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An Evening at SAGE: Celebrating Nancy Buening's Legacy through Art

On Thursday, March 25th, over 45 members of the community gathered to celebrate the opening of "Joy in Self-Expression: The Legacy of Nancy Buening", a new show at SAGE curated by Nancie Furnish. Refreshments were provided by Verdello Oil & Vinegar, Sheridan Donut Company, and Cheesecake Squared.

Nancy Buening smiles for the camera at a professional photo shoot. She is wearing a kimono-style shawl with white lilies. She has cropped hair and large glasses.
Nancy Mae Buening, Artist & Educator

This new exhibition at SAGE features 40 original retrospective works by Buening, and a tribute of works by a few of her former students including T. Allen Lawson, Paulette Kucera, John “Randy” Stout, Sally Tibbs-Lapis, Sally Labore, and Gene Sager. Many of Buening’s works are available for purchase, including a selection of original, unframed pastel and watercolor paintings that have never been exhibited elsewhere. The exhibition will be on view through April 24, 2021.

Several speakers shared stories and memories of Nancy Buening during a short presentation at the reception. Jill Benson, SAGE Executive Director, worked closely with curator Nancie Furnish as well as Lois Williams, surviving sister of Nancy Buening to organize the show and choose the artwork.

Jill stands in front of several paintings. She is wearing a colorful top and black skirt, with bright yellow boots. She is looking out of the frame into the crowd.
Executive Director Jill Benson welcomes the community to the reception

"Through her years of teaching Nancy was able to instill the joy of self-expression to thousands of individuals and inspire them to great careers in art. It seemed most fitting to have a special tribute wall from former students highlighting her legacy," Benson shared.

Tim Lawson also shared his admiration and gratitude for Buening's teaching and encouragement in his early years of painting: "I grew up in a family that wasn't really involved in the arts. . . [when] I went to junior high, I was one of the extremely lucky ones to have Nancy -- Miss Buening -- as my teacher. She not only opened my eyes to an artistic life but she was so enthusiastic and just exuded that enthusiasm.

Tim Lawson stands in front of several paintings. He is holding a wine glass while he addresses the crowd. He is wearing brown khaki pants and a light blue button-down shirt.
Tim Lawson (T. Allen Lawson) shares his memories of Nancy Buening to the crowd.

"The summer of my eighth grade year, she invited me to have a two-person show with her, which was over on the lawn of what is now the Healy Law Firm. I had 10 or 12 of some of the worst paintings anybody has ever created. But with Miss Buening's enthusiasm and guidance. . .I've never looked back. I've been a professional painter for over 40 years. . .I think more than anything, what she taught me and showed me was how enriched an artistic life can be. There is absolutely no question that I would not be who I am or do what I do if it hadn't been for Miss Buening," said Lawson. He has one painting in the "Former Student Tribute" section of the exhibition called Summer on Soldier Creek (private collection).

Gene Sager, another former art student of Buening, shared a few stories of learning with her in his adult life. His background is in music, acting, and theatre, and he began to paint more after moving to Sheridan. Like music and sound, "paint and light are nothing but vibration," said Sager. "The [transition] from music into painting seemed normal. What I loved about [Nancy] was how full of joy she was about whatever you were doing.

Gene has been captured mid-step while gesturing toward his painting on the wall. He is wearing a dark green button-down shirt and khaki pants.
Gene Sager gestures toward his painting "The Blue Door", seen second to the right on the bottom row of this wall.

"I have a little painting over here called The Blue Door, and it was very funny because when I was painting it, we were all taking a class [taught by Nancy], and we all had to stand in line to get our critiques from her. The person in front of me held out their painting, and Nancy looked at it, and she just said two words: 'burn it!' Then she took [my painting] and looked at it, and looked at me, and back at it, and said 'that's good!' and we all had a big laugh. So of course that had to be the painting I brought in for [the show].

Sager also shared his gratitude for Buening's appreciation of all art forms: "Nancy was so kind toward other types of painting. She would look at one of my abstract pieces and say 'there's a sense of line; there's a background, foreground, and middle ground. I feel movement -- I might as well be looking at the sea, but there it is!' She was open to what everyone had to do. She fueled your passion."

Jill Benson closed the presentation by sharing Nancy Buening's legacy through SAGE Community Arts: "I learned that she was one of the founding members of SAGE and she was key in creating the education that we are now able [to offer to the community]. I can give a lot of thanks to Nancy for now having this beautiful job that I can be a part of."

“Joy in Self-Expression” celebrates the life and legacy of Nancy Mae Buening, who died in 2019. Buening’s art and teaching career spanned over 50 years and she shared the joy of self-expression with thousands of students of all ages. She held a Bachelor of Science in English and Art from Eastern Montana College, and went on to earn a Master of Arts degree in Art, Speech, and Philosophy at Montana State University. She taught for 41 years in the Sheridan County school system and instructed art at Sheridan College and adult education classes in the community. She was also a founding Member of SAGE Community Arts (formerly Sheridan Artists Guild Et. Al).

Preview the entire show here:

a monochromatic painting of two ducks swimming in water. The water is gray but swirls in marbled patterns.
"Water Ballet" by Nancy Buening

This exhibition is sponsored by Frontier Asset Management; Powder River Heating & Air Conditioning; Lonabaugh & Riggs, LLP; and Polly, Paint and Pencil Studio with additional support from Alphagraphics and the Wyoming Arts Council.


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