Force of Nature

Text by Charles Monagan

The many, many facets of Nancy McTague-Stock’s creative life are arrayed in nearly perfect, businesslike order in her spacious South Norwalk studio. Along one section of wall are drypoint landscapes that have subtly been overlaid with daubs of color and turned into mixed-media prints. Next to them are her own digital photographs—very close-up images of swirls and eddies in the river that runs by her Wilton property—that she has feathered with colored pencils in blues and greens. Nearby are paintings, several large monochromatic canvases of seeming abstractions taken from nature, but also traditional, sunny plein-air canvases painted in Connecticut, Maine, and Florida. There are vibrant solar etchings inspired by her travels in India, and, arrayed on a table, jewelry she has made that harkens back to her earliest interest in art.

Creativity, most of it related to the environment, flows like a natural force of its own from McTague-Stock, and has done so since she was a young girl growing up in what she calls “the idyllic mix of forest and shore” in and around Virginia Beach, Virginia. At twelve, she was making jewelry from the shells, seeds, and twigs she combed from the beaches. By fifteen, she was showing mixed-media paintings at the Virginia Beach Boardwalk Art Show.

“I think of myself as a maker rather than an artist,” she says. “I think my interest began when I got a box of Crayolas—the kind with sixty-four colors and a crayon sharpener—as a birthday present. And then, when I was still a little girl, my grandmother, who lived in New York, took me to the Brooklyn Museum. There was an Asian exhibit of some kind, and I was fascinated by the textiles, the costumes, the makeup—everything!”

McTague-Stock remained focused on arts and crafts through high school (“While other kids were at the beach, I was home painting with my oils,” she says) and undergraduate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she entered as a would-be painter and graduated as a specialist in textiles and metal-smithing. On the day after graduation, she drove up to New York with a plan to work as a jewelry designer, but discovered that to be an unwelcoming, male-dominated field. Instead, she became a textile designer by day and a creative sponge by night, studying painting with the Art Students League of New York and jewelry design at the Kulicke-Stark Academy. Her restless search for new techniques and inspiration continues to this day.

One of those techniques is solar etching, a relatively new technology that allows the artist to work without the environmental and health hazards of the acids and fumes associated with traditional etching techniques. To create a solar etching, a plate is covered with a UV coating and then exposed to sunlight, which “etches” into the plate whatever image the artist has supplied. Removing the excess polymer with water, the artist then dries the plate, applies the ink to it, wipes it, and prints it through a traditional intaglio press. The technique fits right in with McTague-Stock’s environment-friendly worldview.

As she looks ahead, McTague-Stock says she would love to expand her repertoire even further by working in three dimensions—and to combine it with a concern for the environment that increasingly drives her work. “The idea of doing habitat research and then producing onsite installations based on what I’ve learned is very appealing to me right now,” she says. “There’s so much crossover between environmental science and art—over the past ten years that’s primarily where my interest has evolved to. I’d like to create art that challenges perceptions.”

Such boldness may not be easy for someone who grew up in a place where, she says, “it was thought rude to speak about yourself and sell your wares.”

“My tendency has been to take the subtle approach,” she allows. “I may want to combine more writing with my work so people know where I’m coming from. I’m not an environmental guerrilla girl, but there are ways to teach and talk about it. Maybe I can help people take the time to look and see what technology is doing to us all.” •

Editor’s Note: See more of McTague-Stock’s work at nancymctaguestock.com.

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