As a child, Lynette Nichols of Tooele, practiced drawing the perfect circle without tools. She considered herself strictly a doodler and didn’t recognize she drew in the company of giants.
Like the famous renaissance artist, Giotto, who sought a commission from Pope Benedict XI by drawing one perfect circle without the aid of a compass and then received the commission, Nichols’ circles have set her apart, too. These circles have led her on a fulfilling journey, as she began to discover art and a culture — both of which she seemed destined to explore.
“Ever since I was a kid, I drew circles,” Nichols said, who is now 58. “I would draw circle after circle just because I liked looking at them and watching them get better and more perfect. I would just doodle. I never kept anything.”
But that began to change eight years ago when she moved back to Utah from White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona.
Living back in Utah, her heart remembered the Apache’s bond with nature — the descriptive beauty of the Apache’s language, the colorful camp dresses and the spiritual significance of their crown dancers.
Nichols said she longed to reconnect with that culture, so she began searching for ways to do it.
“I knew I loved to doodle, but I had never really taken art classes. I just decided I wanted to draw,” she said.
At first, Nichols drew more circles. However the drawings became representational, including elements like suns, mountains, rivers and trees. These were filled with patterns based on Native American design and included straight lines.
“I never sat down and just decided this is what I am going to draw,” Nichols said. “Two things that I love blended together. It shows a lot of who I am because of the designs and the nature aspect of it.”
Salt Lake City is where Nichols was born and raised, and it was where Nichols met Isaiah. Isaiah was an Apache participating in the LDS Placement Program. They married and five years later moved to Arizona’s remote White Mountain Apache reservation.
Nichols and Isaiah moved to the reservation when she was 28. There, she learned a lot about the Apache culture, including the language. She sewed beaded camp dresses for her daughters. She cradle-boarded her babies.
Nichols said she even respected the medicine women praying over her family, even though she practiced a different religion.
“His mom was really good to teach me,” Nichols said of her mother-in-law.
On the reservation, Nichols absorbed nature and the tribal culture, especially in the outdoor program for Apache youth that the family ran. The family received a “Healthy Nations” grant to build and run the program, which included teaching climbing, whitewater rafting and a ropes course.
They ran this program for 15 years, she added.
After 30 years of marriage, however, she and Isaiah divorced. Nichols returned to Utah.
“I was really immersed in the culture. It was an amazing culture. It molded who I am, even now,” Nichols said. “I’m just thankful for it.”
Nichols continued her doodling. The circle doodles became representational on her return to Utah. She secured an office job at TruHearing, a hearing aid business. There she married Dennis Nichols.
All this time, though, Nichols never considered herself an artist.
“I just drew ‘cause I loved it,” she said.
Then two years ago, Nichols took her art to work. After her co-workers raved, she began thinking differently about her art.
“People kept saying ‘why don’t you sell your art? It’s amazing, it’s different, it’s unique,’” Nichols said.
She attended the Eclipse Festival in Prineville, Oregon, in August 2017. And, her outlook about her work evolved even more. She seemed to find her muse in nature.
“I knew we were going to be on a lake, and I knew there would be mountains and pine trees, so I drew that. Made some prints. People went crazy for it,” Nichols said. “That made me think ‘maybe I should do this.’”
In May 2018, she quit her job at TruHearing to pursue her art.
“They were so good to me, but it was an office job. I wasn’t built for that,” Nichols said.
“I have to do this now in my life because I’m getting older and it’s a lot of physical work to go and set up a canopy and get all your walls up and all your things hung,” Nichols said.
However, all the physical work, she found, fed her art.
“I have finally learned to really love showing my work and not being too concerned,” Nichols said. “Not everyone is going to connect to your art. But when they do, and I see it and I feel it, that’s what motivates me to want to keep drawing.”
Nichols will do 14 shows this year.
“It’s just fun to talk to people about my art and hear their stories,” she said. “I’m totally exhausted at the end of the day because I don’t generally talk that much.”
Nichols not only enjoys feedback from the crowd, but she also consults with other artists at shows.
One fellow artist told Nichols to check out the annual Spring Salon at the Springville Museum of Art. The artist indicated how many Utah artists consider the gallery a rite of passage. The Salon exhibits about 200 pieces by Utah artists, which is only about one-third of the pieces submitted.
The Salon aims to acquaint people with what is happening in the Utah art scene.
Nichols went for it and entered the Spring Salon 2015. The Salon accepted two of her pieces. One piece was “The Tree of Wisdom,” which the St. George Museum of Art bought.
Nichols continued entering pieces every year in the Salon, except for 2016, and she has been accepted every year.
This year the Salon accepted “Red Rock Waterfall,” a cascade of patterns in oranges and blues with a circle — the sun.
Nichols said her art springs from her imagination. She never uses photographs or preliminary drawings.
“I get a piece of paper and say, ‘I’m going to do one this big,’ and it just develops,” she said.
Nichols uses wallpaper and matte board because there is already tone and texture. She does not use compasses or rulers, only pen and ink.
“I never give up on a piece,” she said. “If I make a mistake, I always figure out a way to fix it or work it into my piece.”
Currently, Nichols is creating a coloring book and a big piece with lightning.
Nichols’ art only represents the actual Native American designs because many designs are considered sacred, even though they have received more exposure lately.
“I don’t want to say they’ve lost their spiritual component, they’re just more exposed,” she said. “Since there is more exposure, I felt more comfortable with drawing a crown dancer, but I didn’t try to bring in the spiritual things that may be on their headdresses.”
Nichols also finds spirituality in her own art.
“A lot of my belief and spirituality comes from what has been created,” Nichols said. “When I feel closest to my creator is when I’m out in nature.”
As a result, Nichols’ art combines Native American culture and nature.
“I just love nature. That’s what my business is called — ‘Blended with Nature,’” she said.
This spiritual blend of Apache culture and nature comes effortlessly for her.
Like Giotto, who painted spiritual themes on St. Peter’s Basilica, Nichols has evolved into a spiritual artist. Both artists’ projects began by seeking ‘perfection,’ drawing a perfect circle without tools. And like Giotto, Nichols is now a local Utah artist who has now found her niche, blending two things that have brought her joy: nature and Native American culture.
Her latest work will be exhibited at the Springville Salon until July 7, 2018.