New Art Exhibit Features Mother-Daughter Works

Megan Hager, left, and Sunhee Hager stand with their centerpiece artworks at City Hall. Photos by Sarah Brown

During life’s challenges, people find relief through a variety of activities, whether it be through exercise, music, games or a hobby. For two local artists, they find escape through the process of painting, and they are now sharing their work with the public.

Self-taught artists Sunhee Hager and her daughter, Megan Hager, will display their acrylic paintings at City Hall for the next art exhibit through Sweet Home Oregon Coalition for Artistic and Scholastic Enrichment (SHOCASE).

The two artists’ works reflect vibrant colors but contrasting subject matter.

“Purple Haze,” by Sunhee Hager

Sunhee’s exhibit builds around a commissioned piece called “Neva’s Garden” in which a variety of colorful wildflowers fill the foreground amidst a meadow-like landscape. Knowing this would be her centerpiece for the show, she created paintings to accompany the work in a similar theme with flowers, insects and birds.

Given how well one might think the paintings are done, they’d be surprised to learn nature is not her favorite subject to paint.

“I really don’t like doing flowers, to tell you the truth,” Sunhee admitted.

That’s because she’s more of a portrait artist.

“I’m fascinated with faces for some reason, and I’m one of those people who sees faces in almost anything,” she said. “I’m also fascinated with eyes. I think eyes are really telltale signs of a person’s soul in a lot of ways.”

Choosing her artistic subject matter to be that which fascinates her (faces), Sunhee indicated that she can’t help but notice those faces seen in public that would be fun to paint.

“Some faces are very interesting that you could immediately say ‘oh that person would make an awesome portrait,’” she said.

One of the first portraits Sunhee created some time ago was of her father, and she has since created portraits of her children, friends and, perhaps, the occasional stranger who had remarkable features. But among her collection of portraits, ironically, is her painting of pink peonies, a work of flowers that Sunhee cherishes because it tells a story.

Sunhee Hager shows a painting of her favorite peonies.

The plant belonged to her father, and she always admired the flowers’ bright fuschia colors, though she has been unable to reproduce the magnificent color true to form on canvas, she said. Her father gave Sunhee a start from his peony bush, but for the first couple of years it didn’t bloom. Yet, after his own plant died, her propagated cutting started producing the flowers she wanted.

“It’s kind of like passing on the torch in some weird kind of way, and I captured that in this,” Sunhee said, looking at her painting.

Every year, the artist likes to change up the type of medium she works with. This year she is focusing on acrylics. Last year, Sunhee worked with watercolor, and in 2022 she played with fabrics. In fact, she created portraits made from denim jeans.

“I’m more into the process of things than the product,” she explained. “Some people are interested in puzzles or playing on their cell phone or whatever. I actually am interested in creating things, more hands-on things. I think it’s really great for your brain development, as well, to challenge yourself and try out different things. It just keeps me engaged and focused.”

The Hager family moved to Sweet Home in 2012 after purchasing 30 acres upon which they built a home. Sunhee has degrees in family, nutrition and food sciences, as well as human development, which helped shape how she raised her children.

“Monarch Butterfly,” by Sunhee Hager

“I strongly encouraged the logical side – the mathematics and the academics and all that stuff – but I also encouraged physical activity and artistic outlets for both of my children,” she said. “My son chose to do his artistic outlet or stress-relieving outlet in video gaming (she stated with a laugh), but my daughter, she decided to follow my footsteps and do paintings and artistic things.”

Megan Hager just earned a bachelor’s in biomedical sciences with an emphasis on neurobiology at Colorado State and is working toward a PhD in toxicology. The 2020 Sweet Home High School grad holds school records from the swim club and used the sport to earn swimming scholarships for college.

“I found my way to swimming by happenstance, but it brought me to Colorado, which gave me so many opportunities that I am deeply grateful for,” Megan said.

While developing her left brain through scientific endeavors, the 22-year-old still enjoys the creative expressions of the right brain that she learned growing up.

“Tentative,” by Megan Hager

“I always liked art. My mom is an artist, and my grandpa, so it was always there as a hobby,” she said. “I’ve always loved science and been in the science field, so this is a fun way for me to be in touch with my creativity.”

Many of her paintings reflect her interest in science as she uses anatomical features in her work. Megan’s exhibition at City Hall features the use of hands.

“I love to tow the line between realism and more of a surrealist kind of style,” she said.

Her favorite piece depicts a hand pushing a ball into a glass of water. She painted it during her sophomore year in college, a time when she was “deep in the grind” of being a pre-med student.

During that period, she explained, she would wake before the sun rose for Division 1 swim practice, attend difficult classes, and return home after the sun set.

“It was a time which I was putting immense pressure on myself to succeed,” she said. “There’s so many things that feel like you’re putting pressure on yourself, and at a time when you want to be this bright bouncy ball of energy, but you’re just being pushed under, and it’s dulling and it’s muting and it hurts, but you have to do it sometimes.

Megan Hager looks at her favorite painting while reflecting on the story behind the work.

“Some years later I also realized this painting is about resiliency because even though the ball is being pushed down, it wants to stay buoyant, it wants to push back up to the surface. It could’ve just sank, but it didn’t. So now I look at it and I’m so glad that I made it the way that I did. With the little bit of water spilling out, whether the cup is my life containing my conscious experience and there I am, still fighting, even if it feels oppressive and hard and sad and blue, but there’s a bright world around.”

In the end, she said, it all worked out. She graduated summa cum laude and was accepted into her graduate program.

“Everything worked out great for me, but it was definitely really tough for a moment there. Knowing (at the time of the painting) that I was only halfway through was brutal. It was devastating, frankly. So that’s what that painting means to me.”

Megan said she prefers painting with acrylic because the colors are bright and sharp, and it dries quickly. Growing up, she worked mostly with watercolor, which taught her technical skills of painting because, she said, she couldn’t paint over any mistakes she made.

“I always loved the development of a skill,” she said. “That’s super evident in swimming being so objective, like I can see myself improving. Then as you make more and more paintings and drawings, you can see how it progresses and improves. I loved the challenge that it gave of having to figure out and knowing when something looks a little wrong. I loved the mental challenge that it was to figure out what line is at the wrong angle. I could make it into this more objective, more scientific process.”

Megan likes to work with complementary colors, but the centerpiece of her exhibit – a hand holding a paintbrush – was more of a challenge because she wanted to incorporate a full palette on the paintbrush. And while she usually paints with cheerful colors, Megan said she does have some “sad paintings.” She pulled out a painting of a set of hands holding the world with dripping water, which she made the day she learned her friend had passed away.

“For Alanna,” by Megan Hager

“It’s not a very happy color,” she said. “It’s not like it’s cheery yellow and trying to fight the world. It’s just holding it because sometimes that’s all you can do.”

The mother-daughter duo agree that the process of art is a sort of stress-relieving meditation for them that, in the end, also gives a sense of accomplishment when the work is complete.

“I really believe that everybody’s an artist,” Sunhee said. “It’s just a matter of how much time you are willing to spend on it. There’s a moment when you start a painting it’s a mess and a lot of people want to quit, but there is a certain moment, when you continue to stay with the painting, where everything changes and you see the vision, you see the outcome, and then there’s a finish. I find it a creativity, but also a mental challenge to persevere through whatever obstacles that you might feel and continue to finish it. The end product is great and then it’s something that has some meaning to you and then you look at it and you say, ‘Yeah, I did that.’”