Art is part of Nancy Sandgren’s life every day. She’s been admiring, studying, teaching, or creating works of art for most of her life. She even spent time teaching art at Scotia Village shortly after she and her husband, Harry, came to the community four years ago.
But for Nancy, her interest in art and illustration began very early.
“I come from a very art-y family,” explains Nancy. “When the family got together, that was what was discussed instead of sports and the news.”
Her uncle was a famous illustrator named Mead Schaeffer, whose illustrations graced many covers of the Saturday Evening Post along with covers and pages of classic novels such as Moby Dick. Schaeffer was also good friends with Norman Rockwell and his family.
“I remember square dancing with (Rockwell) calling out the steps.”
Although Nancy was only allowed in her uncle’s studio at certain times, his work had a big impact on her. “He was the most interesting man I have ever known. I loved his work,” says Nancy. “I love the idea of illustration… because it tells a story. Pictures and beautiful paintings are all around and everybody admires them. But I like them to tell a story. And because of that background, that’s what I try and do.”
Originally from New York, Nancy went to art school for two years in Brooklyn. She later married her high school sweetheart who joined the Air Force. Harry was a pilot in the service for 20 years. During that time, they lived all over the United States, but were only stationed overseas once. “And that was, poor pitiful us, Bermuda,” says Nancy with a laugh. “I mean, somebody had to do it!”
Even though Nancy put her art on the back burner while she raised a family, she had the opportunity to return to it when the couple moved to Laurinburg in 1978. “Somewhere along the way my husband ended up working for St. Andrews College, and I was offered free art lessons. So I went back to my art.”
Eventually, she and Harry bought an art shop in town and ran it together for 10 years. The art program at the college and owning the shop allowed Nancy to refine and perfect what she had learned long ago. “If it wasn’t for going to St. Andrews… I would not be doing what I’m doing now. I’m very grateful for that.”
For the last 20 years, Nancy has been creating around six original works of art each year for her church. Drawing inspiration from her faith, she says she often sits down at her drawing board without knowing what exactly she’s going to create.
“I have some ideas, some directions… I may have the scriptures or psalm in front of me. But I’m not sure what is going to come out,” says Nancy. “And at the end, when I’m finished. I look at it at and I say, ‘whoa, did I do that?!’
“I’m always extremely grateful for the talent that I have been given… and it gives me a way to praise God…”
With work primarily in pastels and watercolors, Nancy recently selected several of her own pieces for display in three different churches in Laurinburg and at Scotia Village for their Good Friday service. She also works on pet portraits on occasion for other residents in the community from time to time.
When she and Harry made the 2.5-mile move from their home in Laurinburg to Scotia Village, she took on teaching art classes to the residents for about a year. “I tried to teach people that if you draw well, your paintings will be better. And I can teach almost anyone to draw better.”
She also spent time working on art projects every week with dementia patients. The experience for her was eye-opening, where she experienced the ups and downs of seeing residents respond in different ways to the projects she came up with for them. She even organized a “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” for the patients that wound its way around the community, complete with decorations for their wheelchairs and music.
Eventually, an art instructor from St. Andrews University (formerly St. Andrews College) — who was also a friend of Nancy’s from her church — was able to take over the art classes. “I’m so proud of her and these gals are doing so much better!”
During her time at Scotia Village, Nancy feels she has been fortunate to share her art with others and to learn some valuable lessons about perseverance from the residents in her art classes.
Now, Nancy and Harry can enjoy more of the people and activities at Scotia Village. “This is such an active place… you can’t do it all,” adds Nancy. “We just have the best time out here.”
And, of course, Nancy can spend more time telling stories through her art.