By Lana Krouzian
For more than five decades, Sharon Arts Studio has been a serene haven for creative activity that has inspired and produced pieces of art that provide worthy contributions to the art world, as well as highly enriching experiences for people’s lives.
Nicki Guard, executive director of Friends of Sharon Arts, a nonprofit which supports and partners with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s offering of arts and crafts activities for the public, calls the facility “the zone.”
“This place engages body, mind and spirit,” Guard said. “In every sense, this place is a community, where students and artists can make friends. It is a kind of home, a family feel, an enrichment of life. Being part of the creative process, quite simply, nourishes.
“You meet people from everywhere; it is multi-generational, with multi-level sharing of the values of life. It gives a space for important inner questions to be answered. Taking a break for creativity allows for inner contemplation and finding balance.”
Zachary Canter, staff and programs coordinator and site manager for Sharon Arts Studio, said he found his dream job.
“There are endless interesting things going on,” Canter said. “I see people from all walks of life, and it allows me to get to see the lives of people who come here. All of them are making something. There is a special atmosphere for people here. In many ways, this beautiful building is like a church; it reverberates into energy and life, of all the people who have come and gone. You can feel it in the walls.”
“People come to do something they enjoy,” said Liz Liu, veteran instructor of ceramics, and more recently of glass art. “They talk, they make friends, they step away from their busy life and make things that are tangible, that you can see, use and take home.”
In 1886, William Hammond Hall, California water engineer, submitted a proposal to the City of San Francisco on how best to spend money donated by the estate of businessman William Sharon, to Golden Gate Park. The result of Hall’s proposal turned the Sharon Arts building and its immediate surroundings into one of the first public playgrounds in the United States, with its barnyard of animals, carousel, spiral slide, carriage rides and other interesting attractions. A small building adjacent to the Sharon Arts Building was used in the 1950s by mothers and children as a baby-feeding room, while the Sharon Building itself was used for family activities.
Animals were once kept in the basement of the building, with the caretaker of the property and animals of the outside barnyard and playground living upstairs. Today, the basement is being used as a ceramics studio, and the top floor is the jewelry workshop.
The arts and crafts activities at the Sharon Arts Studio started in 1968 and have been in continuous operation ever since.
In 1991, Connie Flannery, Virginia Banta and Kitty McInery – ongoing instructors at Sharon Arts Studio – founded the nonprofit, Friends of Sharon Arts Studio. This came out of an interest of participants and Rec. and Park to strengthen and increase capabilities of the arts programs, provide funding for supplies, additional classes and instructors, and offer workshops, lectures, activities and benefits for members. In its current configuration, Sharon Arts Studio is supported 30% by Rec. and Park and 70% by the nonprofit.
Currently the nonprofit has 800 members, of whom 17% are teens, 38% are seniors, and 45% have jobs and are taking classes after work. Many of the after-work participants are from UCSF. Most participants, as a whole, come from the Richmond and Sunset districts. Programs are open to all.
“Sharon Arts Studio is an institution, as far as I’m concerned,” said Judy Piccini, an Inner Sunset resident and 10-year participant in the programs at the studio. “I am retired, I am an artsy person, and I love the community there.”
“It’s addictive,” said Lynn Wilkinson, glass repairer and regular participant at the studio. “Once you start, you keep going with it for years afterwards.”
“I make my jewel,” said Liu, a 30-year instructor at Sharon Arts.
Nick Lukas, a retired master glass art entrepreneur and Rec. and Park volunteer, describes his process.
“I try to work from the corner of the wooden frame and go outward from there,” he said. “It’s about problem solving, but it’s also supposed to be fun. I try to keep it light.”
Connie Flannery is a 30-year master glass artist at the studio.
“I use all the old techniques,” Flannery said.
Fundraising events of the nonprofit include the annual Winter Sale, which was held this year at the County Fair Building. Picnic in the Park is planned for Mother’s Day, May 13, 1-4 p.m. The event will feature crafts sales from the Studio.
Friends of Sharon Arts has planned a series of talks that cover history, specialized art techniques and other unique topics. The first talk of the series, a history lecture on the Sharon Arts Building and playground, given by SF resident historian Christopher Pollock on March 15, provided interesting perspective and was well attended by members and guests.
Among arts and crafts media offered at Sharon Arts are jewelry, ceramics, life drawing, fine art, watercolor, metalworking, glass art. Registration generally fills up very quickly. Stories from attendees indicate that the lines used to start outside the door at 6 a.m., to assure one’s space in classes of their choice. This was facilitated somewhat once registration was placed online. Classes are offered year-round, with sessions of eight to 10 weeks each, fall, winter, spring and summer, with breaks of time in-between. It is a seven-days-per-week operation at Sharon Arts Studio. Weekend and one-day workshops are also available.
For more information on Sharon Arts Studio, go to sfrecpark.org or sharonartstudio.org.
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