When Delia McHugh asked her art teacher at Central Bucks West if she could borrow some oil pastels to finish up a piece, she was just “playing around” with a new medium.
“The students were learning to draw their own faces,” explains Allison Levin, the fine art instructor who loaned Delia the oil paints. “One of the first units we teach is the portrait unit.” Levin didn’t think much about the request to borrow the paints.
A few days later, Delia came back with what Levin describes as a “jaw-dropping, unbelievable” work of art. “She had never used oil pastels before, yet here was this beautiful self-portrait." That’s when Levin realized Delia’s extraordinary talent. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, who is this unbelievably gifted young woman?’ From that moment on, she just took flight,” Levin recalls.
For Delia, the ascension had begun a few years prior. Although art is something she describes as being a part of her, something she has done for as long as she can remember, it wasn’t until COVID that she made more of an effort to work on it. That included a giant oil painting she worked on every single day and also a mural on the basement wall in her parents' home.
“I wanted to do something big,” Delia says. “I asked my parents if I could just take a wall. And they said yes.”
Delia soon took over the entire space as her art studio. With the support of her parents and teachers like Mrs. Levin, Delia continued to develop her talent and delve deeper into its meaning to her. She reworked one painting, “Portrait of a Dreamer,” many times.
“I honestly can’t tell you where the idea for ‘Portrait of a Dreamer’ came from, just that it meant so much to me to finish it and use it for something,” she says. “I am an optimist. You can see that in the serenity of the drawing." She described the work as changing, just as she was changing at the time.
That work evolved into a beautiful painting that earned Delia “Best in Show” at the 2023 Phillips’ Mill Youth Art Exhibition. It was the first time she entered a work of art into the show, an experience she will likely never forget. “When I got to the show at Phillips’ Mill, oh my God, I was blown away. There were so many (artworks) I fell in love with, so many things I saw I wanted to try,” Delia recalls. “I loved just being there surrounded by amazing works. It was surreal.”
As she awaits her final college application decisions, Delia stresses that while art will always be a part of her life, she has no plans to pursue it as a career. “Art was something I always did for myself,” she says. As a child, she would draw characters from TV shows and books. “I liked putting on paper what was in my head,” she says.
Today, whether she puts her ideas on canvas, on paper, or on her basement wall, she is sure to intrigue and inspire those around her. “I knew very quickly, right away, just watching the way Delia crafted her sketches that she had an amazing talent,” says Mrs. Levin. “She is a high-achieving, highly focused student all around, but most of all Delia is a truly kind and caring human being.”