JEWELRY ARTIST AND EDUCATOR SHARON CHURCH WAS A LONGTIME SNAG MEMBER, FORMER SNAG BOARD MEMBER, AND THE 2018 RECIPIENT OF THE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD. SHE SERVED ON METALSMITH’S EDITORIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE UNDER EDITOR EMERITA SUZANNE RAMLJAK.
METALSMITH INVITED PERSONAL REMEMBRANCES FROM SHARON’S COMMUNITY. AN ABRIDGED SELECTION WERE PUBLISHED IN ISSUE 43 NO. 1 IN MARCH OF 2023.
HELEN W. DRUTT ENGLISH
The past years of Sharon’s life were difficult, denying her the retirement time of travel, leisure hours with family, friends and colleagues, as well as her passion of working at the bench. She fed her artistic soul with extensive drawing when she could no longer carve wood or fabricate with metal. Her drawings are like Albrecht Durer’s (German, 1471-1528)—mysterious, fine, an exquisite touch from the hand to the paper. Finally debilitated by the disease Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, Sharon could no longer express herself creatively.
We had known of each other since 1971—in the first few years solely through a mutual awareness of our activities during her student years and the emergence of my professional activities. The awareness and actual contact came in 1973 during the Wendy Ramshaw/ David Watkins exhibition at the AIA Gallery, sponsored by the Philadelphia Council of Professional Craftsmen (P.C.P.C.) and the Matthew Bishop Platinum Corporation. In addition, in Craftsmen ’73 at the Museum of the Philadelphia Civic Center I awarded her an honorable mention for her carved aluminum hand-mirror. The decades deepened our relationship as we were joined in our professional and personal lives. I encouraged her to “give up the beads” and to continue exploring carving as she made “lush foliate imagery … [which created] metaphors about life and longing.”
Our epistolary relationship reveals her deep philosophical connections, her wit in relating personal adventures as well as her professional commitment to education, art, students and family. During the past two years I wrote daily postcards to Sharon keeping her informed of events, meetings or pure gossip close to her heart.
The anguish of Sharon’s illness is over, and her presence on this earth will never leave. Sharon’s position with the history of American Crafts is secured by the placement of her works in national and international public and private collections, and by her contributions as a dedicated artist and maker of extraordinary jewelry and objects.
Sharon’s legacy is also held in the friendships with her colleagues—both past and present—as well as with those whose education in our field was enriched by her commitment to teaching—generations to come will be enlightened by her “footprints” on this earth.
Studio jeweler and author of “The Articulation of Desire,” Metalsmith, vol. 19, no. 1, 1997, pp. 14-25.
In order to do my best writing, I think I have to fall in love a bit with my subject. With Sharon it was easy and instantaneous. In 1995, Pat Flynn, the subject of my first Metalsmith feature article, suggested that I talk to Sharon Church about his work. Sharon and I bonded over our matching leopard print gloves and I knew I wanted her to be my next subject. In February 1997 I spent a day at her home and studio. We talked while she prepared lunch, then spent several hours over a slide show she had put together with a chronology of her work. From this encounter grew a cherished friendship.
In those early days I taped my conversations with the artists, transcribed them, and worked from the transcriptions. After Sharon died I pulled out my file and found not only the original tapes, but my typed transcription, complete with notes and highlighting. Writing now in the shadow of her death, so many of her comments seem prophetic. Themes that engaged her throughout her life and work—beauty, creation and procreation, creating something where there was nothing—are consistently there. They seem only more vivid in the weight of her absence. Here are a few of her comments from that day:
“I’m interested in protecting and defining and moving beyond the earthly plane.”
“…Drawing has always been a way for me to connect with myself. There’s nothing in between the drawing and me….When I’m drawing from nature it’s to understand the form, and when I’m drawing from my imagination it’s to understand my own interests.”
In “Envy,” the piece on the cover of Metalsmith, the leaves are “forged out of really thick sheet….I was working with spoon stakes and wood and hammers and getting the metal to be sort of like clay. They weren’t cast….In a grounded way, through a female understanding of physical life, like birthing my daughter… each blow goes to my efforts to create something.”
Re: the frank eroticism in her work: “That’s what the floral world is all about….I’m hoping to just discover there’s joy in being alive, to celebrate, and at the same time to be mindful of death in a celebration of life.”
