BGSU exhibit honors late blooming artist


Willie Nell Shahraki-Heard encouraged her one son to create art.
She bought him color pencils and other supplies. While he worked at it every day, and his mother
encouraged him, he didn’t have the calling to be a professional artist.
Then one day when Shahraki-Heard was about 50, she picked up those pencils. She looked at the wallpaper
in her kitchen and started to draw. And she discovered “a God-given talent that I didn’t know I had.”

That talent was rewarded Friday night when the 74-year-old Toledo artist won The Andersons Best of Show
award at the NoWOH, the seventh Northwest Ohio Community Art Exhibit now at the Fine Arts Center
Galleries at Bowling Green State University. Gallery hours are Thursday through Sunday 1 to 4 p.m. as
well as Thursday evenings 6 to 8 p.m. The show remains open through July 11.
The exhibit features more than 200 works of art by 80 regional artists. The show is open to all with all
work submitted displayed.
Ann Arbor, Michigan artist Lea Bult, who selected the winners, said the collection was “fabulous.’
A dozen prizes worth a total of more than $1,300 were handed out at the opening reception Friday night.
Those attending the NoWOH exhibit can cast ballots for the Popular Choice Award, sponsored by the
Bowling Green Arts Council.
“There was a wealth of strong pieces and it was hard picking the winners. But it was very enjoyable,”
Bult said.
During a gallery talk following the announcement of the awards, Bult said, that Shahraki-Heard’s oil
painting ‘Old General Store” didn’t call attention to itself. But “it sucked her in” as she studied it.
She found herself looking at it for long periods, and felt pulled back it her. The seemingly simple
scene of an Alabama country store with the owner on the porch and various customers and neighbors out
front slowly revealed tensions, and a sense of history unfolding.
“There’s a sense of timelessness,” Bult said. “This could have happened 50 years ago. This could be
happening today. This could be happening in the future.”
Rendered in a bold, folk art style, Bult said, the painting represented an “authentic” artistic
expression, the kind of feeling too often drilled out of art students.
Shahraki-Heard said that when she realized she had a talent for art, she sought out help from the local
arts community. She took classes at the Toledo Art Museum and Common Space in Toledo. She studied and
consulted with a number of teachers including Don Townsend.
He encouraged her overcome her initial hesitancy and explore oil painting. Now she works in the medium,
painting landscapes and portraits of those around her. She said she’s currently working on a portrait of
Nelson Mandela
“Old General Store” is a scene Shahraki-Heard knows well. She lived for many years in Alabama where she
raised her son, who is now deceased. The painting dates from a period from 2004 to 2008 when she
returned to the south to care for her ailing mother. This is the first show she’s exhibited in since
returning to the area.
Bult said she was surprised and pleased at the range of ages, from teens through elders, of artists
represented .
Katerina Ruedi-Ray, director of the BGSU School of Art, said that NoWOH show has “gotten better and
better every year, and when it started it was very good.”

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