She grew up in a family of predominantly medical professionals whose sole mission, as one would expect, was to make life better for their patients. And while artist Nancy McTague-Stock didn’t grow up to become a surgeon like her sister did, she, too, followed a natural calling that makes others feel better too.
Nancy is a born artist and an award-winning one at that. By her own admission, she is a maker, a gifted artisan who creates perfection with pencil, paint, jewelry, photography, prints and just about every art material and medium she can get her hands around. Take a peek inside her Connecticut studio where her many talents are on display and you may wonder how many artists are at work here. There’s only one and there’s no other artist quite like her. Nancy has mastered countless art forms with the signature expertise and finesse that defines all of her work, and she continues to raise the bar in the art world.
She started her lifelong career at the tender age of eleven when, as an aspiring young artist, she strung seashells by the seashore on a Virginia beach and debuted her collection of handmade puka shell necklaces at the Hilton Hotel at the same time they became all the rage in the fashion world. Her jewelry is still being sold in Virginia Beach, today at a fashionable boutique, testimony to the lasting allure of her work.
“I remember my grandmother, who was a nurse, advising me to follow my passion in my university studies, because she said, if you love what you do, you will be content your whole life.” She was right, of course, because by all accounts Nancy’s chosen career has made everyone happy.
Her mother is an interior designer, sharing her creative influence with her daughter at a young age. Nancy attributes her artistic nature to growing up in a very creative time as well. In high school, she and her friends were “embroidering their jeans, putting inserts in with other fabrics, painting their sneakers and designing signage for school events.”
“I took classes at the local community college when I was still in high school because I wanted to keep learning more about art. I went off to college at seventeen and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in textiles and metalsmithing at the time,” she told us. “The textile coursework in college was really interesting to me. We worked with a lot of natural materials, using vegetables to dye our handspun yarn that we had taken from bags of sheared wool right off the farm. We had to clean, card and spin it and it was all so exciting. It was not only tactile, it was visual and very process heavy.” And process is something else Nancy is passionate about. Not content to put paint to picture in a fast ten-minute acrylic whirl, (the one medium she does not use), Nancy likes to take her time. She thinks, studies, builds and refines before she creates a finished product, often replicating it in different mediums before her work is done. And she does that with all the media she works and teaches in.
“Unlike some artists, I work in a series. I create parameters for myself, laying out a particular paradigm that I want to accomplish, which I realize is kind of antithetical to the freer and ‘in the moment’ methodology adopted by many artists. For me, the other side of my brain kicks in when I am working too, the side that says ‘we’re going to be a lot more scientific about this, and so, my processes begin.”
She added that “I’ve always enjoyed that journey of exploration, learning and trying different things. I am keenly interested in the historical, cultural and artifacts and writings reflective of that. As an artist who is also an educator, I’m happy to impart to people the reality of process, so that people really understand what it is to buy an original piece of art.”
Later, Nancy’s MFA was achieved in Boston, in Visual Studies, a culmination of all of her media. She excels in all drawing media. Nancy works as a printmaker, primarily in monotype and intaglio including solar intaglio, a non-toxic mode of creating etchings. She creates watercolors and mixed media pieces. She paints in oil, pastel and pen and ink, works outside en plein air as well as in her studio, using as many non-toxic products in her pieces as she can. She sketches, etches and photographs too. And she continues to make jewelry, eye-candy concoctions that sport gemstones, minerals and found objects from her travels all over the world.
She also studied glass blowing, earned two fellowships for an Artist in Residence in France, was a recipient of a travel grant to Italy and Berlin, as well as a fellowship to the famed Slade School of Art at the University of London and was part of a 40-artist collaboration that exhibited at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 2022 – all while curating and jurying shows, creating and teaching artists inspired by her work. Her work, along with dozens of awards, international gallery exhibitions and periodic lectures make her Venü’s choice for our first-ever Artistic Visionary Award.