I met Sharon in the late 1970’s when we were both exhibiting at the American Craft Council’s Rhinebeck Craft Fair. Not too long after, we reconnected in our chosen city of Philadelphia. Raised as a debutante, Sharon rebelled and chose to live the life of an artist and a teacher, and she was amazingly skilled at both. I know this first hand because, for 14 years, I was a part-time teaching colleague. With her quiet but engaging manner, she could make family, friends, visiting artists, students, and even strangers feel appreciated, and very special. On any visit to Sharon’s home, I was greeted with an open bottle of seltzer because she remembered I drank it warm and flat (feel free to roll your eyes). She took the job of hostess seriously. Usually that meant a spiral ham, a platter of deviled eggs, and cloth napkins. Gifts were always carefully chosen for the recipient and exquisitely wrapped. Some of the ones we received over the years we still cherish… 2 foil-wrapped owl pellets attached with a red grosgrain ribbon to a package whose contents I can no longer recall, an emu egg, an amazingly beautiful and very large Banksia Pod (the fruit of an Australian tree that is sold as a carving material), a pair of antique rimless spectacles that were “possibly my grandmothers,” a very old heart-shaped pin cushion which, when gifted, was home to 2 beautiful antique stick pins. And, happily for me, there were occasionally clothing and shoes Sharon had tired of, but knew would enjoy a second appreciative life with me.
When she was preparing for her one-person show at Sienna Patti Gallery, Sharon invited me to come see the completed work before it was delivered to the gallery. She unwrapped each new piece from its crisp tissue paper blanket, as if handling a baby. I felt so blessed to share this private time with her, to watch her hold each piece in her hands. When we were finished sharing in the joy of these creations, she took fresh new sheets of tissue paper and lovingly wrapped her work up again. All the debutante training had paid off.
Not too long after that, Sharon’s illness slowly took hold, and increasingly, it threatened to rob her of her essence. She tried for as long as she could to hold onto the things she held most dear in life. On our last visit in mid-October, my husband, Rod McCormick, and I brought a birthday cake from a favorite bakery of hers, to mark her 74th birthday. And I decided to pack some slices of French toast I had made that morning, hoping it would bring her some small joy. She had had breakfast not too long before we arrived, and so the French toast stayed down in the kitchen. Instead, we shared memories with her of beautiful times when our children were young together. Sharon had her daughter, Eliza, in 1987, and demonstrated to us in a myriad of ways, that being a parent and an artist simultaneously, though not easy, was indeed possible and worthwhile. The example she set is the reason why we have 2 daughters of our own. During that birthday visit, I reminded Sharon of a time when she was taking care of our younger daughter, Sonya, who was not quite two years old at the time. Sonya must have been quite smitten with Sharon’s beautiful leopard-patterned ballet flats, because she set out to copy Sharon’s style. She got hold of a blue pencil and began embellishing her navy and white saddle shoes as best she could. When we came to pick her up, Sharon was so apologetic that she did not see this happening in time to stop it. But we thought the whole thing was wonderful and have kept those baby shoes all these years because this incident marked the start of Sonya‘s creative life, and Sharon was there to witness it. Sixteen years later, Sonya started college just as Sharon was preparing to retire. How fortunate that Sonya was able to take a few jewelry classes with Sharon during her last year of teaching. (Now Sonya too is an amazing carver of wax and wood, with no small thanks to her mentor.)
After about 45 minutes of visiting and, much of the time, holding Sharon’s hand, her wonderful, attentive caretaker asked her if she was getting tired and needed to rest, or wanted something to eat. To our surprise, Sharon asked for some French toast. We went downstairs and prepared a few small slices with maple syrup, then cut them up into bite size pieces. We fed her a few pieces and she seemed to enjoy it. But what I actually witnessed was that gracious hostess, hidden inside a failing body, still caring for her guests, and making them feel welcome and appreciated, until the very end.
I met Sharon Church at a birthday party I hosted for Philadelphia’s grande dame of artist jewelry and ceramics: Helen Drutt. Sharon, who had offered to help with the party, arrived with a bright smile on her face. In her right arm, she hugged a bursting bouquet of flowers of different colors and different lengths, and in her left hand she held a bag with a decorated birthday cake, candles, matches, and napkins.
I had longed to own a piece of Sharon’s exquisite jewelry, but every time I saw a piece of her work at Helen’s gallery, it had already been spoken for. After meeting Sharon, I understood why. First and foremost, Sharon was devoted to her students, past, present and future, her colleagues, and the University of the Arts. She joyfully worked long days teaching, nourishing, and inspiring her students and looking for ways to enrich her their experiences. Her own blissful jewelry-making took a back seat.
