photo by Shane Wynn
“Try something new. Take a class. Carve out some time to play. You never know where it may lead you.”
These inspiring words are the advice Heather Bullach has for anyone with a creative itch. Bullach is the Traveling Exhibits Coordinator for Massillon Museum (a.k.a. MassMu). Born and raised in Northeast Ohio—as were her parents and grandparents—Bullach also teaches painting at her alma mater, Malone University, and is a painter herself, specializing in portraiture.
Her friends describe Bullach as innovative, driven and gracious, due to her strong competitive streak that is balanced by an easy-going and optimistic nature that looks for the best in everyone and everything. She also likes to “think outside the box,” as is clearly evident in her artwork. Her paintings combine richly saturated hues, amazing shadow work and unusual snap-shot poses to evoke a sense of movement and individuality in her subjects.
When she’s not at the museum, in the classroom, or in her studio, you’re likely to find her bicycling around town in fair weather or cooking up flavorful meals for her extended family. If you can’t seem to find her anywhere, she’s probably at home, curled up with one of the many books she’s bound to be in the middle of at any given moment.
What kind of training did you have for this kind of job?
HB: I have a Bachelor’s in Art from Malone University. I don’t have any training or background in museum work, but I previously spent five years working with Translations Art Gallery in Canton and 10-plus years with my own art business, both of which developed in me a lot of the tools I brought to my museum position.
Tell us about MassMu’s traveling exhibits.
HB: MassMu is just beginning to delve into creating traveling exhibits. I was hired to help with the development of one of our very first traveling exhibits, “Imagining A Better World: The Artwork of Nelly Toll.” Nelly Toll was a young Jewish girl in Nazi occupied Poland. Forced into hiding with her mother, she was unable to go outside for 18 months, and created a series of bright, happy paintings and stories that provided an escape for her from the harsh reality she was experiencing. We have the amazing privilege of working directly with Nelly to create this powerful exhibit and are really excited to see her story shared with the world.
Have you always wanted to work in a museum, or did you have other career dreams and goals?
HB: I honestly never anticipated working in a museum. But when this job opportunity came my way, it was a perfect fit. I really love mixing some left-brained administrative work alongside my creative work as a painter. I love being involved in the art world in a different capacity. And of course, the staff at MassMu is a dream team that I absolutely love working with.
You’re also an artist. What’s your favorite medium?
HB: My favorite medium is oils, though I also love pulling out my watercolors once or twice a year. Both are such a different process, and I love each for their unique approaches.
What is so compelling for you about painting portraits?
HB: I just love faces. I actually did not paint my first portrait until near the end of my college career at Malone University. But as soon as I painted my first portrait, I knew I was hooked. There is just something about capturing someone’s likeness and trying to capture the soul within that is unlike anything else.
Do you work from live models or photographs? Why?
HB: I work almost solely from photographs, which I take myself. An hour-long photoshoot with a model is much more feasible than multiple, hours-long sittings. I love that technology allows me to pull elements from multiple shots [and] better capture fine details from close-up, high-res images. There is also an emotion of a moment that may be missed in a lengthy sitting. I would not have considered myself a photographer, but I have learned to become one as part of my creative process. I have to be able to connect with my subjects in a way that I can carry into the painting.
As an artist, how does being around all that artwork influence your own artistic expression?
HB: I think that as an artist, anytime you are exposed to someone else’s artwork, or artwork in a larger context, you can’t help but be inspired or made to think about your art in a different way.
Check out a sampling of Bullach’s portrait work at www.heatherbullach.com. Find more information about Massillon Museum and the Nelly Toll exhibit at wwwmassillonmuseum.org or 330-833-4061.
/ Editorial Associate Sharon Cebula lives in West Akron with her very patient husband, two obnoxious cats, and an enormous collection of owl paraphernalia.