Quirky Meets Genius

Quirky Meets Genius
Sharon Vinciguerra, Paper Clay Master
story AND PHOTOS by CARLA EDSTROM
Nothing gets me into the Christmas spirit faster than driving down Howe Street in Southport and seeing the streets all decorated with the big light up wreaths and twinkle lights sparkling in the trees. The feeling of Christmas is in the air. I know many people moved here to get away from the snow, but in December I do miss it. Growing up in Illinois I can’t remember a Christmas that without it.

I loved playing in the snow probably more than most kids, and I always asked Santa to bring me a long toboggan sled. I dreamt that I would get a running start on the hill by our house not unlike the Olympic luge team. I would sled down the street for miles, picking up speed as I went around the curves. I could see myself flying past the kids with the generic plastic roll up sleds, leaving them spinning out in the snow. But back in reality, I always got the plastic sled. One year I did get the saucer sled made famous in the movie Christmas Vacation, sans the non-caloric silicon-based kitchen lubricant. Santa was always very wise. He knew that I would have surely broken my neck on a giant bobsled. We had neighbors that had a big hill that was made for sledding. All the neighborhood kids would bring their Christmas sleds down to Ryden’s hill and take turns sledding for hours until we could no longer feel our toes in the cold. When we grew tired of sledding, we would build snowmen and igloo forts and have snowball fights. The child in me still enjoys playing with her friends and goofing off anytime she is allowed, as my friends will tell you. I really hope I never grow up.
I am really all right with being that friend who loves to play and be creative. I even started teaching pottery last month at Brunswick Community College, Southport campus so I could play in clay more. I am thrilled that I get to hang out and create pottery with friends once again after working alone for so many years. And one of the most fun people I have ever played in clay with has got to be Sharon Vinciguerra. I had the pleasure of watching her work first hand at Orange Street Pottery in Wilmington when we were both taking pottery classes with Don Johns. She sat directly across from me for several years, where she inspired my work daily with her laughter and insight. Her creativity is unmatched, and her pieces are uniquely hers. They all tell a story she created, and usually one that is humorous, somewhat sarcastic, and always thought provoking. What usually happens when you look at her sculptures is a two-point process. First, you see her sculpture and smile, maybe laugh a little. Then you read the name of the piece, and laughter ensues. The chicken with candlesticks is called Candlelight Most Foul. Her latest creation features a train with birds riding in the cars. It is called, Return from Migration. “They all flew out but then took the train back,” she explained.
Vinciguerra’s first experience in sculpting was when she was a child using never hardening clay. “All the kids had it,” she said. “Once my uncle was putting in a carport floor and I snagged some of his wet cement and sculpted a foot. It was NOT a big hit with him (especially where I scooped out the cement),” recalls Vinciguerra. While she was attending New Paltz College in NY, she learned to throw pottery on the wheel and hand building. “After that everything went on hold as I became a teacher and earned my living,” she said. She didn’t work in clay again until 1999 after she retired and moved to the Southport area. “I signed up for classes at BCC, found Kimberly Caroon and from that point on took every clay workshop I could afford flying all over the country to do so,” she said.
Vinciguerra works exclusively in paper clay now because she says it is so forgiving. Paper clay is made by adding paper or cellulose fiber to clay slip, and then it’s made into a working clay consistency. She explains, “I like to change my mind a lot. So for example, if you have a head on a sculpture and it’s totally dry, and you decide you want a totally different head, you just lop it off and put on a totally new one and it will accept it because all the little fibers in the clay grab onto the dry clay and they marry perfectly.”
Vinciguerra gives credit as her most important artistic influence to our mentor from Orange Street Pottery, Don Johns. “Don is an incredible instructor and the most knowledgeable potter I’ve ever met. He makes you think out of the box, in the box and everywhere else the box could be, she explains with a smile. “His only goal in teaching was to teach you everything he knew. He wasn’t holding anything back. He wanted us to have every possible thing he could offer.” I couldn’t agree more. We were blessed to be under his mentorship for so many years.
Her portfolio includes some ribbons and wins for her work at art shows locally and nationally. Her favorite piece was a giraffe teapot that inspired her to make many more teapots. “The lines were right, the glaze was right,” she explains. “I also loved Flavia Goes To Walmart which was social commentary about how people dress when shopping.” I myself have a few of Vinciguerra’s pieces. One is a small tree. She made it one day at Orange Street out of clumps of clay that she was cutting off another piece. As she cut the pieces off, she dropped them into a pile. She looked down and saw in her creative mind a tree with birds and leaves. “Anything can inspire me,” she said. I once made a vase based on the arm of my couch. Usually my work tells a story. The stories come from politics, everyday life, or just fall out of my head without warning.” Her ability to see objects in ordinary things still inspires my work to this day.
Originally from Long Island NY, Vinciguerra now lives in Bolivia with her husband Tony. You can find her work at Franklin Square Gallery in Southport, and you can contact her directly by email at shaniv516@yahoo.com.

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