Sharon and I met over lunch now and then, exchanging information about jewelry artists I had come across in my travels, and the work of Philadelphia jewelry students Sharon thought were outstanding. (See Note 1 below). One fall day in 2009 I made an appointment to meet with Sharon in her office to discuss creating a Visiting Artist Program at the University of the Arts for Jewelry and Craft Artists from other parts of the world. Sharon jumped at the idea.
So it was that in September 2010, my friend the unforgettable Berlin-based Jewelry artist Svenja John arrived at my doorstep with suitcases in hand. She moved into the apartment in the bottom floor of my house, freshened up and set off to explore the neighborhood. The next morning, I walked Svenja over to the University of the Art where she set up shop for the next school year. She taught classes and invited students to observe her as she told them what she was doing and answered questions. The students watched as Svenja create a new series of brooches in different colors. (See article by Marjorie Simon, Metalsmith Magazine, Vol. 3 No.3-2011 The picture on the cover is an image of a piece in the series Svenja made in Philadelphia. I own that brooch and many other works by Svenja.). Sharon arranged for an exhibition of Svenja’s jewelry at Philadelphia’s Art Alliance.
Like all of us who Sharon touched, I am better for having known her.
It was always a joy to be in the presence of Sharon. Her upbeat smile and always a creative and open heart of gratitude. I recall with great fondness times that I was in her presence. She was always so supportive to the other artists in our field.
Her technical skills and overview of personal adornment was such a gift for many of the younger people following the path of creative curiosity and studio practice. She was a gift to the field of education and her willingness to serve and give time to numerous organizations. We are all forever in gratitude for Sharon’s openness and willingness to step in to serve. She will be greatly missed by her loved ones, and there will be those who will meet her in numerous articles or catalogues, with photographs celebrating her extraordinary work.
Sharon Church was a lovely woman. I didn’t see her often but when we were reunited at an event or shows, our connection and friendship prevailed like it was yesterday.
I respect her drive to be an active artist producing one-of-a-kind pieces while carrying the responsibilities of teaching at the same time. She obviously enjoyed people and respected her peers, and thrived in their company.
We will all miss her, yet the influence of her art will remain in our minds
We are indeed fortunate in our field, to have a community of bright, talented, kind and generous peers. I see these characteristics as the major reason we have advanced as much as we have over the last fifty years. Sharon Church had all these qualities in abundance and was among the best of us, a class act both personally and professionally.
Our field was enriched by her presence and her loss will be deeply felt by me and so many others. On a more personal note, given how busy Sharon was, I was grateful as SNAG President that when I asked for her assistance on a project, she would raise well reasoned concerns, give it some thought, and then say yes. Of course, she always hit it out of the park. One of those projects was organizing and launching the first Education Dialogue, which has been part of every subsequent SNAG conference.
After attending our SNAG Board meeting in the mid 80’s, Sharon and I decided to extend our trip and visit the Grand Canyon.
Overwhelmed by the view, we watched a distant thunderstorm in that vast expanse. It seemed that time stood still—if it only could. I will miss her terribly as will our community of makers.
Sharon Church encapsulated graciousness and resilience. She was a rare combination of artist, educator, goldsmith, jeweler, wood carver, and assembler of beauty. Her keen observations of nature—and it’s proof of life, death, and survival,—inspired her to create expressions of the depth of her own joys and sorrows. All were all so personal and so masterfully executed that upon inception they spoke to a universality. Sharon Church’s exquisite artwork will now inspire makers, wearers, givers and keepers of jewelry for generations to come.
Sharon was a lovely person, caring and elegant and thoughtful. She was much loved by her students at the University of the Arts. Kind and supportive, she became a second mother for many of them. She also imparted a deep respect for craftsmanship, a gift that has served many of her former students well. A large number continue their practice to this day.
I believe Sharon was one of the best American jewelers. Ever. If history has any justice in it, she will be remembered for a very long time. Her work was impeccably crafted, beautiful, and tinged with darkness. It was the darkness that gave her work its power. After the death of her first husband, Andy, the scent of death and decay was never too far away. When contrasted against her ever-present sense of beauty, the effect was mesmerizing.
My favorite of her pieces was an incredible brooch in the form of a frog. It was inspired by a flattened frog she found on the street, and always kept in her studio. The brooch was worn belly-out, like a specimen pinned to the body. The frog was carved and painted wood, rendered in exquisite detail, almost hyper-real. On the back were two keepers for the studs, both of them resembling fantastic golden crowns. Seen as an object off the body, the keepers perched on top the otherwise photorealistic frog. They were completely inexplicable and shockingly beautiful, maybe even excessive. I have never seen anything like that brooch. It was a marvel.
