In a three-part series, we are introducing you to the three artists featured in “At the Center: Masters of American Craft” installation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art now through July 2018.
The curator of this installation and the author of this piece is Elisabeth Agro, the Nancy M. McNeil Curator of American Modern and Contemporary Craft and Decorative Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art.
This presentation is the fifth and final installation in the At the Center: Masters of American Craft series. Each exhibit highlights significant people who have shaped and influenced the field of American modern and contemporary craft. This installation concentrates on the contributions of Yvonne Pacanovsky Bobrowicz, Sharon Church, and Jack Larimore. The pairing of their objects not only demonstrates the artists’ ingenuity, virtuosity, and impact on the field, but also challenges the notion of what is considered sculpture.
“At the center” of this gallery stand Wharton Esherick’s fireplace and doorway. Esherick is renowned for pushing woodwork into the sculptural realm and these massive pieces provide a perfect setting for this display of work by contemporary artists. With a focus on craft, each installation opening has coincided with the annual Contemporary Craft Show, a celebration of craft showcasing the finest makers from around the world. What distinguishes craft within contemporary art is the value of the skill, commitment to material, and deep knowledge of process that the artists bring to their work.
Sharon Church (born 1948) makes art shaped by childhood visits to museums and the influence of her mother, who was an artist. She first studied with the renowned jeweler Earl Pardon (1926–1991) at Skidmore College in New York. Church continued her education with notable metalsmiths Hans Christensen (1924–1983) and Albert Paley (born 1944) at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Craftsmen, graduating with a master of arts in 1973.
Church distinguished herself as a professor of crafts at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia from 1979 until she retired in 2014. Recognition for both her craft and her teaching came in the form of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1978 and the James Renwick Alliance Distinguished Craft Educators Award in 2008. Her jewelry can be found in many private and public collections around the world.
Church’s work has evolved from ropelike and beaded constructions to plant and animal forms. Although a metalsmith by training, she thinks of carving as a means of drawing and uses wood as the main material for her jewelry. Many artists who work with wood consider it a living material and Church is no exception, stating “Nature is life and it offers up metaphors about life.” She doesn’t have to go far for inspiration, asserting that she “sees jewelry everywhere” at her home and studio in Philadelphia. Fallen leaves, seedpods, or even a stray twig are fodder for her exploration of growth, transformation, loss, and renewal.