Sunhee Hager watercolor works hit City Hall

Benny Westcott

The work of water colorist Sunhee Hager is the newest art adorning Sweet Home City Hall as part of the Sweet Home Oregon Coalition For Artistic & Scholastic Enrichment’s Art Show program. The exhibit, “Nature’s Beauty,” primarily features animals, wild and domestic, and scenes of nature. Hager has lived in Sweet Home for about 12 years. She says she paints for fun. Most of her work isn’t matted or framed, it’s just in a box. Still, Diane Gerson of SHOCASE reached out to her to see if she was interested in exhibiting her work at City Hall, and she jumped at the chance.

“When Diane asked me to pick something for the exhibit, I picked some choices, and these are some of the choices that I picked out, that mattered enough to put in a frame,” Hager explained. Most of the animals depicted in her work are animals she has on her own property. “I watch them and look at them every day, so it’s easier for me, because I have a live subject matter to study,” she said. It’s all a matter of transposing what she sees in the real world onto the page. “I just take subject matter from nature and try to interpret my version of the subject on paper,” she said. “I basically take themes and move from there. Whatever inspires me for that particular moment at the time.”

Pointing at a painting of her goats, she says “Subject-wise, if you look at them, it’s like, ahh, they’re just goats. But to me it has a personal attachment, because I raised them.” Hager says she likes the surprise element of watercolor painting. “The reason I like watercolor is because it has a lot to do with light and the translucency of the color itself,” she said. “It’s so delicate and fragile, but at the same time it has a mind of its own. I’m a bit of a control freak by nature, but I’m drawn to watercolor because I am at its complete mercy. The way it lays and paints out on paper, I have no control over. And I really like the fact that I don’t have control over that.”

She has a couple of paintings in the exhibit that feature vases of flowers as their subject. “I’m fascinated with water and the refraction and reflection,” Hager said. “I just like to take things in a vase and see how the light reflects on the surface, and to capture that in a way that’s interesting.” Hager was born in South Korea and came to the U.S. when she was 10. Her father is also an artist who does Asian brushwork painting. “I guess you could say we have an artistic interest in the family,” she said. “In a sense that we look at things not particularly as an object itself, but for anything we see, we ask ourselves, if we were to express that on paper or canvas, how would we do that? We look at objects and subject matters in a very different way.”

Hager said she wanted to be an artist when she was going to college, but her parents advised her against it because “there’s no money involved in it.” That’s an opinion Hager eventually agreed with herself. “It’s true,” she said. “If you’re going to be an artist, you’re going to be a starving artist.” She graduated from Aloha High School and then Oregon State University with degrees in nutrition science and human development and family science. She was an English as a Second Language instructor for many years, teaching visiting professors to Oregon State University and their children. She took a considerable break from working to raise her kids. “I haven’t really worked,” she said. “Because I also majored in human development, and I know the importance of raising children. And I personally made a choice not to have my children in daycare.”

After a long hiatus, she worked at the pharmacy at Economy Drugs in Sweet Home. “My husband bought a property out here, and he really liked Sweet Home,” she said. “It’s a very charming little town.” When she was no longer as occupied with raising children, Hager had more time to pursue her art passion again. “I always have been drawn to art, so when I got a little older and my kids were out of the house and onto college, I got back into art, and my interest spiked and it just took off from there,” she said. “It just gives me a feeling of peace and tranquility when I do it, and a sense of achievement and productivity.”

When asked when she started doing art, Hager responded “I think being an artist, it’s either you’re born with it or you’re not. All it is, is when did you start the interest? That’s actually the key point. When you literally sit down and become serious about it, that’s the time you probably should consider becoming an artist. “Artists, I think, in general, look at things very differently,” she continued. “And so I really believe that when you’re an artist, you really have been an artist for almost all your life.” Hager said the keys to her success in art have been “keen perception, a keen eye for something, picking out the nitty gritty details. And patience obviously and persistence.”

She is also interested in fabric sculpting, and her works in that endeavor have been exhibited at City Hall before. She also does acrylic art and is an avid quilter, doing “collage quilting,” making landscapes and portraits out of cloth. Her paintings mean a lot to her. “I feel that the paintings are capturing that particular moment in time, and it’s just something that triggers certain memories or feelings with it,” she said.