I so enjoyed talking to Sharon, because she always had something interesting to say about jewelry. She was deeply attuned to the psychology of a woman wearing jewelry. She spoke of jewelry as psychic armor, preparing a woman to endure the travails of social life. And she practiced what she preached: she always wore her own jewelry, and always made a statement with it.
Those of us who knew her are fortunate to have made her acquaintance. We’ll never forget her elegance, her quirky intelligence, her resolute kindness. She will be sorely missed.
A timeless warmth and elegance with an unforgettable nuance describes Sharon Church and her career-long studio vocabulary. I was a lifelong Philadelphian. Sharon always made me feel welcomed. The same with her enticing, remarkable, and seductive works.
JILL BAKER GOWER
I met Sharon Church 15 years ago after I had recently relocated to South Jersey to accept a full time teaching position. I was new to the East Coast and the Philadelphia region and Sharon invited me to visit the University of the Arts. I was nervous, but she was so welcoming, supportive, and encouraging. From then on she included me in gatherings for University of the Arts and Philadelphia metals/jewelry related get togethers and exhibitions. I felt right from the start that I belonged in this community. This is the Sharon I knew, no ego, no competition, no exclusivity, just nurturing and support for a young female metalsmith and educator. I could tell without witnessing her teach that she would be an amazing person to study jewelry/metals with. I’m thankful for the small time I spent with Sharon, she left an impression on me that helps to keep me a motivated and confident educator and maker.
The graceful eloquence of Sharon Church:
It was the greatest honor of my teaching career to pick up where Sharon left off at The University of the Arts upon her retirement. Although Sharon and I did not have a great deal of time together, I came to know her through her absence. Looking at the university’s library collection she undoubtedly curated for her students, I searched her direction and witnessed her intentions. I discovered her choices and clear mark within the jewelry/metals curriculum and craft program. Standing in her wake there was so much to hold and admire.
Sharon allowed others to become the best versions of themselves—through opportunity, generosity, and always modeling graceful eloquence. The brief and occasional moments we were able to share together remain clear in my mind—the way significant memories crystalize. Being in Sharon’s orbit left me with a greater understanding of my abilities and a determination to reach even further. Nine years from her retirement, I clearly see her influence and the directions she indirectly and knowingly pointed me towards. This is true for generations of students she guided with steadfast mentorship, dedication, and her incredible depth of skill.
It is difficult to comprehend Sharon physically not being here with us. So many of our jewelry heroes have left us recently.
Sharon’s legacy and immense gifts will survive her passing and continually ripple out amongst us. We are fortunate to be able to experience the results of her exquisite workmanship, the continued efforts of her students and the invisible yet known traces remaining of her influence and grandeur.
Long live Sharon!
Sharon was my best friend and colleague for many years. Her loss is so vast and unmeasurable that it feels utterly pitiful to try to express it in words. I loved her and was loved by her and for that, my world was an infinitely better place to be.
I met Sharon in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s. I remember she curated a piece of mine into an exhibition called “Gothic Affinities”—which meant a great deal to me. My memories of meeting her were how beautiful, smart, and kind she was! There was something radiant about her that I (and many others) found magnetic. It’s easy enough to list the superlative qualities that made her so lovable: her strength, courage, pragmatism, her dignity, morality, her sense of humor (she could get pretty dark!), her humanity and her sense of the spiritual. She wasn’t trying to be these things, she didn’t make a big deal of them, nor was she falsely modest. She was just herself—a really authentic, good person. Her assumption that she was somehow average brought us all up a notch or two in the universe.
Sharon was the best teacher I ever met, and I really, truly loved teaching with her. I know that I learned as much as any student, maybe more. I still think “What would Sharon do?” on regular basis. As a teacher, she was passionate about education and uncompromising in her ability to deeply care for the students’ progress, all the while prioritizing art and craft. She taught me that teaching involved risk—because truly caring would inevitably pit encouragement and challenge against each other. But she was really good at balancing the two. She showed me that one can be constructive and supportive without lowering standards or enabling underachieving.
