Deanne "Dee" Lenehan Cunningham in her Ellicott City studio on Frederick Road.
Deanne "Dee" Lenehan Cunningham in her Ellicott City studio on Frederick Road. (Nate Pesce / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

After decorative painter and muralist Deanne "Dee" Lenehan Cunningham became aware that other fine artists were also working in Ellicott City, she established Ellicott City ArtWalk in 2013 to allow the public to meet them and explore the arts scene on Main Street. A year later, she founded the Ellicott City Arts Coalition as an alliance of artists and gallery owners, most of whom are still recovering from the July 30 flash flood in historic Ellicott City.

We talk with the artist — who says her west-end studio is "back to normal" after the catastrophe — about cats on leashes and the wonders of pasta with powdered cheese.


1. Her parents eloped.

Kevin and Carol Lenehan met in Detroit and rode off on a Triumph motorcycle in spring 1976 to Portland, Ore., to get married. Deanne Marie was born nine months later on Christmas Eve. The couple moved back to Michigan to raise their daughter and relocated to Columbia in 1985. An only child, she is a 1995 graduate of Atholton High School.

2. She taught high school art for eight years.

After earning an art education degree from Towson University in 2000, Cunningham taught at Hammond High School in Columbia and then at Francis Scott Key High in Carroll County. She established Deelite Design in 2006 and became a full-time artist in 2008. She opened her Frederick Road studio in 2012 and two years later rebranded it as Cunningham Studios.

3. She plays the upright bass.

Calling herself "a tomboy who has always been drawn to the unexpected," Cunningham decided as a third-grader at Atholton Elementary that she wanted to play the largest instrument in the string family. She took lessons through college and occasionally performs bluegrass and alternative music with local musicians.

4. Her ancestor founded a mill town.

Cunningham says her distant ancestor, Edmund Littlefield, founded a town in Wells, Maine, that was not unlike Ellicott City, and fought in the Revolutionary War.

5. She's been training her cat to walk on a leash.

She wants Timmy, a tiger-striped domestic shorthair who is nearly a year old, to be able to walk alongside her when she bikes.

6. She wants to ride a bicycle across the United States.

She's hoping to achieve this goal sometime in the next 10 years to prove to herself that she can be self-reliant and handle long periods of solitude. She has participated in endurance events, such as 24-hour team racing and the Patapsco Epic, a 50-mile mountain bike ride in Patapsco Valley State Park.

7. Her tastes, outside art, are simple.

Her favorite food is macaroni and cheese made from a box. She loves the color turquoise because it's the December birthstone.


8. She worked on the TV series "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

She spent summer 2010 leading a 30-person crew in creating murals and hand-painted furniture for host and lead designer Ty Pennington. His now-defunct ABC renovation show with a mission had come to Baltimore that year to build a girls' home for the Boys Hope Girls Hope nonprofit organization.

9. She has a special tattoo.

The six-inch tattoo on the inside of her right forearm reads "Babycakes," which was her mother's nickname for her. It was copied from her mother's actual handwriting as a tribute after she died from lung cancer in 2014.

10. She's hoping to start a new venture.

Cunningham envisions a shop that will sell artistic kids' clothing and wants to call it "Ruth & Clara," after two important women in her life: her maternal grandmother, Ruth Littlefield Lenehan, who was an elementary school art teacher, and an inspirational aunt of her roommate Mary.