Retired Altoona school teacher still sharing her knowledge, Mixed-media fiber art

By Cherie Hicks

chicks@altoonamirror.com

Artist Sharon Wall[/caption]Sharon Wall always knew she would be an artist, even when as a young child, she painted rocks with mud she stirred in her Altoona yard.

While studying art at Penn State Altoona, she learned that art is more than drawing and painting, and she fell in love with fabric and how it looks painted and layered and even quilted. She embarked on a career of teaching others, including students at Altoona Area High School for 27 years, while creating her own award-winning pieces of art that have shown all over Pennsyl-vania and even in Australia.

Wall retired from AAHS a year ago, but she hasn’t stopped teaching. She will share a basic knowledge of her mixed-media artwork at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Altoona in three days of classes, April 25 to 28, from 1 to 3 p.m.

“Fabulous Fabrics with Sharon Wall” is designed to teach the basics of designing, dyeing and painting on fabric, including silk stretched on a hoop and cotton on a canvas, Wall said. Interested students may register as late as the first day of class, if the limited enrollment hasn’t been reached already, said SAMA’s education coordinator Jessica Campbell. Call (814) 946-4464 or email altoona@sama-art.com to register; the $90 fee covers the costs of all materials.

Campbell initiated a series of adult art classes last year and was eager to host Wall this year.

“I just thought it would be great to bring her in and let her share her love of fabric,” Campbell said. “She has a unique eye for layering.”

Wall said there can be a snobbery in the fine art field regarding fabric art, “a mindset that art quilting is something less than a … painting. There are some expectations out there of what a fine art piece should look like.”

Campbell agreed that some art forms do “come off as more craft- like,” such as fabric, woodcarving and mosaics.

“But I’m really impressed with Sharon’s body of work,” she said. “She has been showing a lot and winning awards.”

Just last year, Wall took a first place in the juried Blair County Arts Festival and she exhibited at the Studio Art Quilters Association exhibition at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. Previously, her work toured as part of a larger exhibition from Pittsburgh to Australia and her work was shown at biennial exhibitions at SAMA and Westmoreland Museum of American Art, among others.

Wall submitted one of her works, “Full Moon Turtle Waltz,” to a national competition that resulted in her getting cited in “Incite 3, The Art of Storytelling/ The Best of Mixed Media,” published in 2015.

It also explains the story behind “Turtle Waltz.”

“That was nice,” she said.

But Wall said she doesn’t always like to explain her work. For example, a garden series of art quilts that she just finished includes a piece called “Roundup Ready or Not” with flowers and leaves that are black.

She spoke of how the weedkiller can genetically alter plants.

“It’s posing a question more than making a statement,” she said. “I like to let viewers go where they want with it. … There’s always something personal in each of my pieces, but you want to create artwork that is visually interesting to others.”

Wall said her portfolio of art quilts alone — designed to be hung on a wall — includes at least least two dozen; then there are her fabric collages, her paintings and her monoprints. Most can be viewed — and purchased — from her website, www.SharonWallArt.com. From there, you can find links to two outlets that sell products featuring her artwork: Vida, an international company, sells scarves with four of her designs, and Fine Art America has her artwork available in prints of various sizes and on various backings, from paper to wood.

Wall most recently was featured in the Feburary/March issue of Quilting Arts Magazine, in which she reflected on her last year of teaching at AAHS. She wanted to create a personal legacy, and turned to leftover scraps of hand-dyed, painted and printed fabrics created over the course of her teaching career and decided on a horse theme.

“For me, horses represent energy, strength and nobility,” she wrote. “To represent my career struggles and triumphs, I gave it the title, ‘War Horse.'”

Wall took all school year to work on the project, starting with her own image of a horse on cotton fabric as a guideline. She embellished it with thickened dyes and fabric paints; she created a mosaic effect with small patches of fabric, and finished it with “free-motion quilting” to construct it and embellish it at the same time.

“The ‘War Horse’ became my self-portrait and all the patches of fabrics represented many large and small classroom victories,” Wall wrote. “My students’ victories included increased creativity, self-awareness, work ethic, and of course, their amazing artworks. The gauntlet became the challenge of a tough assignment; the grail reflected my philosophy that there are no mistakes in art, only opportunities for creative solutions.”

Her impressive, 60-by-48-inch legacy already has sold.

Students at Wall’s upcoming class will not be expected to do such advanced work, and she suggests taking two photographs of nature subjects to serve as the basic design. Wall’s designs begin with her own photographs or sketches.

She plans to teach a technique called “serti,” which is French for enclosing or fencing the thin dye that otherwise could spread like grape juice spilled on a tablecloth.

“It has a a stained-glass effect,” Wall explained.

An advanced artist like Wall might let the dye run or use hot wax to control its spread.

“Like anything else, you can take it to many different levels,” she said.

Sewing also will not be involved in the class, but Wall explained how she finishes off her art quilts with “free-motion stitching” by disabling the feed dog on her sewing machine. “Then you can move the fabric in whichever direction you want and you can vary the length of the stitch.”

She also makes many of her own stencils when she is painting repetitive objects.

Wall said she was fortunate as a youngster to have been selected for a countywide art program every summer for five years of junior and senior high school, and that her father would drive her to it.

Right after graduating from AAHS in 1971, she found a workshop on batik, which is when she fell in love with fabric and dyes.

While at Penn State, one of her professors, the late Ken Kuhn, taught her about mixed media and that “anything could be incorporated into artwork” not just paintings or drawings. She also spent one semester abroad, studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

An assistantship while working on her masters from Indiana University of Pennsylvania exposed her to fabric painting and printmaking.

After college, she worked for a regional chain of privately owned craft shops where she taught different art classes to others and she taught herself to sew. Then she served as curator of education for SAMA for a couple of years, and then realized how much she wanted to teach art. She went to work for the school district.

“Teaching was better than I ever could have expected,” she said. “I learned so much from my students. … You teach them techniques, but they’ll take it and do things you never thought of.

“I’m a much better person for being a teacher.”

Mirror Staff Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.

For more information

To see more of Sharon Wall’s art, go to www.SharonWallArt .com; to register for her upcoming class at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art-Altoona, call (814) 946-4464 or email altoona@sama-art.com

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