Sharon and I co-taught a class at University of the Arts called Projects for about ten years, on and off. Often, we gave an assignment called the Beauty Project (which was essentially to make something responding to the idea of beauty however you understand it). Sharon’s belief in beauty and craft was absolutely radical in that it rejected much of 20th century art theory in favor of her lived experience (although I am not sure she would have recognized how radical it was!). That beauty and craft were somehow important to art or to life was a concept that had been disparaged in my own education. I was used to people saying beauty was superficial and that craft was merely a means to an end and that they were both irrelevant to Art. Sharon taught me that by depriving myself beauty and craft, I was cutting myself off from both power and inspiration. That by rejecting sensual pleasure and denying the intelligence of handwork, I might be missing the profoundly important relationship beauty and craft have to caring and value. She understood that beauty is a word we give to the things in life we most love and cherish—the things we choose to value and care for rather than mistreat, throw out, or destroy.
Sharon taught me that Craft itself had enough dignity, tradition, relevance, and meaning that one need not grovel at the feet of fine art for validation. She taught me to stop apologizing for Craft!
The core principles of craft, of ornament, were not frivolous, but evidence of what lengths human beings are willing to sacrifice to prove they give a damn! Sharon’s life, work and relationships all embodied the idea that if you care enough, it will be manifest in the work you make. And this was how she taught me that art might be said to be a spiritual act. That beauty and craft are, unto themselves, a form of meaning and an avatar of love.
And what was her main way of teaching this? By living by these principles and by admitting when she was struggling and when she felt vulnerable to failure. She never, ever made it sound easy! But she did make it sound possible, and I can’t imagine a greater gift than that.
Sharon was a brilliant teacher and artist, this was obvious. But that all sounds very lofty and my experience of Sharon was that of very close friend, first and foremost. I just adored her. We used to talk a lot. We shared about what we thought was sublime and what we found ridiculous, what we felt we knew best about, and what we just couldn’t ever understand about life. I don’t recall ever feeling we disagreed, but it could well be that she one of her greatest gifts was the ability to cultivate feelings of connectedness over separation.
I feel so lucky to have had such a wonderful friend.
Long live Sharon!
When news of Sharon’s death hit social media there was an immediate response. Many wrote about her impressive, beautiful, and influential studio work. Former students wrote about how their time with Sharon had shaped their professional (and personal) lives. What can I add? After thirty some odd years of teaching together, more than anyone else, I got to observe and share her life as a professor, so I can speak to that. As an educator, Sharon brought the same kind of passion to her teaching and service to the University as she brought to her own studio work. We carpooled together for years, and endured the geological passage of time during faculty meetings and committee sessions. We dug our hands into the administrative offal and detritus that go into the making of the academic sausage. We loved it when we could actually teach, when we could be in our studio classroom. As Sharon wrote, “We all celebrate that moment when a student reaches beyond what he or she has been taught and leaps into the unknown.” Her teaching was as creative and influential as her art work, and each endeavor informed the other.
One semester I had just come back from sabbatical and I found myself incognito in the elevator with two students who were discussing jewelry courses with Sharon and a part-time faculty member:
“Did you have the class with the woman or the man?
“The guy.” He’s like, “do what you want.”
“Yeah, the woman is “First you’ve got to do this, then you have to do that, then you have to do that…”
That was Sharon.
One of the things that made Sharon a great teacher was her thoroughness and the level of detail she brought to her demonstrations and interactions with students. She made students take responsibility for their work. She was persistent. She was able to bring them along and entice them into sharing her passion and her high standards.
She brought vision and innovation to curriculum. Early on she observed that core concepts in all of the craft areas (ceramics, fiber, glass, jewelry/metals and wood/furniture) were closely aligned. In collaboration with her colleagues, she developed a sequential series of studio “Projects” courses which students in all media took together. Technique was taught in other offerings; the “Projects” courses allowed for depth, invention, cross-pollination and, again, encouraged students to take responsibility for their own work. In her jewelry courses she managed to cover an impressive amount of jewelry technique. For the program she developed courses as pragmatic as “Jewelry Rendering for Designers” or as visionary and conceptual as “Art for the Body,” as standard as “Intro to Jewelry” or as fanciful as a Paris travel course to solve the mysterious disappearance of the fabled “Queen’s Necklace,” a major piece of diamond jewelry which vanished just prior to the French Revolution and has never been seen again.
Any chore could inspire Sharon. Once, in need of a last-minute recruiting brochure, her solution was to hire a photographer and drag an anvil down to the traffic island in the middle of Broad Street. The resulting photos of a hair blowing in the wind, hammer-wielding student perfectly communicated the excitement of studying art in an urban environment. And the shoot must have amused a steady stream of startled motorists.
