FREEPORT — As she stood before her painting "Icelandic Sheep,” Phyllis Bergagna of Freeport received congratulations from many after it was announced she was the first place winner at the 15th annual Juried Exhibition at Freeport Art Museum.

Bergagna, who has made the arts a big part of her 86 years on this earth, took up painting as an expression of her love for the arts. A former music teacher, she still takes art classes and said, “With each stroke, art is about expression.”

Bergagna was among 44 artists included in this year’s exhibition. There were more than 200 submissions from 60 artists. Special guest juror Kathy Knapp, graphic designer and co-director of the Wantoot Gallery in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, selected the art for the exhibition, which was unveiled on Nov. 17 at the museum.

Featuring contemporary art created by artists living in the tri-state region of Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, the juried art exhibit continues a tradition of displaying some of the finest works materializing in the heart of the Midwest. Jessica Modica, executive director of FAM, said: “The museum is thrilled to present this exhibition, which provides a venue for emerging and established artists to debut their latest artistic pursuits.”

Bergagna said when she began developing her passion for creating art, she started with drawings and with formal painting classes she merged a love for art into creating on canvas. Working mostly in acrylics, she said receiving first place for the juried show is “overwhelming.”

“It means I am among good art and adds more life for the appreciation of my own art,” Bergagna said. “Painting is an extension of my love for the arts. I like to paint, and it’s nice to know that someone thinks I am good enough for juried art consideration.”

When asked about Bergagna’s work for the show, Knapp said, “I loved it immediately. It felt comfortable and on the surface, it appears simple, but when you study it, it is incredibly complex.”

Speaking to the crowd that gathered at the reception to view the art and listen to the announcements of the winners, Modica said, “This is a show that gives artists in our region an opportunity to showcase their latest work.”

Receiving second place in the show for his work entitled, “No. 722” was Kurt Kreissle of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and third place went to Doina Iacob of Wood Dale with a piece entitled “Winter Night.”

The exhibit will be on view through Feb. 16 at the museum located at 121 North Harlem Avenue in Freeport. For more information on the exhibit, visit freeportartmuseum.org.

Jane Lethlean; jlethlean1210@gmail.com; @DOGWMN2