A pleasant historic complex of court yards and buildings lines the brick path to Sharon Church’s home and studio. The house is part of a posh horse barn that housed carriages and four large horse stalls. Her home is one cell of the barn, rehabilitated with human quarters on two floors. Plastered walls, timber cross beams, rafters, doors and original sliding stall doors provide a symbiotic setting for the artist’s wood carving and jewelry studio
THE LEARNING YEARS
Named as an American Craft Council Fellow in 2012, Church, 67, earned her B.S. degree at Skidmore College, and still has a square ebony and silver ring from that period. At the School for American Craftsmen, Rochester Institute of Technology, where she attended graduate school, Albert Paley was her teacher during the first year. This was her introduction to subtractive work. An art nouveau-like patterned hand mirror, a necklace with silver pendant/clasp, and a silver, lidded candy dish on four legs reflect the expertise in metals that Sharon had acquired by the end of graduate school.
In 1979, Sharon moved from Wilmington, Delaware to Philadelphia to take a teaching position at the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts). Hired by Dick Reinhardt, everything in her private and public life fell into place. Teaching spanned 35 years until retirement in 2014.
JOURNEYS IN HER WORK
Jewelry making paralleled Church’s teaching career; abundant sales through galleries reflected public appreciation of her constantly evolving work. In 1993, her husband suddenly passed away. When her work resumed, she took a dramatic turn and started carving wood as a key component of her jewelry and sculptures. The first wood piece, an homage to her late husband, resembles a fox head with two halves, one covered in 22-karat gold foil, and the other carved ebony. The findings are 14-karat yellow gold. Church observes that wood provides resistance against her wax-carving tools in an active and comforting way.
The dining room table is covered with piles of sketch books, a laptop, and books and other items for inspiration. Cut out sketches often guide her carving. Three walls in the adjacent studio showcase many interesting bits of natural, industrial, and man-made metal and wooden objects. From her years as a maker and educator, Sharon is a great observer of how things are made.
Many carved wood jewelry pieces emulated the piece made in response to her husband’s death, “It was the Most Beautiful Day of the Summer.” From 1989 to the present, Sharon has sold work through Philadelphia jewelry gallerist Helen W. Drutt English. Church’s wood pieces are large, curvilinear and complex, mixing curiosity and presence. Tall and elegantly stylish, Church provides the perfect model for her work.
After a lifetime in Philadelphia, her conversations with a broad and varied circle of artist friends help resolve works in progress. Now married again, Church attends openings, reads, and follows trends and discussions about endangered species and higher education. She particularly admires Sir Ken Robinson and his TED Talk entitled, “How Schools Kill Creativity.” She thinks back on the thirty-five years she taught metals at UArts. She and her faculty colleagues admit that their students taught them a lot over time.
Intriguing concepts are beautifully executed with fine materials, as The Beauty Thief (2013) exemplifies. A large black wood bug, with carved silver eyes and mica wings, alights on a metal pole angled into a wooden base. The Beauty Thief protects a pile of colorful cut jewels … equally protective of the real chips and the fakes.
- Maintain curiosity, experimentation, playing — the mica wings were an experiment with beautiful, fragile results.
- Give yourself permission — do what’s important to you. Once, she had to toss everything else aside and head to Washington, DC to protest the Vietnam War.
- Don’t allow anything to impose limits on your work.
—Tina C. LeCoff