In everything she did, Sharon conjured up grace and perfection. Her artist lectures were legendary. Her studio was like a museum display. Her teaching produced alumni who would go on to find their proper role in life—some who were clearly within the field as studio artists, entrepreneurs, designers, teachers—and some who applied Sharon’s way of seeing and thinking to an amazing array of seemingly unrelated endeavors.
I was surprised when Sharon chose to retire promptly at the age of 65—she did so love teaching. But I was excited when she threw herself into the studio and produced a body of work for her 2016 show at Sienna Patti Gallery. As it turned out, the show was to be her crowning achievement. It was as if she had a premonition that she had only a limited time to complete the final chapter of her studio work. And to complete the final chapter of her life. For those of us who loved her, the fact that she accomplished so much is some small solace as we mourn her death.
Here’s a memory of our beloved Sharon:
One of our first projects as a jewelry major at the University of the Arts during the early 2000’s was to make a charm bracelet, using the traditional soldered jump ring method. I remember spending all weekend in the studio trying to perfect each link, having watched Sharon so effortlessly solder her demo piece together earlier that week. I have always learned best through repetition and by making many a mistake. Suffice it to say my charm bracelet was less than technically perfect, having hammered my unsoldered links first and later attempting to solder them together. I don’t recall how the actual group critique went, but I remember Sharon quietly looking at my piece later and saying to me, “this is not great, so you’ll make it again.”
Sharon was tough, but honest, and very much like a mother during that time. She bestowed confidence in each of her students to keep going when the days were long or a piece didn’t turn out as expected. I would not be the jeweler I am today if it wasn’t for her. Over twenty years later I still “make it again” because of Sharon, and still very much enjoy the simplicity of a well made piece of jewelry made from soldered jump rings . Thank you, Sharon, for the excellence you’ve brought to this amazing field, I am humbled to have been one of your students!
I remember Sharon saying “Slow is fast when it comes to making jewelry.” For some reason this stuck with me and I try to keep it in mind when I’m working, such a simple mantra but so good!
Re-reading my message to Sharon upon her retirement from teaching in 2014, while reflecting upon Sharon’s life…I don’t know that there’s anything more I can say. ‘Thank you’ just about sums it up.
Here is what I wrote to Sharon in 2014:
While I’m sure this compendium will contain hundreds of similar sentiments, here they are in my own words:
Thank you for your passion, as an educator and for our craft. When I first heard you describe all of the gold on this earth coming from stars that was then passed through the hands of metalsmith to metalsmith…the history, the magic…I was in awe then and still am today.
Thank you for your encouragement. I’ll never forget our first, informal critique. It was during my intro to metals final evaluation with Chris Darway. As you passed by the conference table, he introduced us and invited you to look at my work. You said, “It’s starting to look like jewelry. Promising.” and I thought, “Sharon Church likes my work!”
Thank you for believing in me. Your recommendation and guidance through the Fulbright application process, along with Jim Makins and Rod McCormick, led to one of the most adventurous years of my life.
Thank you for all your pearls of wisdom. From “Always wear your work!” to “If I drop my earrings, I just add another diamond.” your words still resonate.
The list could go on and on. Just know that I feel blessed to have had you as an instructor, a mentor, a friend. While this era comes to an end, I know it’s just the beginning of another epic chapter. Best wishes as you continue the great endeavor.
I was a student of Sharon’s from 2002-2005. She was so very special.
Sharon taught in a way I’ve never known anyone else to teach. She taught the religion of metal. Of being a maker. It was important for her to be known as a jeweler. She valued the “Big Melt.” All metal contains all the metal of the past. All metal is ancient, centuries of reimagining. Working it connects us to our history. A diamond’s value is in its material strength. Wood represents life through death, and she breathed another life into it. Students of Sharon’s are connected like children who were raised in the same cult. She was pure grace, magic, and commitment. She taught us that making was a spiritual practice. She gave a lot of herself to us and expected a lot in return.
Sharon once made a brooch that contained a note. She had slipped the note in the piece before closing off the central space. Only she knew it was there, it was only for her. She put meaning in everything.
I came to class in tears one day—my cat had died. She told me about her cat, Tourmaline, who she loved very much. We cried and laughed. She was always willing to connect.
I’ll never forget a lecture of hers where she talked about the triptych she made after her first husband died. Visually it’s a little unassuming, titled, “It Was The Most Beautiful Day of the Summer”, which described the day he went for a run and didn’t come home. I’ll never forget the power of that title. It transformed how I thought about art. She could make anything profound.
