This is Sharon Shapiro. She is a kind, creative and engaging soul. She is warm and so enjoyable to be around–the kind of person who always seems ready to have a good conversation and listen to what you have to say–she makes you feel comfortable quickly. Sharon also happens to be an amazingly talented artist. Her work is quirky, unique and aside from it’s beauty of color and whim, it carries messages and stories for it’s viewers–it challenges them and makes them think. Sharon’s work has a stretching affect–and might even make you a little uncomfortable at times–all things that art should do! Enjoy this lovely Woman of Charlottesville’s interview!
Sharon, please tell the readers a little bit about you… Well, I am a long-time Charlottesville resident who moved here from Atlanta in 1996. I’m a visual artist and have been making and exhibiting my work in various cities since 1994. Currently, I live on 25 acres, just outside of town with my husband and three dogs. We have six adult children between us, so there’s always something going on, even now that we’re empty nesters. As a side hustle, I taught Pilates for ten years, and for the past six years, I’ve taught classes at Pure Barre. I also teach painting classes and am hoping to get a couple of classes going this fall in my studio!
us: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
her: Yogurt with fresh peaches and blackberries and purely Elizabeth granola (it’s kinda salty which I like)
us: Does pineapple belong on pizza?
her: No, at least not in my world.
us: Do you sleep in your socks?
us: What’s your go-to midnight snack?
her: Graham crackers
us: Mountains or beach?
her: Both! That’s why I love Santa Barbara (California)
us: Current favorite song?
her: “Lonely Legend” by Fantasia
us: Salty or sweet?
her: Salty, or sweet and salty
us: Pet peeve?
her: People who refuse to wear masks are my current one.
When people only talk about themselves and never ask questions, so I guess in a larger sense it’s a lack of reciprocity and no interest in something outside of self.
The smaller ones: people who constantly talk about their weight and/or their diets. Humblebragging.
us: Room entrance song:
her: I Feel It All by Feist
us: Favorite place you’ve traveled to?
her: Santa Barbara will always be one of my favorite places to go–Northern California near Big Sur and Florence, Italy.
us: What’s your favorite room in your house?
her: The living room/dining room/kitchen. They are really all one room with a partial wall dividing them, but that’s where I spend most of my time. We have great views of Carter’s Mountain on one side, and we see the sunset on the other.
us: Who has been the most influential woman in your life?
her: That would be my grandmother, Helene Doris Persinger. She was my maternal figure from when I was five when my mother had to get help for severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. My older sister and I went to live with my grandparents, who owned a cafeteria at the time. When my mom returned home several years later, she moved in too, so we were all in the same house, kind of old school. My grandma was tiny, 4’11’ and 90 lbs soaking wet. She had five sisters, and her parents were Ukrainian immigrants. Although they learned to speak English, they didn’t read it, so her job was to read the newspaper to her dad every morning. If he didn’t like the news, he would get angry and insist she was misreading it. She was brilliant and resourceful, having grown up on a farm and in relative poverty. Her handwriting was beautiful, and she was an amazing seamstress, talents that are rare now. Her Scrabble game was solid; we used to play a lot when I was growing up. I can still hear her voice, it was deep, which was in sharp contrast to her physical stature. She showed me that love is expressed in actions, not words. She also taught me resilience and the importance of being patient, the latter I’m still working on.
us: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
her: Making art no matter what was going on in my life. I’ve sustained my art practice and exhibited my work for almost three decades, and it’s not been easy. Artists have to be okay with a lot of solitude, self-doubt, and rejection. Those things never go away. This is also why artists are some of the hardest working, most self-reflective, and determined people I know.
us: If you could give your younger self a single piece of advice, what would it be?
her: A single piece? Wear sunscreen! Accept people for who they are, not who you want them to be. Ask your parents and grandparents a lot of questions about their lives and when they answer, ask for more details. You’ll wish you had.
us: Can you tell us about a challenge that you’ve overcome?
her: I was dealt a few hard losses at a relatively young age. When I was 20, my father had a sudden heart attack and died while I was in Italy in summer school. I was on a train, two planes, and then a six-hour drive home to West Virginia the day after I received the awful news. I was an only child, and since my parents were divorced, I needed to arrange the funeral. Two days later, I found out that I had to take over his business, a women’s clothing store. He owned and ran the store for 32 years, and since he died without a will, it was a case of “Who died and left you, boss?!”, literally. I walked into a situation that I was entirely unprepared for and somehow had to deal with what landed in my lap.
I inherited eight employees, a 3500 square foot store full of inventory, a pension plan, phone calls to answer, and bills to pay. Plus, the store was open 7 days a week, and the customers and salesmen expected me to be there, just like my dad was. It was insane, honestly. I didn’t have time to grieve or process the loss. I eventually went back to art school. While I was working towards my undergraduate degree, my grandmother got lung cancer. I took another year off to spend as much time with her as possible. She died when I was 23, and I went through a very rough time afterward. The pain of losing my father so young compounded with losing her a few years later was tough. I felt so much older than my actual age, which isn’t always a great thing, even if necessary. Once again, I went back to school and finally finished my BFA when I was 25. Making art saved me, and still does.
us: Favorite Quote?
her: Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.- Thomas Merton
Also, pretty much every quote Mark Twain said. It’s too difficult to choose just one.
us: Where do you find your inspiration?
her: I find inspiration all around me- from the way the late afternoon sun casts shadows to overheard conversations in a public space. I also draw ideas from a collection of photos that I’ve archived over the years. More recently, I’ve staged and photographed models to use as a basis for paintings.
us: Any funny or embarrassing nicknames we should know about?
us: Any hidden talents we should know about?
her: Parallel parking for sure.
us: What are you most thankful for?
her: My health, my family, and a few really close friends that I would want on my lifeboat.
us: What is your favorite thing about living in Charlottesville?
her: It’s a small sophisticated city surrounded by beautiful countryside. It has all the things: great food, a strong community of visual and performing artists, and a lot of independent bookstores. These are all important to me.
Quarantine Specific Additions:
us: Tell us one lesson you’ve learned during your quarantine experience?
her: That I took for granted all of the small and seemingly meaningless daily interactions with people while out and about.
us: Favorite show to binge watch?
her: We binged The Sopranos from start to finish during the Quarantine. I had only ever seen parts of a few episodes and never realized how brilliant it is. I might rewatch it at some point, it’s really that good.
us: Favorite local business to support during quarantine?
us: Have you taken on new hobbies or discovered a new talent during this time indoors?
her: Not really, because I’ve been pretty focused on working in my new studio.
us: What one thing you can’t live without right now?
her: My studio space.
Thank you for sharing with us Sharon!