In April of 2017, Tenants Harbor artist and poet DiTa Ondek participated in the inaugural exhibit of “Artword: Ekphrasis at the PMA,” a weekly series at the Portland Museum of Art intended to celebrate the relationship between poetry and visual art. Ekphrastic poems are written in response to works of visual art, and illuminate what the eye might not see. Therefore, the art and poetry illuminate one another. At the exhibit, DiTa and other Maine poets were featured reading their original ekphrastic poetry aloud in the galleries where paintings were on display.
Born and raised in Southport, Conn., DiTa’s artistic journey in both poetry and visual art began with her interest in foreign language, which she studied at Marietta College in Ohio for three years. During that time, her primary creative outlet was writing poetry. However, her interests soon turned to teaching, and she transferred to Central Connecticut State University where she completed a degree in Education followed by a Masters Degree in Elementary Education at the University of Bridgeport, Conn. After completing her education, DiTa enjoyed a 20-year career as an elementary school teacher in Fairfield, Conn.
It was during her years as a teacher and poet that DiTa’s interest in the visual arts emerged. In 1985 she took up watercolor painting. Influenced by her training in foreign languages, she painted a series of portraits of ethnic peoples. This led to her first solo show in New York. Furthering her interest in the visual arts, DiTa served as an assistant to a post-modernist photographer in the 1990s. The two met regularly with other post-modernists for lively discussion about the arts, which deepened DiTa’s understanding of fine art and design.
By the time she retired from teaching and moved to Portland, Maine in 1998, DiTa was ready for a new career. Her background in language, poetry and art laid the foundation for her next enterprise as a website designer. Self-taught in that field, she began a new company, DiTa Group LLC, that became a viable business and remains so today.
About six years ago, DiTa developed a deeper desire to spend more time painting. She enrolled in an adult education class on acrylic painting taught by Deb Arter at Gardiner High School. There she developed a passion for the medium and has since completed many different series based on themes such as Monhegan Island, farm animals, cupcakes, birds and florals. DiTa describes herself as a “colorist” in both poetry and painting. “My work is a connection to the everyday: evocative colors, unexpected patterns of light or the sublime quality of ordinary subjects. I work to create a vibrant painting.”
Her ability to conceptualize is the common link to DiTa’s engagement in foreign language, poetry writing, painting and web design. Last year she decided to investigate encaustics, painting with wax, which led to a show of encaustic assemblages with ekphrastic poetry at the Granite Gallery in Tenants Harbor. Her encaustic bird paintings were accompanied by a chapbook, “A Goldfinch’s Winter Garden.” Perhaps another common link may be her desire to share with others through each of these disciplines. As a visual artist, DiTa expresses a concern that “everyone should be able to own original art, and my art should be accessible to everyone.” Therefore, her prices are affordable and her works have broad appeal.
Although DiTa has lived in various Maine communities flipping houses over the past 20 years, she feels most at home in St. George, where she feels a warm welcome she says never before experienced. Appreciative of this “inclusive, diverse community that supports the arts,” as she puts it, DiTa’s creativity is nourished by the many other local artists that have welcomed and encouraged her. Therefore, she is slowly retiring from her web design company in order to exclusively write poetry and paint.
DiTa’s series of acrylic paintings of vintage cars is presently on display at the Atlantic Motor Company in Wiscasset. Her new series, entitled “Laundry,” will be exhibited at the Port Clyde Art Gallery this summer. And her encaustic paintings that explore a mashup of Victorian dress and abstract expressionism will be featured at the Granite Gallery from August 17th to 23rd. Additional works may be seen on her website: www.dita.org.
—Katharine A. Cartwright
PHOTOS: Katharine A. Cartwright