Saltsburg native's art seeks inner beauty, message of animal subjects
The eyes definitely have it for Megan Maguire Cohen.
The award-winning artist who specializes in portraits of dogs and cats has forged a successful career in bringing the animals to life on paper by first looking into their eyes.
“I believe the eyes say so much about the animal's personality and soul,” says the Saltsburg native who resides in Huntsville, Ala.
“To me, a painting just isn't right until the eyes show life and emotion.”
The gallery at Penn State New Kensington is filled with that spirit and emotion this month in Cohen's Alle-Kiski Valley debut exhibit, “Draws for Paws,” through Jan. 31. In addition to her original watercolor pet portraits, it includes some of her pet-theme jewelry and photography.
Her mother, Linda Maguire of Saltsburg, retired last year after nine years as an instructor at the Penn State campus.
Cohen plans to donate 10 percent of sales to Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley, a no-kill shelter in New Kensington.
“I hope people can see just how much I truly love animals when they look at my paintings. I also hope to raise awareness about animal rescue,” Cohen, 38, says. “The best pets are those that are rescued from shelters. These animals know that you have saved their lives and they show you love every day. Too many beautiful, healthy, loving animals are euthanized at shelters because people don't think about adopting from shelters.”
Several of her pet portraits are featured in the “Paws for Charity” art book, showcasing the work of artists from throughout the world. Proceeds are donated to Sheltering Homeless Animals in Distress.
She also is a member of HeARTs speak, a global network of artists, photographers and designers working to reduce the number of euthanized animals.
A painting of hers was selected as one of the organization's images for the 2013 Success Stories Calendar sold as a fundraiser.
“I'm thrilled and honored to be exhibiting my work in this area and so excited to be teaming up with Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley,” says the 1994 Saltsburg High School and 1998 Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate. Cohen decided to combine her love for animals and art in 2008 by starting her own business, Draws for Paws (www.drawsforpaws.com).
There were always pets in her Saltsburg home — Cohen grew up with three cats and a dog.
In 1997, she found a two-week old abandoned kitten that she took in, bottled fed and named Simba.
“Raising Simba showed me how strong the human-animal bond can be. These creatures are very intelligent and are always trying to communicate with us; we just need to learn to understand their own unique language,” she says. “Simba passed away last year from cancer at age 15 and I now dedicate all my work to him. Simba opened my heart and helped me discover the special bond between people and their pets.”
She has included two photos and a painting of Simba in her Penn State exhibit.
The artist enjoys the challenge of painting with watercolors. “I also love the light and airy appearance of watercolors,” she says.
Cohen, who essentially is self-taught, wants to continue to develop her artistic ability and to increase interest in her work.
Art professor Bud Gibbons, director of the Penn State gallery who invited her to exhibit, is impressed with her efforts.
“My original interest was to the very high quality of the art work. It just happens to be about animals we have as pets,” he says.
“I've since had the opportunity to see the work up close and get to know the artist and her motivation for what she does. Megan makes sure that the art she makes helps the community by helping animals and people through her donations to established organizations.”
Michael McGinnis of Allegheny Township, associate professor of business at the campus, commissioned Cohen to draw his family's two shelties. “It was an excellent reproduction. Her main strength is the ability to faithfully reproduce the spirit of the animal's picture,” he says. “Megan's work resonates with the memories that people have of their pets or other animals.”
Actor David Conrad of the television series “Ghost Whisperer” commissioned two of the paintings in the show, including a springer spaniel named Pippy, and a portrait of three horses that the Pittsburgh native rides at a local farm.
“Each new painting is a challenge; it is very satisfying to please pet owners with completed paintings that they can cherish,” Cohen says. “At the same time, I feel great knowing that my work is raising money for animals in need.”
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org