Chester Artist Gaining Acclaim in Broad Strokes
December 10, 2015 by Rose Nemunaitis

I hope to show people that they can identify with and connect with people they don't even know by looking into their eyes, and perhaps even see someone that they do know in this stranger's eyes. Heather McClellan

Heather McClellan’s globe-trotting life helps paint a picture of an up and coming artist most recently influenced by Vietnam, earning her national and international acclaim.

“The warm impression I had, especially of the older generation of women in Vietnam, is stamped on my heart and can be seen in my paintings,” McClellan said. “I hope to show people that they can identify with and connect with people they don’t even know by looking into their eyes, and perhaps even see someone that they do know in this stranger’s eyes.”

The Negative Space Art Gallery in Cleveland is hosting McClellan’s Vietnamese lacquer show along with Cleveland artist Nahid Sadrian’s work, opening Dec. 11 in Asia Town.

“Heather will showcase a very extensive and eclectic body of work, approximately 28 pieces, and all for sale,” said Gadi Zamir, founder and director of Negative Space Art Gallery, 3820 Superior Ave.

Heather McClelland’s subjects tend to be women of the countries she visits, while her techniques are adapted from their cultures.

While living in Vietnam, McClellan studied Vietnamese lacquer art with a professional, then combined lacquer and her own techniques to explore “womanhood,” one of her favorite themes.

The result is several portraits that fall into two main groups — character studies of Vietnamese women or other-worldly, fantastical “femmes.”

She bicycled through Vietnamese villages, visiting with women and photographing them at their daily work to conduct research for her artwork.

“The almost three-dimensional, shiny, textured lacquer makes me want to touch the women,” said her mother-in-law, Cheryl McClellan, a genealogist at Chardon Library. “My favorite is a swirling-haired Madonna and Child, rather appropriate for the season.

“Heather is a naturally gifted artist, but she is constantly pushing herself to learn new methods, then combining them all into her own unique vision,” she added.

Heather does all of this while traveling the world with four young children, Cheryl said.

“What makes Heather’s art so special is that she took a traditional Vietnamese painting technique and totally made it her own,” Zamir said. “The Vietnamese lacquer technique called ‘Son Mai,’ requires a specific type of surface to work on. The surface is made out of layers of fabric, which paint is applied by layering the various colors.”

Zamir added, “Yes, this medium is difficult to master, because it is so labor intensive and easy to make a mistake with it. The lacquer paints used in the Son-Mai technique creates a very vivid and shiny surface quality that is unique. The layering creates depth of colors and shapes, resulting in a jewel-like quality.”

Traveling is a family event, Heather explained.

“My husband’s jobs have taken us abroad,” she said, adding she has lived in the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan and Vietnam, and has traveled to many more.

Heather’s husband, Rich, is a 1994 graduate of West Geauga High School.

The couple met when Rich was serving as a missionary for a church in Heather’s hometown of Pocatello, Idaho.

“For the last three years, I have been working for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, running local policy teams, which supported the administrations of the countries I lived in,” Rich said. “Prior to that, I spent eight years as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company, where I focused on a variety of strategy, economic development and policy topics in several countries.”

Heather is a graduate of the Cleve-land Institute of Art and in 2006, settled in Chester Township with her family.

She is responsible for several art projects in Cleveland, including leading the team that re-issued the late Viktor Scheckengost’s iconic Jazz Bowl.

Heather has created a wall-sized mural for Lake County Historical Society and renderings of 1830s historic Kirtland buildings.

“Heather’s show brings a bit of Vietnam back to Ohio,” Rich said. “America’s history with Vietnam is being re-written in some exciting ways right now and so it is rewarding to participate in this cultural exchange. The art doesn’t look ‘Vietnamese’ per se, given the subject matter and Heather’s own trainings bring a stylized flair.”

Negative Space Art Gallery is a nonprofit gallery designed to provide a platform for upcoming artists in an urban environment.

“We are special because we do not take a commission from any art sold because we are committed to enabling the artist to make a living,” Zamir said. “We always look to showcase unique, one-of-a-kind artists, and Heather’s work especially fits with our mission. Heather’s work is unique and will complement Nahid’s work as well.

“For this opening we are not only going to have artwork, but also live musicians playing traditional Vietnamese and Iranian music,” he added. “Authentic refreshments will also be served. It should be fun and we hope to see you there.”

Heather’s works will remain on display throughout the holidays until Jan. 10, 2016.