WATERTOWN — On its surface, the winning piece in the Best in Show award at the 73rd annual Juried Fall Art Show hosted by the North Country Arts Council features a whimsical image of a man with a frog.

But beneath it all, the Best in Show, “The Adventures of Froggy and Ghost Boy” reflects a common theme in the works of artist Taylor Ann Merchant. She specializes in the joys of life.

“The concept is about moving forward, finding the light in the darkness and thriving,” she said of her winning entry, an oil painting.

Ms. Merchant, who grew up in New Hampshire, is quite appreciative of finding that light after a dark time. She moved to Watertown, back to her roots, three years ago after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in studio art and painting from Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C., to be with her grandfather, David Derrigo, following the death of his wife, Dianne, who died in 2017 at the age of 75.

“The second I moved here, I found that I had renal failure and kidney disease,” Ms. Merchant said.

Following rounds of dialysis with physical symptoms that undercut her artistic passion, she underwent a kidney transplant on July 28, 2020. The donor was her older sister, Meagan.

“Where I am now, I’m still not up to a normal 30-year-old lifestyle. I still take it easy, but I definitely can’t believe where I am,” Ms. Merchant said. “I just know I wasn’t supposed to survive that surgery and somehow I came out of it unscathed.”

She came out of the surgery seeing the world with fresh eyes. Ms. Merchant shared her artist’s statement that reflects on her illness and recovery:

“This next level of consciousness opened up a new mindset of what I’m actually capable of accomplishing in my lifetime. Power of thought, power of mind. I possess power within visualization.”

When she paints, Ms. Merchant enters a new stream of consciousness — a place where she can “create and access the divine.”

Before her surgery at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, she painted images of herself waking up and being stronger than ever to deal with her anxiety.

“I was really terrified of what was going to happen when I went under anesthesia and when I woke up, how I was going to feel,” Ms. Merchant said. “I was totally euphoric when I woke up. The pain was like fire in my body, and my brain was immediately thinking about my sister who donated to me and she was three hours ahead of me in surgery. I was like, ‘I can’t believe she’s going through this much pain for me.’ I felt so much love. I never felt love like that before in my entire life. Even today, I thank her all the time. We talk all the time. Our bond is so strong. It’s just so crazy and beautiful in that it exists.”

That bond extends to other family members. Her mom often made the five-hour trip from Milford, N.H., to SUNY Upstate while Ms. Merchant was being treated there.

“My grandfather went to hell and back with me,” she said. “We’re just like best friends pretty much.”

Ms. Merchant’s plans for her art career are now back on track, She’s busy with commissioned assignments and she’s checking around for graduate schools. Her life purpose is to heal through art and to teach others how to heal themselves through their own creative processes.

Her “The Adventures of Froggy and Ghost Boy” features a profile of a friend. The subject has two faces; one reflective, the other looking forward. Meanwhile, a frog peeks out of the subject’s coat.

That frog reflects those “little angels” in our lives that help us to see the positives. It’s an attitude Ms. Merchant enjoys reflecting in her creations, including her commissioned pieces.

“Through the day, there are so many negative and positive things,” Ms. Merchant said. “There’s not enough time to focus on everything, so why not always choose the positive? Just do it, see how your life changes. People don’t understand how that concept can really work and change your life and mental health when you always revert to the positive.”

Ms. Merchant has four other works in the Juried Fall Art Show, on view at Dulles State Office Building through Saturday during normal business hours.

“Comet” features a snowy owl inspired by a dead owl discovered by her relatives on their Manlius property.

“It was the nurturing and the way they sent the owl to the afterlife, and the way my uncle teaches his kids,” Ms. Merchant said. “It really was so beautiful. Especially when I saw my little nieces carefully and loving set it into its grave. It’s just part of life. It’s the way we honor the dead and also grieve that’s interesting and important to me.”

Ms. Merchant’s “Devereaux’s Hair” at the show features a portrait of her younger sister. She also has a piece in the show titled, “Grandma,” profiling her grandfather’s sister.

Her fifth piece in the show is a commissioned work titled, “Babies at the Beach.”

She paints to share her intense gratitude, joy and positivity.

“If I could pick a niche, it would be like babies, animals and moms — the most loving things on Earth.”

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Winners of the North Country Arts Council’s 73rd annual Juried Fall Art Show:

Best in Show: “The Adventures of Froggy and Ghost Boy,” by Taylor Ann Merchant

Emerging Artist: “Jimi” by Jeff Mandigo

Drawing: “Old Union Hotel” by Thomas Podhrazsky

Sculpture: “Jake the Bottom Feeder” by Clifford Smith

Photography: “Knowing” by Kate Newtown

Oil painting: “Annie” by David Soderquist

Acrylic painting: “Light Harvest” by Kyle Zehr

Watercolor painting: “Watering Hole” by Jeannie Lampson

Ceramics: “Unintentionally Phallic Vase” by Seth Miller

Mixed media/other: “Stress Dreams” by Kate Newton

Graphic/digital art: “Phoenix Rising” by Hope Marshall

Textiles/metalwork: “To the Moon” by Theresa Mehaffy

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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