Sharp Art Gallery enters second year

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Lucy Sharp gives a virtual tour of the gallery and her father’s work.

“Golden Fields” by Gene Sharp is one of the featured works at the gallery.

Amid pandemic, focus turns to online sales, virtual tours and live ‘Drink and Draw’ events

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

Nestled between the floral shop and pharmacy on Elkader’s Main Street, Sharp Art Gallery, owned by Lucy Sharp, recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. While the shop was closed due to COVID-19, the gratitude and appreciation felt toward a welcoming town that has helped Lucy honor the gallery’s main artist, her late father, Gene Sharp, has endured. 

Speaking of the experience over the past year, Lucy said, “It’s been great. People remember my grandparents, which is cool.” 

However, it’s also been a year of challenges. Outside the national pandemic, the biggest, according to Lucy, has been “just getting people to come into the store. We anticipated more street traffic.” Even so, Lucy appears well-determined with grit and spirit to persevere in a passionate pursuit to share her father’s memory, which is a key reason Elkader was chosen for the gallery. It was also the small-town atmosphere that would allow the gallery to have “better exposure” and not get lost in the fast-paced hustle and bustle of a larger city. 

Before COVID, Lucy had planned to reopen. But, now, in an effort to promote safety, she has decided to remain closed. 

“It’s sad right now,” she said of the situation. “I can’t open. I can’t control the environment and I don’t want to spread it.” 

She has adopted a cautious “better safe than sorry” approach to reopening, and as a result, she has taken to Facebook and YouTube to maintain a presence, sell prints of her father’s work and art supplies and provide people with virtual tours of the shop and share the memory of her father beyond the brick and mortar of the gallery’s walls. 

With her son, Alan Szech, Lucy has produced YouTube videos where the audience learns about Gene Sharp, his paintings, artistry and life. Whether the videos show off Gene’s commercial work that provides a hint of humor, or work from his advertising career or the children’s books he illustrated, they’re all personal representations that provide a fond remembrance of the man’s talent and love of art. 

Speaking of his art, although Gene was certainly experimental and diverse in mediums, a large portion of his art was done in watercolor, and one video displays some of the paintings that hang in the gallery for public viewing. There is the majestic Midwestern watercolor called “Golden Fields,” which could provoke sentimental memories out of anyone who grew up in rural America. Then there is the “Queen,” a tourist riverboat that floated on Lake Okoboji, bringing the artwork closer to home. 

Two of the featured paintings are known as “The Red Domes,” which is essentially the same scene painted on separate canvases in two different styles. The paintings had an eventful journey from Lake Forest, Ill., to Elkader. One was rescued from a garbage can and the other was found in the basement of Lucy’s home in Colorado, having suffered some water damage. Both are now preserved in the Sharp Art Gallery in the permanent  collection. 

The gallery is more than an homage to Lucy’s father, though. They also hold classes, sell supplies, participate in local events such as Ladies Day Out, and host an ever-changing set of work from featured artists, often chosen through recommendations from other artists or the public. 

Regarding the classes, Lucy mentioned that attendance during the fall was great and she had high hopes for the spring, until COVID decided to cancel culture. As a result, Lucy has begun hosting events on Facebook. 

One such event has been a series of “Drink and Draw” sessions, hosted by Rabecca Jayne Hennessey, the featured artist at the gallery and artist at the Bent Willow Studio in Guttenberg. The original idea was to hold these events at local businesses, such as Fennelly’s Irish Pub, Deb’s Brewtopia and Schera’s, and to have people bring sketchbooks, have a drink and basically socialize while learning and doing art. Since that never happened, the events turned to Facebook live and Rabecca has taught techniques in drawing barns, butterflies and tulips for the past few weeks, every Thursday night at 5:30. 

According to Lucy, the initial events have “gone pretty well.” However, she also suggested that the events will not continue much longer, as attendance doesn’t appear sustainable given the nicer weather. While virtual is a relatively decent short-term solution, it is not a long-term one, and at the moment, there are no plans for any other events once Drink and Draw ends. 

As the Sharp Art Gallery enters its second year, the goal is to continue to give back to the little town Lucy visited as a child and to persist in the face of adversity. The roller coaster of year one has not dampened Lucy’s spirit or ambitions, and whatever sadness is felt by the current closure will be painted over by new memories of a world that has overcome in the pursuit of dreams.

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