Artist Sheila Lougheed describes herself and her work as follows: “If Georgia O’Keeffe and Jackson Pollack ever reproduced, I would have been their child,” and her ebullient paintings do, indeed, reflect the influence of O’Keeffe’s erotic rhythm, and Pollack’s spontaneity and application of layers.
Lougheed’s earliest memory of painting was when she was 2: Her dad had just bought his first house, and was fixing it up. “I found some red paint and I thought – I should paint.” So she confidently set to work painting – the barn, the garage, the bathroom. And wondered why her dad didn’t share her enthusiasm.
“I was just – enhancing,” she remembers with a laugh.
Born and raised in Danbury, CT, Lougheed is a tall, colorfully elegant woman with an asymmetrical tousle of black and silvery curls and a delightful sense of humor inherited from her Irish father. Animated in conversation, she employs her hands as much as her voice.
“While my two older sisters were going to proms, I was climbing trees.” Although a bit dismayed when their daughter’s early artistic tendencies did not subside, nevertheless both parents lovingly supported her, but did try, as subtly as they could, to steer her toward more substantial, traditional career paths.
“They were all about a pension,” she laughs. “When I was 3, I was watching my dad get a haircut. The barber had painted a lot of cartoon characters on the shop walls and my dad said, ‘See what a good artist HE is – and he’s got to cut hair to make a living.’‘’
Undeterred, she simply replied, “Well, I’M an artist.”
As second graders in Catholic school, Lougheed and her classmates were told to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up. “I didn’t know we were expected to draw a nun or a priest – or a teacher, fireman, nurse or policeman. I drew what I wanted to be – a cartoonist for Mad Magazine. My mother got a call from the concerned nun.”
Her always perfectly turned out mom did have to put her foot down to get her tomboy daughter to wear dresses to school, but, through the years, her support never ceased. Lougheed lost her mom late last year, and tears well as she says softly, “She always, always tried her best to understand my work. She was so proud of me. She’d tell her friends, ‘My daughter did this! I don’t know what it means but isn’t it wonderful?’”
With her Irish heritage, Lougheed took great joy in playing the drum as part of the Celtic Cross Pipes and Drums of Danbury, which has performed at hundreds of parades and holiday celebrations throughout the Northeast, including several New York City St. Patrick’s Day parades. One of her favorite and most popular paintings sprang to life as she was “just playing around with a big piece of canvas” – an unplanned but joyful painting of a bagpiper in full regalia, entitled “Then Danny Led the Band.”
Lougheed attended WestCon (West Connecticut State College) and took a graphic arts course there, which was “the closest I ever came to art school.” Although she had to cut her college career short to “make a living,” she was able to use her art skills while working at a Danbury Hospital, and eventually became an art therapist.
While pursuing a Master’s Degree at the College of New Rochelle, Lougheed’s world took a frightening turn: only in her 30s, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Because, as the doctors put it, she was otherwise, “young and healthy,” she underwent long series of grueling, aggressive chemotherapy treatments and, during most of her 30s, she says, “I was so sick.” Making the ordeal worse, during that same time her previously unstoppable father had been taken gravely ill and was undergoing dialysis.
For a while, the doctors held out little hope for Lougheed, and she found herself struggling to accept the probability that she wouldn’t see her 40th birthday. “When you think you’re going to die,” she says, finding humor even in what was one of the darkest times of her life, “you go out and buy shoes in every color. You eat whatever you want. Nothing scares you anymore. Nothing matters.” She laid her paints aside.
David, Lougheed’s co-worker at Danbury Hospital, had been quite taken with the outgoing young woman and had kept in touch. Although she was undergoing chemo, and was frequently and violently ill, he asked her out on New Year’s Eve. Surprised, she nevertheless accepted. With a grin, she tells how her aunt advised that, under the circumstances, “If he asks you on a second date, he’s a keeper.” He did, and he was.
During a trip to Florida to visit her parents in 1993, David, unbeknownst to Lougheed, asked her father for her hand in marriage. Sadly, her father passed away before seeing the couple married the following year.
With the support of family and good friends, together they made it through the long cancer ordeal. On her 40th birthday, with Lougheed proclaimed cancer-free at last, the couple journeyed to the South Pacific, travelling to Tahiti and the other islands, in the artistic footsteps of Gauguin. And, at last, she began to paint again.
Prior to the move to Sebastian last year, Lougheed’s work had been shown in several galleries, including two shows in New York City’s Broome Street Gallery in Soho, featuring figures, abstract works and collage pieces.
Lougheed has exhibited during the monthly Vero Beach 14th Avenue Art Strolls and is getting to know the local venues and organizations. Currently, she’s looking forward to taking a class from another gifted North County artist, Suza Talbot. The members of the Sebastian Art Club and other local artists have been exceedingly friendly and welcoming, she says, and have been “so happy to share,” as she and David begin a new and creatively rich chapter in their lives.