Stories of Love and Loss: Interview with Nanci Hersh

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The overarching theme of my work is a personal narrative about home and family. Stories of love and loss; both letting go and losing, are interwoven and explored with mixed media. This newest body of work is a return to printmaking as a centering prayer and meditation on process. Lines, fragmented patterns and assorted textures are part of my visual vocabulary to honor the ephemeral and make space for the tangible and intangible to coexist. 

Nanci is a professional mixed media artist, illustrator, educator, arts advocate and administrator as Executive Director of the Delaware Institute for the Arts in Education. 

Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States including “Eons Beyond the Rib,” at Seraphin Gallery in Philadelphia, PA, “Navigation Puzzle,” at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, “Paper Work”, at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie and “The Demoiselles Revisited” at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, NYC, along with solo exhibitions in PA, NJ, DE, and Hawaii. Nanci has received numerous honors including three purchase awards from the State Foundation of Culture and the Arts, Hawaii and three Leeway Foundation Art & Change Grants. Her work is included in the Public Collections of Johnson & Johnson, Herspace Breast Imaging, Leland Portland Cement, and OSI Pharmaceuticals to name a few

With her cousin and author, Ellen McVicker, Nanci illustrated and co-created the children’s book Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings: When someone you love has cancer… a hopeful, helpful book for kids. Having sold over 10,000 copies in English and now with a Spanish edition, Nanci and Ellen were invited in 2015 to participate in 798 ICAF, International Children’s Art Festival in Beijing, China in 2016.

www.nancihersh.com

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Initially, my work was influenced by the tropical beauty of the landscape, but I began to find my voice as an artist as the work became more personal.
— Nanci Hersh
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In your artist statement, you reflect on the idea that your work is a personal narrative about home and family. Can you tell us about your experience creating work that is so deeply personal?

From my first pale pink padded diary at age 11, complete with lock and key, to my current expressive mixed media paintings, collages and sculptures, my compulsion has been to chronicle, gain understanding and find the magic and connection in the everyday.

In 1985, I moved to Hawaii, far from family and friends on the East Coast. What was to be a six-week vacation led to a 12-year journey of living the dream; making art, surfing, managing an art gallery, studying, teaching and traveling. Initially, my work was influenced by the tropical beauty of the landscape, but I began to find my voice as an artist as the work became more personal. Through subsequent series that both examined and celebrated relationships at home and in my rural plantation neighborhood on the North Shore of Oahu, I began to feel a deep connection to the people, the place, and my work that felt more authentic. It also became cathartic and healing in many ways.

What are you currently working on?

I am working on a new series of monotypes and mixed media prints. This is a return to my undergraduate and graduate work in printmaking. Following the passing this summer of my mother, I am finding comfort in the rituals and process of working with a limited palette, my love of an expressive line and layered textures. Primarily black and white, with limited color, some encaustic and collage, they are a meditation on the transitory nature of life and death and the fine line between the two states of being.

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How has your creative process changed throughout your career?

It has evolved more than changed. A new series seems to dictate a particular medium or material that I am either practiced in or need to learn. For example, years ago, I had a dream about butterfly nets. Shortly after, I came upon some children’s butterfly nets at a gift shop at the beach which I purchased and began to manipulate by dipping them in the overly beaten paper pulp that dried like a skin, freezing them in time. This led to creating my own net forms from chicken wire, pulp, encaustic, pantyhose, and collage. Then I began finding and collecting different types of nets and netting which I use as stencils on my paintings and drawings. Often I circle back and incorporate elements of a prior series. The process builds upon itself more than changes.

What is your favorite part about creating mixed media works?

I love discovering found or repurposed objects or materials, seeing beauty in the juxtaposition of the elements and the surprises in how they speak to each other. I have always found peace walking along the beach and appreciate the flotsam and jetsam that wash ashore entangled, each part originating from somewhere else with a different unknown history coming together and shaped by the journey it has taken.

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What do you view as your greatest strength as an artist?

One of my greatest strengths as an artist is my perseverance. I keep making art, through raising my family, teaching, well-being or challenges, sales or not, recognition or not, just keep making it because it is who I am and how I find a deeper connection to nature, to others, to myself and a Higher Power. I also appreciate how I am able to see beauty and possibility in everything- and everyone.

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Along with your two-dimensional mixed media work you create three-dimensional sculptures, how does your studio practice accommodate both mediums?

The work informs each other. It is an ongoing conversation. There are times when what I need to explore is two-dimensional, other times it is three dimensional. This can be determined by a subject, a found object, a dream, a beautiful vine found on my walks with my dogs, or a cast shadow. Most often, there is a piece of one in the other or one is the jumping off point for the other. It is a fluid process that meanders with intention, to see how I can look at something in a new way and see where that takes me.

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What has been the best part of your artistic career thus far?

It has to be now. I am able to look at the scope of the work that I have created and see how the work has been an expression and an extension of my life experiences. I also appreciate how the work has led me to people, to conversations and experiences that deepen our connection and appreciation of the richness of this life.