After devoting herself for years to the upbringing of her children and the nurturing of their dreams, a Mountaintop woman recently discovered her own passion, to create art, and a hidden talent for painting she never knew she possessed.
Sharon Hourigan’s artwork is now being displayed, through Aug. 26, at an exhibition at Misericordia University. At the Pauly Friedman Art Gallery, Sharon’s art, as well as the work of several area artists and dozens more international artists, is shown.
The theme of the exhibit is realism and the artists have all studied under world-renowned artist Anthony Waichulis. While the acclaimed artist has stringent requirements for taking on new students, he took a leap of faith by taking on Sharon as a complete amateur. Six years later, his gamble paid off as she has proven herself to be a gifted painter who continues to grow with each new piece she creates.
“He’s one of the most generous people that I know,” Sharon related of Anthony. “He gave me his time and his energy and he changed my life. He gave me a gift that I can never repay.”
Most of Anthony’s students feel that way about him, she said, adding, “He’s an incredible artist and to share that gift with us has just been wonderful. We all really became like a family of artists there.”Rediscovered talent
Growing up, Sharon never thought much about the talent she had for art. She immensely enjoyed drawing and painting, but didn’t recognize that she had a gift or consider that it could lead to a career.
“I never pursued it because I didn’t think it was something I could have supported myself with,” she recalled. “I never even took any art classes in high school or college.”
After college, Sharon’s path led her to a marketing career. When she and her husband, Dave, had two children, Kevin and Meg, she decided to be a stay-at-home mom. Of the choice to work in the home, she added, “I was lucky to have Dave’s support and to be able to do it. It’s the most important job I could have ever done.”
As a devoted mother, Sharon poured all her energy into making her children’s dreams a reality. From the time they were in elementary school, Sharon’s children took an interest in the performing arts, mainly acting. She encouraged them from the beginning, even joining the board and later becoming president of the Luzerne County Cultural Council, an agency that works to promote awareness and raise support for local art forms.
Through the council, she explained, “I really got to know a lot of artists and I was exposed in a big way to the fine arts…I thought I’d be more involved with performing arts because of my kids, but I got into the fine arts.”
Being exposed to local fine arts –or
visual arts such as painting, drawing, and sculpture –Sharon’s desire to explore her talent was reawakened. She began to look for a teacher to take private art lessons.
“My kids were in high school and I knew I had to find a place for myself when they left for college,” she recalled. “That’s what was driving me.”
An old acquaintance was studying under Anthony and recommended him to Sharon. She remembered checking out his website and first seeing her friend’s image, which was featured in a gallery.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, this piece is incredible. It’s just gorgeous,’” she related and described a feeling of being of overwhelmed as she went on to see other artwork on the site. “I could feel my shoulders falling as I went through. It was all just really professional, incredible work,” she said.
Sharon was told she could apply to be one of Anthony’s students, by sending him slides or a portfolio of her work. But, she didn’t have those things as she hadn’t created art since childhood. Her friend set up a meeting with Anthony anyway, in his Dorrance home.
“I was so unnerved by this,” Sharon went on. “I thought he wouldn’t take me on. But I drove out there and talked to him. He was so warm, so friendly.”
When Anthony asked Sharon why she wanted to study art, she told him, “I watched my kids pursue their passions and I watched them work really hard at it, really put their hearts and souls into it. I was so impressed with my kids and I was so proud of them, I wanted them to be proud of me.”
Inspired by her answer, Anthony told Sharon what supplies to get and he started teaching her the following week. That was six years ago.
From Student to Celebrated Artist
Beginning to learn from Anthony, Sharon noted that it was fun and exciting. Her first piece, an oil painting done from a portrait of her mother, took her seven months to complete.
Each piece Sharon has worked on since has been better than the last as she progresses in her studies with Anthony. Her paintings are done in realism, an art form that attempts to show things as they are. Using photographs or items posed in still life, Sharon creates paintings that are as realistic looking as possible.
“That’s why the training is so intense because you’re learning to paint in that degree of detail,” she said. One of her four pieces at the Misericordia exhibit is titled, “Wait Till You See What Happens Next,” and looks strikingly like a photograph, rather than a painting.
The painting shows a family friend at Key West, with a little boy, sitting on rocks and looking at the ocean. The rough waves are detailed and capture the reflection of light coming from a partly-cloudy orange-blue-gray sunset. The friend gave Sharon the photo of this scene, one of his favorites, and asked her to paint it for him. She was so successful with the creation that it ended up in the art exhibit.
The “Capturing Realism 2017” exhibit features artwork by instructors, alumni, and apprentices of the Ani Art Academies. Anthony moved from Dorrance to Bear Creek a few years and found the Ani Art Academy there; he also has similar academies in New Jersey, the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic, and Thailand. Only the best, most realistic artwork was chosen for the exhibit from all these locations, Sharon’s included.
“It’s a very rigorous, tedious program with a lot of mind-numbing exercises,” Sharon noted of working with Anthony at the Ani Art Academy. Students start with the basics of drawing, with charcoal and white pencils and go on to oil painting.
While tedious, the program has pushed Sharon to painting perfection and motivated her to go further with her art than she ever thought. She now plans on developing her talent even more as she paints daily in her home studio. Both her children, who are living in New York City and pursuing acting careers, and her husband, couldn’t be prouder, she said.
“They really enjoy the fact that I’m doing something that I love,” she said. “They’re incredibly supportive. It’s very sweet.”