Artist to be remembered at Andes Community Day
By Pauline Liu
When the residents of the Town of Andes turn out to celebrate their annual Community Day on Saturday, some will mark the occasion by celebrating the short but brilliant life of one of their own. Michelle MacNaught of DeLancey was a gifted art student at SUNY Purchase. She died last November after a yearlong battle with ovarian cancer. She was just 21.
Andes residents, Leo and Maggie Clinton Koenig, will be exhibiting MacNaught’s artwork in their barn at 160 Main St. from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. That will place the exhibit right smack in the middle of all the community activity. Inspired by the Ovarian and Breast Cancer Awareness slogans, the exhibit is called, “Fight Like a Girl.” The exhibit will feature woodblock prints, etchings and drawings which MacNaught produced after being diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. “She just used it as her therapy,” said her mother, Mary. “Michelle was strong and she was going to fight it.”
Any money raised at the event will be used to benefit two art scholarship funds; which have been established in MacNaught’s name. One will be awarded at Roxbury Central School, where Mary MacNaught is a popular teacher. For 30 years, she has taught Family and Consumer Science, formerly known Home Economics. Another scholarship will be awarded at Delaware Academy in Delhi, where MacNaught graduated with honors in 2008. ”We’re giving them out to students who are passionate about art and contributed the most to the art program,” said Mary MacNaught. She explained that first scholarships of $300 apiece were awarded in June and made possible through donations from the RCS Honor Society and Delaware Academy’s Future Farmers of America.
MacNaught’s best-known works of art are self-portraits. She depicted herself in various stages of her battle against cancer. Though beautiful and blonde, her images were anything but glamorous. Her friend and former employer, Erica Hill of Delaware Trading Post, has designed $20 tote bags featuring one of those portraits. They’re being sold to benefit the scholarship funds.
The work is called “Chemotherapy, Part One.” “She had a Mediport, which was implanted under the skin and used to deliver the chemotherapy drugs and she wore it proudly,” said Mary MacNaught. She pointed out how her daughter had drawn the device to look almost like a piece of jewelry embedded near her collarbone. She also placed a crown on her head with the name of a chemotherapy drug, “Cisplatin” written across it.
According to Hill, remembering MacNaught during Community Day just made sense. “The obvious is to continue to celebrate and remember Michelle and her amazing talent, but mainly because Michelle, when she worked for us, always used to participate in Community Day,” said Hill.
The Koenigs, who own art galleries in New York City, befriended MacNaught in her final weeks. They honored her with a solo exhibit of her work at their gallery in Manhattan. “Leo was really moved by her and the show at his gallery was something I know he and Maggie will always cherish,” said Hill.
MacNaught’s friends raised the money to have her airlifted by helicopter to attend her opening. She died days later. “One of her girlfriends said she couldn’t believe how Michelle glowed that night,” said Mary MacNaught. “She had this light about her. She had a light from within.”
Those who missed the Manhattan exhibit will now be able to see MacNaught’s work in her hometown. And while Mary MacNaught was often moved to tears as she spoke about her daughter, she plans to go right on talking. “I just want the world to continue to see how talented and beautiful Michelle was and I want to bring awareness about ovarian cancer,” she said. “It’s about peace, love and a cure.”