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"Nobody's Going To Like Midwest Grain Elevators In California" -- But They Did

 Image of Nancie King Mertz "The Provider"
Image of Nancie King Mertz "The Provider"

A Rockford pastel artist took home the ultimate prize in a West Coast awards show.

Nancie King Mertz is the owner of Art De Triumph. She moved to Rockford in May of this year and is already illuminating the art scene with her talents. Mertz has won many art awards throughout the country and her works have decorated dozens of exhibits. Most recently she entered one of her paintings in the Pastel Society of The West Coast exhibit “Pastels USA: 99 Voices in Pastel. The Show.”

“My husband enters shows for me and when I submitted this one to the West Coast in California,” she explained, “he thought, you know, ‘nobody's going to like Midwest grain elevators in California.’”

But boy, was her husband wrong. The show had three categories: Ultra-Modern and Experimental, Contemporary Realism, and Contemporary Impressionism. Each category accepted 33 pieces from artists all over the world for a total of 99 works.

Mertz entered the Impressionism category. But to her surprise, she took home the Best in Show award.

“So, I was just blown away,” she said. “The judge of award has been the longtime gallery expert of Irvine Museum of California Impressionism. And, you know, I was just shocked that he picked my piece and delighted.”

The painting, depicting a grain elevator, was titled “The Provider.”

“My dad was a grain elevator owner and operator,” Mertz said. “And on Saturday, we would go to work with him, and you know, help him with -- actually get in the way-- but anyway, we thought we were helping him.”

She said her dad’s job helped provide for the family and every time she sees a grain elevator, she thinks of him.

Mertz began painting as a child and her parents helped cultivate her gift by enrolling her in art classes. She said dabbing strokes of color onto a canvas is like breathing for her.

 Bridge to Illinois
Bridge to Illinois

Mertz grew up in the downstate Illinois city of Arcola, but her creativity has taken her miles away from the small town.

She teaches art all over the country and in Europe. She said her mother passed away in 2016. Suddenly, things started opening for her.

“It was like the minute she passed and it's like she's up there saying ‘give her a call.’” Mertz pointed out. “I just started booking workshop, after workshop, after workshop. So, I usually do 12 to 15 workshops a year.”

Mertz said she was so caught up in creating art that she forgot to have children.

"I opened a gallery in Arcola after we were married while I was in grad school, and a frame shop. And so I started all that, you know, ages ago," she explained. "And then we moved to Chicago and I was building the business in Chicago and there just was never a time. So I call all my paintings my babies."

She said she doesn't regret this decision. She always felt she was put on earth to paint and she said having children would take time away from that.

Mertz and her husband made their home in Rockford after living in Chicago for many years. She explained that they needed a bigger space and getting that in Chicago would come with a premium price. She said she loves traveling and meeting new people, but she is ready to settle a bit and teach locally.

“I help people a lot with perspective and getting structures correct,” Mertz explained. “A lot of people paint landscape, and they're afraid to put structures in there because of the perspective issues. So that's really my focus.”

Mertz said she will still travel a little but not as much as she’s done in the past. And although she’s captured images across the world, she said Chicago is her favorite landscape.


“A lot of interesting neighborhoods, there are a lot of interesting sites in Chicago. The lake is beautiful,” she added. “We have great gardens, thanks to the Daley's. You know, the street scenes are interesting. But I do love to paint under the “L” and capture all that action.”

She’s referring to the elevated tracks across the city that give the Chicago Transit Authority its nickname, the “L.”

Mertz said sometimes people think of pastel painting as being something light and soft because of the bright colors. But she calls it the purest art medium. She said it can be very dramatic and dark.

Mertz and her husband’s Rockford home serves as their gallery and school and was a part of the city’s Spring ArtScene. She will have a booth at the upcoming Greenwich Village Art Fair on Sept. 18. And her gallery will be open during the Fall ArtScene in October. She said she will be away teaching during that time, but her husband will be there, minding the art -- including her pastels.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.
Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.