewed by Camille Davidson.

Otty Merrill in Santa Fe

Tell me a little about yourself?

I’ve been making art for many years although I am not art school educated. I live and work in the beautiful small fishing village of Tenants Harbor in mid-coast Maine with a population of 2200! I grew up in New Jersey and worked in New York City until I married and moved to New England. While raising children in the 70’s and 80’s, I ran a small pottery business, taught classes and co-founded The Sherborn Arts Center near Boston. I became a licensed real estate broker and owned my own company, ‘Classic Properties’, in Amherst, NH where I employed 4 brokers. I enjoy architecture, historic preservation and interior design. The motto of my company was “We specialize in antique and unique homes!” and we did! I retired in 1998 and devoted my time to becoming a full-time artist, mainly printmaking and clay sculpture. After a move to Falmouth Maine, I rented studio space in nearby Portland, with 55+ artists in a cooperative called ‘Running with Scissors’ which was founded about 20 years ago by my friend, Susie Schweppe.

Otty’s studio

This past summer my husband and I purchased a small condo on Munjoy Hill, a mile from my studio. The winters in Tenants Harbor are long and somewhat isolating and being around other artists has remedied that problem. I will return to the coast each summer where I’m lucky to have a studio right on the water, a loving husband of 50 years and two cats. My two grandchildren, Edwyn (3) and Emilia (5 months) live in Hummelstown Pennsylvania.

Where did you discover encaustic painting?

Susie Schweppe introduced me to encaustic painting, and I fell in love with the process almost instantly. I joined a group of encaustic artists in The Tucson area called ‘SazWax’, a subgroup of International Encaustic Artists of which I am still a member. I am also a member of the Encaustic Art Institute in Santa Fe and have work in their permanent rotating collection. I have put in many hours taking workshops from Santa Fe to Provincetown. I put aside printmaking and ceramics, two big loves, and began to explore and teach myself more and more about how this medium can be used, yet find I gravitate back to those mediums, even in my encaustic work. I have taken many classes at Haystack, Maine College of Art and the Museum School in Boston. I love working in 3-D with hot and cold wax, using fiber clay for sculptures and assemblage materials.

More from Otty’s studio

What inspires you?

In moving to Portland this year, I find working on my art has created a huge shift in “cultural perspective” for me. While I have lived on the coast of Maine where there are plenty of beautiful things to paint, I have never fully connected artistically to the landscape or been genuinely in touch with the kind of iconic subject matter that most people connect to Maine art. Portland has beautiful brick historic buildings, cobblestone streets and facades rich in texture, color and bold elements. I am finding inspiration everywhere! I look outside my tiny metal balcony onto the back of a commercial building, a rooftop with visiting seagulls and mysterious goings on behind old glass windows. I see encaustic paintings just waiting to be born! I took a workshop this past March with artist Leslie Guiliani where I learned about a new product Leslie patented called ‘encaustiflex’. I have begun experimenting with it in a new body of work. It offers me the opportunity to work large, collage style, which has always been my biggest challenge.

Otty Merrill, My Urban Backyard

I must say, that traveling, particularly to Europe, is a great inspiration also. My husband and I have taken many cycling trips throughout Europe and I always come back loaded with themes and potential paintings. Our last biking trip was to Sicily last year, and I’m still translating images from there onto my panels!

What artists are you inspired by?

Milton Avery, Marsden Hartley and the ceramic work of Picasso.

Do you have another job now other than making art?

Yes! I am active in Tenants Harbor on the St George Recycling Committee.! It’s a town position and a cause that I feel very committed to. I get to see all sorts of materials and where they end up! I spend a good amount of time at our wonderful Transfer Station and Recycling Shop. We all need to recycle more!

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

That I was included in “Who’s Who in Luxury Real Estate” and was a member of The National Register of Historic Places during my real estate days!

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Elizabeth Gilbert’s book ’Big Magic’ was profoundly motivating and enlightening and has forever recast my attitude about who I am as an artist and why I make art. I would recommend it to any artist who lets doubt creep in and we all do! It is a book for any one asking themselves “Why make art…and isn’t that all of us at one time or another? Here is a quote from her book that I hold dear to my heart and explains, more than anything else, who I am and why I do what I do: “Possessing a creative mind, after all, is something like having a border collie for a pet: it needs to work, or else it will cause you an outrageous amount of trouble. Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do, and you might not like the job it invents (eating the couch, digging a hole through the living room floor, biting the mailman, etc.) If I am not actively creating something, then I am probably destroying something (myself, a relationship or my own peace of mind).”