Look Up, Down and Around

From hand-painted ceilings and wall murals to custom decorative floors, two local artists create stunning designs.

Text and photography by Debra Lawless

When discussing fine or decorative arts on a ceiling, Michelangelo’s name inevitably pops up. Except Michelangelo didn’t lie on a bean bag on his staging, wear a neck brace to protect his cervical spine, or listen to books on tape, as Dale Michaels Wade did when she painted a trumpet vine mural on the ceiling of the original dry heat spa at Chatham Bars Inn.

Wade, who lives in Eastham, is half of the team known as Two Decorative Painters based in Orleans. Wade met her business partner Helen Doane of Harwich back in the early 1990s during a trompe l’oeil class at the Cape Cod Museum of Art. “We hit it off immediately,” Doane recalls. Today, the women are meeting in the bright studio above Wade’s oversized two-car garage to reminisce about their careers.

Dale Michaels Wade and Helen Doane’s painted floors are very popular, from black-and-white faux tiles to poems on stair risers.

Dale Michaels Wade and Helen Doane’s painted floors are very popular, from black-and-white faux tiles to poems on stair risers.

Both women married into established Cape Cod families. Doane, who hails from Cobleskill, N.Y., worked as a teacher and met her husband while waitressing at Eastward Ho! Country Club in Chatham. (Her mother-in-law was Doris Doane, author of “A Book of Cape Cod Houses” in 1972) Wade, a native of Woodbury, Conn., came to the Cape after college and worked as a custom seamstress, gardener, calligrapher and weaver of Nantucket baskets before focusing on a career in painting.

Beginning in 1995, one of the pair’s first assignments was to paint 550 custom-made nightstands, game tables and armoires for Chatham Bars Inn’s cottages. The bare furniture was dropped off at Wade’s studio and the women worked from themes given to them, such as hydrangeas or blues and greens. One year the theme was the Adirondacks. So they painted horses, spotted dogs and the tools used for fishing and hunting. For nine years, the women worked 40 hours a week from October to mid-May.

Doane and Wade agree they have the “same hand.” “Unless you read the name on those game tables, you wouldn’t know if Helen did it or I did it,” says Wade. In 2001, they painted an enormous mural in the beach house at Wequassett Resort & Golf Club in Harwich. They also took on private assignments, such as painting a downstairs bathroom in a house on Shore Road in Chatham to resemble the inside of an outdoor shower.

Today, their custom decorative wall treatments are visible in many public and private spaces, although you might not know that the beautiful rag, striped or linen-look walls are their work, as they are unsigned. They have troweled plaster containing pigment over walls, then waxed the walls to protect the surface and give it more depth. They have painted more false doors and windows than you can count. Their painted floors are also very popular—black-and-white faux tiles and compass roses to poems on stair risers and faux runner rugs down a flights of stairs.

Here in the off season, Wade devotes some of her time to her fine art in pastel. Doane, meanwhile, winters in New Mexico and enjoys working on small custom assignments, such as personalized trays. During the more than 25 years they have been in business, they have graduated from audio books on cassette tape players to Playaways. Do they think of retiring?

“It’s hard to stop,” says Wade, as she leads the way down to the former garage below the studio, where doors set on sawhorses wait for her to complete their faux wood finishes.

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