She was honest. She had impeccable style. She loved to bond with people. She loved to talk about her daughter. She loved to laugh.
Thank you for the call for memories and the opportunity to share.
Sharon was my first jewelry instructor in 1976 when I took a Skidmore Summer Six class with her. I had never touched metal before that. As soon as I started working with the material I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Sharon was an excellent instructor. She was knowledgeable and patient and her teaching style allowed me to grow rapidly in my newly chosen field (I already had a degree in Animal Science). I remember I had (what felt like to me) a frustrating time learning to solder. The torch did not feel natural to me. With Sharon’s patient encouragement I was finally able to feel what creating a good solder seam felt like. This is something I still remember, it was pivotal for me. She saw my passion and encouraged me. In the Fall, I continued my jewelry studies with Earl Pardon—another enormous influence on my lifelong career as a full time goldsmith, art jeweler, and knife-maker.
Over the years I would see Sharon and her work at Aaron Faber Gallery or SNAG conferences. I always enjoyed our interactions and seeing each other’s new work. She was always interested, interesting, and focused. She was a positive force in my and others’ lives. The world has lost a bright and creative spirit.
There are only a few people whose voices echo in my mind as I go through this thing called life. Sharon’s force was remarkable. Her go to phrases “Slow is Fast” and “There is Craft in Everything” are life lessons that continue to ring true. I was fortunate to have Sharon as my professor in the Crafts program at UArts, and to provide excellent technical instruction (battling “The Curse of the Demo!”) as she shared her expertise so generously. Her impeccable style, standards, and sharp wit were an inspiration to many. I was able to assist Sharon with projects after her retirement including taking scans of her gorgeous botanical drawings, digitizing them and laser cutting them from metal in the transformation for her final piece. She found joy in this new method of making that saved her body labor but brought her visions to physicality. As I continue my craft in my own studio, I sit at her bench (I was fortunate to receive her old bench when she upgraded) and envision the effortless transitions in nature. Sharon embraced the darkness in beauty, the cycles of the natural world, and the transitory phases of life. Long live the lessons of a jewelry queen! Sharon remains a treasure in our bleeding hearts.
I met Sharon during my interview as a hopeful transfer student into the Metalsmithing program at University of the Arts in 1993. As I sat nervously across the desk from her I immediately noticed her earrings and thought to myself “I want to learn to be able to make earrings like that.” Her warm personality, smile, and sense of humor lifted my tension throughout the rest of the interview. I left hoping I would have the opportunity to learn from her. I was accepted into the program and Sharon became my mentor. I will always lovingly refer to her as my “Metal Mom.” I know I am not alone as she possessed a rare ability to nurture and inspire all of her students even the most stubborn and independent such as myself. All of her students share the benefit of truly understanding form, technique, impeccable craftsmanship, and the dedication it takes to achieve them. “Slow is fast ” still goes through my mind as I approach new projects to this day.
My relationship with Sharon continued long after my time as her student, shop steward at UArts, and babysitter for her daughter Eliza. I took her recommendation to attend graduate school and was honored when she asked me to be her sabbatical replacement upon my graduation. She continued to teach long after she fulfilled her obligation as my professor, she showed me how to shape a professional career as a metalsmith. As I got older and had a child of my own Sharon continued to guide me as a new and uncertain mother. One of the greatest lessons I gained from Sharon was not in the studio, it was a life lesson proven by example: Sharon confirmed throughout her life that it was possible to be an amazing mother and maintain a successful career. My heart is heavy as are those of all that knew and loved Sharon, we can all take comfort in knowing that she leaves behind a legacy that will live forever.
FRANN S. ADDISON
In 1974 when I was a junior at Skidmore College, Sharon came to teach in the jewelry studio as Earl Pardon had taken a leave of absence (just 4 years after Sharon graduated from Skidmore). It was in her class that I first learned to rivet non-metal parts with metal. She was a warm, patient, and inspiring teacher. I still have the sterling, copper, and plexi brooch I riveted together in that class, 49 years ago.
In addition to her teaching, Sharon was one of my sources for a folklore course I was taking during which I interviewed students, teachers, and local residents about Saratoga. She was happy to share a story of when she was a Skidmore student about a haunted house in town where the devil was seen through the window. She told me that she believed in the extraordinary, and believed this to be true!