Her focus is in environmental imagery, often highlighting the fragility of nature through paintings, printmaking and photography. Her interest in environmental concerns began in high school when local beach erosion and water pollution issues came to light. She has always lived near nature preserves, from her childhood in Virginia Beach to her children’s childhood home in Connecticut. Nancy’s interaction with nature gives color and voice to many of her works, but she also finds inspiration in the urban landscape as well. Her Prisengracht Series, a portfolio of photographs she took on location in Amsterdam, is a study in urban environmental observations. As she describes it, “Perceptual illusions through movement, pattern and light are a continuum in my paintings, drawings, print work and photographic studies.”
An astute observer, Nancy notices details others may miss, especially when it comes to protecting the landscapes she so loves to paint. A Connecticut resident since 1989, she lived on a dirt road when she first moved to the tiny hamlet of Weston. Back then, her neighbors would safely ride their horses up and down the roads on Sundays. But before she knew it, there were cars speeding down the country lanes, many crashing into the stone wall in front of her house, ultimately signaling a condensed time of rapid change similar to what we are experiencing now.
“Increasingly, I was noticing the encroachment on properties that previously had been somewhat loosely protected, so I began to work with The Nature Conservancy to discover which properties were at risk for development. I would drive to the locations they told me about, dismayed at the thought of someone building townhouses on the properties I saw. Many of them were natural habitats for certain native species of plant and animal life here in Connecticut and I couldn’t imagine seeing them destroyed. To bring awareness to this damaging progress, I created a series of drypoints of those properties and featured them in an exhibition called ‘Eden At Risk’.”
That exhibition garnered northeastern acclaim and served as the impetus for a book she collaborated on with friend Elizabeth Egan Cleary, who is an accomplished poet and English teacher. Entitled LandSpeak, the limited edition book is a masterpiece of word and image, a pictorial showcase of endangered properties and other vistas inspired by Nancy’s travels to Wyoming, Ireland and more, set to prose and exquisitely hand printed and boxed in Italian linen like the uniquely created handscripted books of old.
“I had this vision that I really wanted this book to be crafted on handmade paper and I wanted to feather deckle the edges. I eagerly embarked upon this (again) overly process-centric project that involved original handmade plates, a one of a kind printing and then, hand-feeding the sheets of handmade paper into the printer to preserve the lovely velvety lines of the dry points. It took 18 months to print just twelve books before life events happened and we had to stop the presses.”
Breakneck schedule notwithstanding, we hope she finds the time to continue the process, however multi-layered, and create more books that make the world a better place and us a whole lot happier because of them. With that in mind, we posed one last question to this multi-talented artist, wife and mother of two grown children, all three creatives in their own right.
What does your perfect day look like?
“The perfect day is waking up and the sun is out. I don’t have any other obligations and my phone is shut off. I have a great cup of coffee and walk out in nature or putter in the garden. I can go to my studio and just work- without thinking that I have to be somewhere or answer lots of emails. I love teaching, so I could be doing that as well. To me, being an artist feels like you’ve been given a gift and it’s very important to pass that on to anybody who might be interested in it.
I could be in Italy, one of my favorite places, sitting in a chair looking over the Tuscan hills, ruminating and thinking. One thing I think that people don’t realize about the type of art that I make is that it is an interpretation of where I have been, what I have felt, what I’ve seen, and what I have smelled – a sensorial expedition. What were the environmental conditions, and were they affecting people or animals or was it something that was just atmospheric? Was it nighttime or daytime? There’s a lot of thinking and contemplation time that goes into my pieces. If I’m working on an oil painting in the studio, I’ve more than likely done a couple of sketches or taken some pictures or written a poem about the place. I have a wide variety of series in my head and I want to create work from many of the experiences I have not been able to bring forth yet. And, so just to be able to have a quiet day in the studio when I can actually start to think about these things in a more formal way is an amazing day indeed.”
There is no end to all the possibilities in her role as a maker; “I just need more hours in the day. And if I make something that makes somebody else happy, or it resonates with them, or invokes memories of something that they have done or loved or whatever, then that’s a real bonus.” ☐