The stunning representational, almost photographic work of Sharon Cosgrove is now on display in the windows of Borrelli’s Art Gallery on the corner of Gravers Lane and Germantown Avenue, at least until the end of June.

by Len Lear

I am by no means an art expert, although I had a teacher at Muhlenberg College, Alfred J. Colarusso, who had to be one of the greatest art teachers on the planet. He had so much passion and love for the subject that many more students signed up for his courses every semester than there was room for. However, although that passion for the subject did rub off on me, I could never draw anything myself other than stick figures — and they were not even good stick figures at that.

However, thanks to Dr. Colarusso, I do think I know great art when I see it. For example, Borrelli’s Art Gallery on the corner of Gravers Lane and Germantown Avenue currently exhibits the paintings of several fine artists in window displays, at least until the end of June, but when I checked their websites, the works of one of them, Sharon Cosgrove, absolutely blew my mind. The detail work is so meticulous, so palpable, with a beating heart, one feels that if you touched one of her still-life paintings, it would spring to life.

So I wrote to Cosgrove that “your work should be in the Philadelphia Museum if Art.” This was not intended as hyperbole, so guess what? She wrote back to me that “my work is in the collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.” So although my own artistic endeavors are on the level of an 8-year-old (no disrespect intended to 8-year-olds), apparently I did learn something abut truly great art from Dr. Colarusso.

“We are still doing custom framing and selling art via our four exhibit windows,” said owner Joe Borrelli, “and Sharon’s work is so beautiful that it is a joy to have her work showing now. Perhaps all of this quarantining has some art lovers craving for some new artwork to delight in.”

Born in Washington, D.C., orphaned, adopted and Quaker-educated, Cosgrove, 60, is a professor of art based in Wilkes-Barre, where she owns a private studio and teaches undergraduate courses in studio art. She holds a BFA, MA and MFA from the University of New Mexico. Her paintings and prints have been exhibited in invitational, solo and juried shows, nationally and internationally.

“Growing up, my adoptive father encouraged my creative spirit, and as my life unfolds, it’s apparent I was destined to be an artist,” Cosgrove told us. “My adoptive parents exposed me to all forms of art, stimulating both my curiosity and creativity. In my 30s, when I searched and found my birth family, I learned that my mother and her sister where both especially creative. My biological aunt had studied art in Chicago and received awards for her paintings and drawings.”

Cosgrove’s work titled “Bloodroot” became a part of the permanent collection in 2012 in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs under her original surname, Sharon Bowar.

In the same year, Sharon’s work was selected by the U.S. Department of State, Art in Embassies Program for an exhibition at the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan. She was also invited to travel throughout the country to conduct master classes and lectures for art students of all ages. “It was really fascinating to meet in small groups with Kazakh artists,” she said, “to hear their voices and learn about their artistic influences as historically a nomadic culture, then a former Soviet Republic, and now as a very young democratic society. My experiences in Kazakhstan had a hugely positive effect on my life and work.”

What does Cosgrove hope her students will take away from her courses, especially those who are not artists? “I hope my students gain a deeper appreciation for the arts, better insight into the creative process, skills in critical thinking, and for those who continue to make art, I hope their practice brings fortunate aspects and deeper meaning to their lives. Most of my teaching is based on trust, faith and kindness.”

So much modern art is abstract, and yet Cosgrove’s work is so representational as to bd photographic. Why not abstract? “I have to chuckle when I’m asked this, because actually I wish I could create a good abstract painting. I’d be happy if I could manage a mediocre one because I so admire abstraction! I’ve tried but failed, and any abstract work I’ve created has never seen the light of day. As I tell my students, ‘When I grow up, I want to be an abstract painter.’”

If Cosgrove could meet and spend time with anyone earth, past or present, who would it be and why? “This is an amazing and thought-provoking question! A few strong women come to mind. First, I would have liked to be sitting on that train from Calcutta with Mother Teresa when she heard ‘the call within the call’ that told her to leave her work as a school teacher and help the poorest of the poor … Another woman I would have enjoyed spending time with is the artist Georgia O’Keeffe … to walk beside her in silence on a high canyon trail in the Rio Chama Valley, New Mexico. Lastly, I’d love to be with my adoptive mother again. She died suddenly when I was 19, and I would love to have shared my adult life with her.” 

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