In 2001, I was part of a small cohort of first year metals majors at the University of the Arts. I stood in the jewelry and metalsmithing studio, attentive and curious, part of a group huddled around watching Sharon Church give a demonstration—her hair in an updo, her signature hollow form earrings dangling from her lobes, elegant enough for a gala but perfectly at home in the dusty studio. I didn’t know it at the time, but watching Sharon work and experiencing her instruction was my first brush with what we mean when we speak of mastery in Craft.
I’ll be honest, I don’t remember the exact demo. What I do remember, so vividly and clearly, is the aura of Sharon’s presence: her evenness, her care, her passion for her craft, and her commitment to imparting her knowledge to her students. Even twenty-two years later, I carry these impressions with me. They are in my creative practice, my work as a writer, and as Editor of Metalsmith. I recognize them when I enter a classroom as an instructor. I think of Sharon most often in that space, and I always will.
The sad news of Sharon’s death arrived to me via text on a bitterly cold day in late December. It came just as I emerged from a trailhead in Philadelphia’s Wissahickon Valley Park only a few miles from the neighborhood where Sharon lived. The urban park is just over 2,000 acres and follows a creek by the same name. It is a place I frequently retreat to for long walks. A few months prior—while walking the park’s central, manicured path—I watched a hawk on a low tree branch devouring a small grey rodent. It was so close that I could hear the visceral crunch as the sharp beak penetrated the rodent’s skull. More onlookers gathered beside me on the trail. Among them were Rod McCormick, also my professor at UArts, and artist Barbara Mail. When the scene concluded, I chatted briefly with Rod and Barbara, about our delight at bearing witness to this moment and we went our separate ways. What strikes me now, in piecing these thoughts together, is that Sharon would’ve shared our delight at this scene.
I have thought long and often about Sharon in the few months since she passed. I’ve thought about her impact on my life and my career. She is the person who introduced me to the world of art jewelry, setting me on the trajectory that eventually led me to my role at Metalsmith. I know she was proud of this fact, and that she was proud of me.
TRICIA KURSEWICZ SMITH
I don’t think I had actually spoken to Sharon since graduation, with the exception of once at a conference in ‘96 when I was in grad school. It will be 30 years ago this May that I graduated from the University of the Arts. However, Sharon made a lasting impact on my life.
It is hard to quantify the nature of the effect she has had on me and my making. Sharon Church was and will always be my gold standard for jewelry making and instruction. As many have said in remembrance she was grace incarnate. Propriety, a knowing twinkle in her eye, kindness and intellect all wrapped up in a calm unflappable package. Being formidable without acrimony and without question a person of solid integrity. For 30 years I have measured my craft against her expectations. Though I had other professors and teachers in the world of metalsmithing, her tutelage and standards remain the measure by which I judge my own excellence or forgive myself for being unable to meet an expectation.
I am a teacher now, and, like Sharon, I ask a lot of my students. I try to allow them to be who they are but ensure that they are aware that there is a higher metric of excellence they can achieve if they employ good craftsmanship and always ask the question “is this my best?”
“Slow is Fast,” will continue to be a guiding mantra of my work, especially when I need to be reminded that trying to cut corners is a losing game. Sharon‘s legacy in my life allowed me to realize that the right way, no matter the extra effort and time commitment, is always the best way. That no piece has an unseen side, and that care and craftsmanship shine through brightly whenever they are applied.
I met Sharon Church in April, 2018, when she came to Washington DC for a workshop and lecture/presentation of her work, part of the James Renwick Alliance Distinguished Artists Series. Sharon’s workshop was on the Ukibori technique, and during an engaging technical demonstration she shared her knowledge about the Ukibori process, and candidly spoke about her own artistic process, about the fears and inner doubts artists face while creating. She was accompanied by Meghan Ayers, Sharon’s former student and her assistant then, and Sharon shared the stage with Meghan in presenting their individual body of work. I knew Sharon was an extremely accomplished educator, and thought to myself that it must have been a great experience to have her as a teacher. It was wonderful to see Sharon so proud of her students.
Thru the two days of workshop and lecture I was impressed by Sharon’s work, her kindness in sharing her craftmanship knowledge, and inspired by her touching and very honest discourse on the life and purpose of an artist. The jewelry pieces she presented during the workshop and lecture were beautiful and gracious, their titles a smooth flow of poetry. The work and the stories behind the pieces revealed the beauty and the sorrows of her life, and the lifelong inspiration and comfort she found in nature.
I am thankful for the chance to have met Sharon, the sensitive, talented artist, so lively and delightful.
May she rest in peace.