Local artist spreads hope with steel and glass

Sharon Agnor uses metal sculpture to process realities of life and to give hope

VANCOUVER — In a shop behind a suburban Vancouver home, Sharon Warman Agnor creates artworks of metal and glass that are designed to give hope and spark conversations.

Unlike many artists who create with paints or other mediums available at local art supply stores, Agnor works with materials and tools more at home in an auto body shop than an artist’s studio. Working primarily with stainless steel and cast glass, Agnor creates large scale works designed for public viewing.

“I always aspired to be an artist,” Agnor said, but it was not until her children were grown and she had overcome serious health issues that she was able to explore how she could express herself through art.

As a child, Agnor said that she was sick very often, and suffered from severe asthma. She said that she was not athletic, and was not the best student because she often missed class due to illness. However, art became a way for her to express herself.

Sharon Agnor always creates a scale drawing of her works before building a scale model and then the full size work, to ensure all of the pieces will fit properly and look pleasing. Photo by Mike Schultz
Sharon Agnor always creates a scale drawing of her works before building a scale model and then the full size work, to ensure all of the pieces will fit properly and look pleasing. Photo by Mike Schultz

A fourth grade assignment to draw a picture of her house helped Agnor discover that she had a talent for art. Agnor said that her drawing was unique because it featured realistic perspective, and she began to be recognized for her artistic ability.

Agnor said that after that assignment, she came to the realization that “oh my gosh, I can draw. It gave me a little bit of confidence.”

In high school, Agnor took every art class she could, and in her senior year, enrolled in one that taught commercial art techniques such as silk screening. She got a job for several years in the 1970s in the silk screening business, but the chemicals used in the process left her in poor health.

Sharon Agnor’s sculpture “Walking Warrior” is designed to reflect hope and resilience in the face of cancer, and reflects Agnor’s desire for her art to address the realities of life but also provide hope. Photo courtesy of Sharon Agnor
Sharon Agnor’s sculpture “Walking Warrior” is designed to reflect hope and resilience in the face of cancer, and reflects Agnor’s desire for her art to address the realities of life but also provide hope. Photo courtesy of Sharon Agnor

It was not until the 1990s that Agnor was able to enroll in art classes at Clark College, but she said that she did not feel very skilled in any of them. However, one day she came across a flyer for a sculptural welding class, and she began taking it.

“I was so afraid of the equipment that I almost quit,” Agnor said, but “I just kept making myself go back.”

Several other women were in the class, and with them Agnor said they created a group called Women Who Weld, which created several public art pieces, including ones placed at Washington State University Vancouver and Vancouver’s waterfront.

Unlike many artists, Sharon Agnor’s tools, such as welders and hand grinders, are industrial in quality, but render works that provoke thought and hope in those that view them. Photo by Mike Schultz
Unlike many artists, Sharon Agnor’s tools, such as welders and hand grinders, are industrial in quality, but render works that provoke thought and hope in those that view them. Photo by Mike Schultz

Agnor said that she focuses primarily on large sculptures designed to be placed in public spaces. Many cities have competitions to place art pieces in designated places in their town on a rotating basis, and Agnor applies to many of these with her work. Once a city selects a sculpture, it will remain there for one to two years, Agnor said. She currently has five sculptures on display on a rotating basis in Northwest towns.

She also recently had an art piece called “Wings of the World” installed as a permanent display in Ridgefield’s Overlook Park. The sculpture commemorates five community members who played a role in preserving the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and establishing Overlook Park.

“When you have your art out in the public it’s pretty cool,” Agnor explained, “because it starts a conversation.”

In her work, Agnor hopes to address the realities of life but also to convey a sense of hope. She acknowledges that many artists can focus on hurt and pain, without acknowledging that life can be good as well.

Some of Sharon Agnor’s work, such as this chandelier, combine steel and cast glass to create a mixed medium piece. Photo by Mike Schultz
Some of Sharon Agnor’s work, such as this chandelier, combine steel and cast glass to create a mixed medium piece. Photo by Mike Schultz

“I have a lot of hope,” Agnor said.

She draws her inspiration for her work from struggles she has gone through in life. One public piece, called “Walking Warrior,” reflects her personal struggle with breast cancer.

The piece reflects the pain of the disease, but also the ability of people to move forward as survivors. The artwork sparked a conversation at its unveiling about many people’s own stories, Agnor said.

“It’s good to hear the stories and it’s good to know you’re not alone,” Agnor said.

Sharon Agnor began her artistic career as a sculptural welder, but expanded to include cast glass. Photo by Mike Schultz
Sharon Agnor began her artistic career as a sculptural welder, but expanded to include cast glass. Photo by Mike Schultz

She explained that she hopes all her work can spark conversations.

While some inspiration comes from the struggles of life, Agnor attributes much of her inspiration to her faith.

“I’m a believer,” Agnor said, “and I get a lot of inspiration from the Bible.”

The imagery and poetry in the Bible help Agnor come up with works that she describes as addressing spiritual needs.

Sharon Agnor works with cast glass as well as metal. She can create designs on panes of glass by spreading tiny colored powdered glass on the pane, similar to painting. The powder is then fired in a kiln to create the artwork. Photo by Mike Schultz
Sharon Agnor works with cast glass as well as metal. She can create designs on panes of glass by spreading tiny colored powdered glass on the pane, similar to painting. The powder is then fired in a kiln to create the artwork. Photo by Mike Schultz

“I want to be an encouragement to people,” Agnor said. Her work is designed to reflect the fact that while life might not always be perfect or pleasant, “it’s really a wonderful gift.”  

“There’s also hope,” Agnor explained. “That’s what life is like, there’s extreme joy and extreme pain. And it’s like you’re walking on the fence and you kind of wobble back and forth but you’re moving forward hopefully.”

Vancouver artist Sharon Agnor works with steel and cast glass to create large public sculptures such as “Genisis.” Photo courtesy of Sharon Agnor
Vancouver artist Sharon Agnor works with steel and cast glass to create large public sculptures such as “Genisis.” Photo courtesy of Sharon Agnor
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About The Author

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Alex Peru is a 2017 graduate of Washington State University Vancouver. He has a bachelor’s degree in History and a double minor in Political Science and Business Administration. Peru grew up in Battle Ground, and graduated from CAM Academy in 2013. He worked for The VanCougar, WSU Vancouver’s campus newspaper, for three years, including one year as the editor-in-chief. When not working, Peru enjoys reading books about history, working on cars and enjoying the outdoors in Clark County’s beautiful rivers, lakes and forests.

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