Columbus, Ohio USA
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Sharon Weiss Follows Her Heart
Displays Beautiful Things in Gallery
By Jeff Link
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© Photos Doug Fordyce
Just over a decade ago, Sharon Weiss was driving down Poplar Street in the Short North when serendipity struck and "the stars aligned." She saw the perfect building - a business opportunity - but more than that, a home for the beautiful things her mother had taught her to love. A childhood spent rummaging through antique shops suddenly found its purpose.
Old binoculars, vases, teacups, a chest, a tarnished spade, an antique domino set, an oil painting. Antiques and art. A curious fusion was about to take place.
"Wouldn't this be a wonderful antique shop?" Weiss remembers asking her life partner Roger Pettry. He said yes. And when he suggested opening an antique store, she took him seriously. Antiques and Art on Poplar opened in 1994.
The rest is history. The Sharon Weiss Gallery, as it is now called, has moved to 20 East Lincoln Street and is celebrating its tenth anniversary. The transplanted gallery is home to antiques and art of varied styles. Warm lighting, wood floors, antique chairs, cherry chests and the soft strains of classical music contribute to a feel of classic Americana. Weiss says art has taken precedence over antiques of late, and has a decidedly eclectic flair.
Take the oil painting by local artist and Columbus College of Art and Design graduate Matt Kinsey, a still life of brown eggs and a bottle of wine done in the realistic style of an old master.
Place it next to the alien, avante-garde vibrancy of a painting called The Boxer, by San Francisco artist Craig Carlisle, and you have a glimpse of the apparent contradictions that fuel the Sharon Weiss Gallery. Old and new, traditional and contemporary, battling for attention along the walls.
The artists, by and large, insist it works. They appreciate the diversity, and describe the redheaded Weiss as warm and sincere, an energetic personality, passionate about what she does, and equipped with a careful, discerning eye.
"If it moves her, that's the total key. If she feels something positive, it's all about feeling something positive," says 48-year-old Clintonville artist Renate Burgyan.
Burgyan is new to the gallery. She describes her recent exhibit, "Moonlight Sonata," as expressive and primordial, a sculpture of three intertwined figures, poised to move and dance when twirled into motion. Burgyan has a background in synchronized swimming. To her, the art captures an essential energy that pervades our lives.
"I don't sit down and say I'm going to do this. There is an energy about a body in motion that is what I like to capture," Burgyan says.
Weiss selects her art based on its emotional quality, Burgyan says. Weiss agrees, saying she looks for content over form.
"If I love it and it goes to my heart and I would want to own it, then I know I can sell it," she says.
But selling is not the only thing on Weiss's mind. Sure, she has lucrative finds - like a Rookwood Pottery tile she found at a Goodwill store for $10, priced on the Antique Roadshow at $1,100 - but Weiss holds worth as something more personal.
She says the ambience of the space, the camaraderie among her and the artists, and the feeling of home she finds in the gallery surpass its financial worth. As long as she can pay the rent and make her house payments, she says she will stay in business.
You can see the gleam in her eyes when artists, like upstate New York's Blaire Beavers, stop by the gallery with new work. Fighting the frigid air and hustle of the holiday season, Weiss takes time to chat with the artists and praise their pieces.
"That's a sophisticated lemon. There's nothing cozy about it," she confides to Beavers, discussing his new work, patting him on the shoulder and later turning to me, grinning. "We're proud to have him."
Many artists agree, saying they feel a kinship with Weiss and one another.
Artists attend each other's openings. They exchange praise and constructive criticism. Several months ago, Weiss invited roughly 25 artists whose work she has displayed in the gallery to her home for a potluck dinner and art exchange - an event several spoke of fondly, admiring Weiss's extensive personal art collection.
"That kind of support is really important. When you're struggling, that kind of comradeship is a big help," says Michael Hoza, a self-taught Columbus artist. Hoza is fascinated by man's imprint on nature. His vivid landscapes of cornfields, barns and tree-lined plains take inspiration from trips to Plain City.
"It's not about me, but about trying to be honest about what I'm actually painting," Hoza says.
He says it is no coincidence that artists like himself, Anita Miller and Burygen, who once displayed their work together at The Artist's Roost in Old Worthington, have become reacquainted at the Sharon Weiss Gallery. There is a gravity among the artists that gives Hoza strength and a sense of purpose.
"It's like, I'm not crazy, they're doing it, too. I felt very special from the moment I walked in there," Hoza says.
What the artists share, above all, Weiss says, is a kindness and a serious passion for their work. Most have advanced degrees in fine arts and aspire to be full-time artists if they aren't already. For some, childlike curiosity and experimentation are driving forces.
"I have the same joy I had as a kid," says 45-year-old Columbus artist Rick Borg, whose modern expressionistic creation, Don't Worry About Him, I'm Worried About Him, fuses broken brushes and red paint on an expressive, childlike canvas.
For other artists spontaneity helps.
Zanesville artist Paul Emory's painting, The Opening, began when a curtain caught his gaze. The shapes and curves he saw inspired the arching figures in the piece: a lady with a parakeet in her hair and a man with his back to the world, scarf fluttering behind. The painting happened so fast the colors and costumes formed in ways that surprised Emory. But every-thing and everyone eventually found their place.
Weiss's story is different. She says despite the sudden decision to open the store, nothing about the gallery happened on a whim. Her mother, Lorraine Coombs, was an antiquer, bird watcher and Weiss's "catalyst to love beautiful things and be around beautiful things."
The paintings she displays, whether in the tradition of the old masters, American folk artists or the expressionist Picasso, all have a purpose in her heart and a place in her gallery.
"The Way We Were," works in oil by Malcolm Baroway, will show at the Sharon Weiss Gallery through March 1, 2004. An Artist's Reception will be held Friday, February 6 from 6-9 pm. Sharon Weiss Gallery, open Thursday through Sunday, is located in the Short North just east of High at 20 East Lincoln Street. Call 614-291-5683 or 614-451-8165 or visit www.sharonweissgallery.com for more information.
©2004 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.
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