Omaha artist selected for award and exhibition


Megan Fabry

Holly Tharnish, an artist, is sitting in a chair and painting.
Tharnish creates new works of art in her home studio using paint, charcoal and numerous other forms of expression. Photo courtesy of Holly Tharnish.

University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) alumna Holly Tharnish opened her first solo exhibition after she was chosen as the sole recipient of the Connor Meigs Art Award.

Tharnish, who graduated from UNO in 2019 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a minor in art history, has loved art since she was old enough to hold a crayon. Although painting is a passion of hers, she uses other mediums such as charcoal drawings, object assemblages and sculpting to deepen her understanding and skill through different outlets in the creative process.

Tharnish worked tirelessly in her classes to ensure she was submitting the highest quality projects. This was quickly noticed by professor David Helm, who instructed her in several sculpting classes and recommended her for the Connor Meigs Art Award.

“During the time that Holly studied with us, she was identified as one of our best students,” Helm said. “She worked endless hours on her paintings, researched work voraciously, was well prepared for every class—often going above and beyond her peers.”

Connor Meigs, the namesake of the art award, was an art student at the University of Kansas when he was involved in a fatal car accident in 2004. Connor’s mother Linda Meigs, a local artist, discussed organizing his first exhibit at the Florence Mill after he graduated, but he died halfway through his sophomore year. She created the award in the summer of 2007 with the goal of helping young artists get their work out in the world.

“I give another what I had promised to Connor,” Meigs said. “The Connor Meigs Award was a way to transform the loss of Connor’s artistic gift into a legacy to help other deserving young artists. It launches a young artist’s art careers with a merit award and a first solo exhibit that counts on their resume. And, it turns out, there is something magical in that. It also helped heal our family’s heart.”

The award included a solo exhibition at the Florence Mill, an honorarium and visits with local artists. Tharnish’s exhibition was inspired by figures in her family history and the concepts of heritage and identity. It showcases 11 oil paintings, seven drawings, and object assemblages that consist of historical documents, photographs and small objects. She worked on this collection over the course of three semesters at UNO.

“I employed self-portraiture as a means to examine myself and draw connections between my life and the lives of the women who came before me,” Tharnish said.

Though Tharnish knew from a young age she wanted to become an artist, she discovered that pursuing art through higher education could create endless possibilities.

“Studying art at UNO did wonders for honing my artistic skills,” Tharnish said. “I have been making art for as long as I can remember, and the decision to pursue this as a career was a no-brainer for me. Learning from the amazing teachers at UNO widened my horizons and pushed me explore things I would never have tried. Being a child taught me to love making art—studying art at UNO taught me how to think like an artist.”

Tharnish’s exhibition will remain on display through the first weekend of October at Florence Mill and is free to the public.