JENKS — In October 2008, Jan McKay received the phone call every parent fears; her 14-year-old daughter was in a car accident. Stephanie McKay passed away the following day. Through tragedy, Jan McKay was able to transfer her daughter’s passion for art into her own. Now, she continually honors her daughter within every painting through a hidden image — a butterfly.
If you visit McKay’s booth at the annual Art on Main in downtown Jenks on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., make sure to carefully inspect each of her nature-inspired oil paintings.
Stephanie, even at the age of 14, was serious about art. For three years, McKay would join her daughter during her private art lessons but only to observe. “I wanted it to be about her,” McKay said.
One month after Stephanie’s passing, McKay decided to take on the role as the household artist and began taking classes with Stephanie’s instructor. It was an attempt to keep Stephanie’s passion alive and to aid in McKay’s grieving. McKay learned and improved quickly. She left her job as an interior designer with Ethan Allen to become a full-time painter within two years of the initial class.
The butterflies in McKay’s oil paintings may be difficult to find but carry tremendous symbolism. “It’s a metaphor for life. I feel like all of us here on Earth are trying to figure our lives out. We got our struggles. We are trying to better ourselves … Now she is passed away and in heaven. She has become a butterfly. She is where she is supposed to be. She is complete,” McKay said.
Since becoming a professional artist, McKay has marked her paintings with a butterfly in her signature and has enjoyed the butterfly as a subject matter.
Strategically masking the butterfly did not begin until 2014. While attending the prestigious Prix de West art show at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, she witnessed one artist who hid images within his paintings. “He did Jesus, which I think is lovely. I feel like I’m doing the same thing in my own way because she is with Jesus,” McKay said. “I just thought he is fantastic, world renowned and professional and can do it. Well, so can I. And I love it.” In most of McKay’s artwork, her choice subject is animals and insects. “I like celebrating life and change and seeing the beauty and characters in wildlife,” she said.
McKay finds a special fascination with insects and created a “Larger than Life” series of magnified bees, spiders, grasshoppers and, of course, butterflies. “They are all craving existence just like we are. I just enjoy seeing things alive and striving,” she said. McKay will have 20 to 30 oil paintings available at Art on Main. Due to recent purchases, she said there will be fewer than 10 originals but high-quality, giclee copies of her work can be bought.
She frequently accepts commissioned work as well. The artist also displays a painting of Stephanie at each art show and enjoys sharing the story of her daughter — a continual celebration of her life.