From athlete to artist: Doug Dale’s art celebrates his love of cycling

dale photo

Meet the man behind the featured art for our upcoming New England Bike-Walk Summit

Doug Dale raced bikes for five decades, competing at the highest amateur levels. But all of that came to a screeching halt at the 2011 Tour of the Battenkill in Greenwich, N.Y. He was already cutting back his intensity when he got to the race, mostly looking forward to seeing old friends. He came tearing down a hill early in the race, hit a pothole, flew over his handlebars, and had cyclist after cyclist land on him as they, too, went down. He was helicoptered to a hospital where the surgeon on call, a bicycle racer himself, later told Dale that he came within minutes of dying. He had 21 broken bones, a punctured lung, ruptured spleen, and a concussion.

“As I recovered, I was laid up for a long time, I was just fooling around with artwork,” says Dale. Art had been a latent interest since childhood, he says, when family trips to museums sparked his interest. “I came up with the idea of promoting the race the next year rather than suing the guy,” he laughs. “I wanted to give back to the EMS guys who kept me alive.”

His poster — showing dozens of cyclists racing in patterned jerseys in a tight pack, a red barn behind them — sold well at the event, including an auction of the original art. Race organizers asked Dale to create a second commemorative poster the following year, which also sold well, and people started asking him about other art he made.

“Something clicked,” says Dale, whose work history includes teaching middle school and running bike and ski shops in New England. “I was kind of semi-retired, and I’ve been told I’m not going to race a bike any more. I need to find something else that gets me up in the morning.”

And so Dale’s career as an artist was born. Most of his work consists of mixed media collage using layers of colorful paper — gift wrap, tissue paper, found paper, and custom painted paper. Picture children’s book illustrator Eric Carle (an early influence) mixed with pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. The “brutal beauty” of cycling is his primary subject. His art (visit is full of patterns and color, textures and silhouettes, whimsy and sentiment.

Competitive cycling and art may seem worlds apart, but Dale says the two pursuits have plenty in common. “Cycling and endurance sports generally foster a kind of independence, a certain level of solitary lifestyle because you’re spending a lot of time by yourself training,” he says. “You become pretty self-sufficient mentally and emotionally, and that transfers into art. I find myself lamenting every once in a while that I haven’t seen anyone for days.”

Dale and his partner, Michelle Huntley, live in Bernardston, Massachusetts, on the border with Vermont. He has two workspaces in their 19th century Victorian house -- a sun-filled “Studio A” where he sketches and conceives his pieces, and “Studio B,” the former foyer, where he can work on large-scale pieces. He has suitcases and file drawers stuffed with collected paper.

He recovered from the Battenkill accident but has since had both knees and one hip replaced. He’s back to cycling, though, for health, recreation, and mental release. Out riding these days, “I get into a zone, that’s part of the attraction of cycling. I start thinking, I come up with ideas.”

charles river cyclist
Artist Dale Doug created "Beantown Bicyclist" as the theme art for our 2018 New England Bike-Walk Summit.

Dale learned about the East Coast Greenway when he was introduced to Eric Weis, former director of Greenway development. Since 2011, Weis has put on the New England Builder’s Ball, an exhibition of hand-built bikes (and a fundraiser for the East Coast Greenway Alliance). Dale has been a favorite vendor at the Builder’s Ball.

As a theme for the Greenway’s 2018 New England Bike-Walk Summit, Dale created “Beantown Bicyclist.” The female cyclist could be out for a recreational ride along the Charles River, commuting to work, or off to university classes. Dale captured the detail of the fencing along the Charles River Bike Path and of the Cambridge skyline across the river. The cyclist’s jacket, sneakers, and hair tie are made from maps of Boston and the subway system.

He loves that bicycling is growing and diversifying. “If you look at advertising today and count how many ads include bicycles, you realize that bikes are seen as a symbol of being green, at the forefront of healthy living,” he says. “And the more that rails-trails and the East Coast Greenway grow, the more that recreational cycling will spread.”

The artist will be on hand at the New England Summit to talk with attendees and sell his artwork. Meeting people at expos and art fairs is a great balance to the solitary nature of making art, he says. Still, Dale will tell you, he loves his new vocation. “To this day, I can’t wait to get up in the morning and get to work.”

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