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Suffolk artist earns a solo show

Heather Nygaard earned a solo art exhibit at the Suffolk Art Gallery after winning first place in the Suffolk Art League’s 2020 Annual Juried Exhibition.

Her exhibit, “Life As I Know It,” is currently on display with a collection of oil paintings that show themes of healing, motherhood and imagination.

“This body of work explores mental health in the eyes of a single mom,” Nygaard said. “With everything changing over the past year, how do I help them navigate the world when I am struggling to understand how to navigate it myself?”

Many of the themes can be traced back to the COVID-19 pandemic and other events that occurred during 2020. For example, the winning painting that earned her this show, “Sentinel 1,” depicts a young boy with a squirt gun in front of a burning forest. According to Nygaard, she painted this during the wildfires that rampaged through Australia. Other themes from the year include multiple portraits of faces in masks.

Other themes on display include rebirth, with paintings of phoenixes and their feathers. Another is childhood and imagination shown through unicorns. Unicorn skeletons represent trauma that made Nygaard’s childhood innocence end too early. However, the undead or mostly alive unicorns show that bit of childhood coming back as she raises her three kids.

“I am really proud of her and am doing everything I can for her to get the recognition she deserves,” said Meghan Rose, Nygaard’s sister. “She’s an inspiration to me being a single mom of three and do this exhibit while still taking care of the kids. It encourages me to do the things I want to do, and she makes it look easy. She’s always supported me in my music and modeling career, so I want to do the same for her.”

The family that proudly supports Nygaard can be seen as the models in her paintings. The paintings of people include self-portraits, her supportive sister and her three kids. Nygaard has worked with other models in the past, but it was easier and more fitting to use the family around her for this exhibit.

“The paintings are very introspective of my life,” she said. “Even though these events affect all kids, I have to navigate just for mine.”

This is not the first recognition Nygaard has received for her art. She placed second nationally for a PTA art contest at Lakeland High School when she was in 10th grade. In addition, she’s won some smaller contests, including first place for her Mr. Peanut sidewalk chalk art at Peanut Fest, and received Juror’s Choice Award in 2019. She has also received scholarships for her art including the Helen and Richard Parker Scholarship in Art History and the Charles K. Sibley Art Scholarship.

The themes of growth and unexpected outcomes of her paintings can be seen in her journey to fall in love with the art. Nygaard did not always like painting. She originally was pursuing a degree in studio art when she tried painting for a class and was horrible and hated it. Then her professor at Old Dominion University told Nygaard she would be a great painter. She tried again and fell in love with it.

In 2018 she graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in art history and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting. Today, she does oil painting and watercolor commissions, as painting is now her passion and career.

“I am very excited and nervous for this exhibit,” said Nygaard. “I’m just very grateful for the people in my life who helped me get where I am in life.”

“Life As I Know it” is on display through Aug. 20 at the Suffolk Art Gallery, 118 Bosley Ave.