At age 40, Nita Bakay became a widow, leaving the stay-at-home mom to care for her three children alone. She forged ahead, returning to the workforce as a full-time math teacher at Rockdale's alternative school. Seven years later, in 1996, tragedy struck again when her son, David, then 20, died in a car accident.
Bakay has carried these losses in her heart each day for years but only recently found a way to leave them behind for a short while. Painting is her solace, and she believes that God has orchestrated all of the events in her life to bring her to this point in her art.
"Painting takes me to a happy place. When I'm painting, there's not a sense of loss. I can kind of put my losses aside for a few minutes. I just have this huge intense focus on what I'm doing," said Bakay, a member of both the Southern Heartland Art Guild, based in Covington, and the Portrait Society of Atlanta.
That focus has paid off for Bakay, who is finding great success in portrait painting. An exhibit featuring about a dozen of her portraits hangs in the Monroe Art Guild through the end of December. Using oils, Bakay paints children, teens, adults and even pets.
"When I was a kid, faces were fascinating. Every face is unique and there's beauty in every face and I'm tremendously drawn to that. God has created every single person uniquely," said Bakay.
Bakay, who holds a degree in math from Georgia State University and a masters degree in math education and a specialist's degree in instructional technology from the University of Georgia, said her strength in math has helped her with spatial awareness and proportions in her art, skills necessary for painting faces and bodies.
"I'm such a perfectionist. That's the beauty of oil. You can paint over it. I'll paint over it and then paint over it. My biggest tendency is that I don't leave it alone," said Bakay. "The difficulty is knowing when to stop."
A Rockdale resident for 26 years until moving to Monroe in 2006, Bakay has built a career in education, teaching math in Rockdale for seven years and then math at Newton High School for nine years. Bakay is currently a media specialist at Monroe Area High School.
Painting came late in life for the 59-year-old. After a brief second marriage ended in 2004, Bakay decided to take a painting class from Elise Hammond, a local painter, art instructor and member of the Southern Heartland Art Guild.
"She is a tremendous encourager and nurtures your skills," said Bakay.
These days when Bakay is not working, she is painting. Evenings and weekends will find her at home in her kitchen-turned-studio in front of the canvas. Her devotion to her art has allowed her to improve faster than most other beginning students.
"Most adults who take the art classes, go to art classes and do the painting in class and then pick up with their painting at the next class. I was the type that I took it home and spent every spare moment painting, so my skills were honed quickly," said Bakay.
In addition to the Monroe exhibit, Bakay has had a painting, "Amelia," selected to hang in the Portrait Society of Atlanta's Fall Juried Exhibition 2008 at the Pinckneyville Community Center in Norcross, an exhibit that also features a work by Hammond, entitled "Hayden." The Portrait Society's Fall Juried Exhibit runs through Feb. 23.
Bakay said that she is receiving commissions for works and perhaps one day may entertain the idea of teaching art herself. Until then, she'll enjoy her job, her painting and her two children - Chris, 31, an advertising art director in Atlanta, and Michelle, 28, a social worker who lives in Athens.
"With having lost two people, it does make me want to make the most of every moment that I have," said Bakay.
Nita Bakay's work may be viewed at www.nitabakay.com.
Contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: If you go
What: Portrait exhibit by Nita Bakay
Where: Monroe Art Guild's Members' Gallery, 205 S. Broad St., Monroe
When: Through Dec. 31; Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
More Info: Call 770-207-8937 or www.monroeartguild.org.