Failed at abstract art but fabulous success otherwise

by Len Lear
Posted 6/24/21

Cosgrove is an artist-in-residence and associate professor of art at Wilkes University in Wilkes Barre whose representational work has almost brought me to tears when I have seen it.

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Failed at abstract art but fabulous success otherwise


Joe Borrelli, who is currently celebrating his 16th year of Borrelli's Chestnut Hill Gallery at One East Gravers Lane in Chestnut Hill, would be no more likely to say publicly which of the artists he represents is his favorite, any more than a parent would say (in a newspaper) which child is his/her favorite, but Joe does concede that “Sharon Cosgrove's work is a real favorite of our clientele … Sharon's work is so beautiful that it is a joy to have her work showing.”

It is easy to see why. Cosgrove is a 60-ish artist-in-residence and associate professor of art at Wilkes University in Wilkes Barre whose representational work has almost brought me to tears when I have seen it in Borrelli's window. 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. Apparently real experts agree since Cosgrove's work, “Bloodroot,” is in the permanent collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art under her original surname, Bowar.

Born in Washington, D.C., orphaned, adopted and Quaker-educated, Cosgrove 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.

She has been exhibiting at Chestnut Hill Gallery since 2018.  Initially she showed a few paintings; then her work was in a group show, and by the fall of 2019, she had a very successful solo exhibition. “I especially enjoy working with Joe,” she said last week. “He is a super-positive force for the greater good in the Chestnut Hill community and especially for the arts. I’m planning to bring new work to Chestnut Hill Gallery this fall and through the holiday season, and I’m very excited to see things gradually and safely re-opening!”

Growing up, Sharon's adoptive father encouraged her creative spirit, and she insists she was destined to be an artist. “My adoptive parents exposed me to all forms of art, stimulating 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.

“My story about the search for my birth family is truly remarkable and intriguing.  Everyone says I should write a book. Maybe I will. It’s a true story about secret passions and betrayals that led to profound loss, heartbreak and reunion. My adoption story is about finding certain truths, identities and genetic surprises that led to forgiveness, healing and the complexities of family love.” 

Because of the pandemic, Cosgrove taught remotely in the spring of 2020. Then her classes were designated “hybrid” and included a mix of face-to-face studio experiences, online readings, videos and links to museum websites, with live Zoom sessions for students in quarantine. “The pandemic caused huge uncertainties and anxieties in education,” she said, “and deepened my belief in the power of art to enliven the human spirit during times of duress.”

During the pandemic Cosgrove was able to produce two new groups of paintings. The first is a series called “Small Paintings in Big Places,” which was a “creative way of coping with the early shock of social-distancing and isolation. It was basically an exercise in positive visualization, in which I imagined wide-open outdoor spaces to compensate for my restlessness and pandemic-induced claustrophobia.” The second series is titled “Uneasy Stillness” and includes 20 small-scale “Memento-mori style paintings, designed to remind the viewer of the shortness and fragility of human life.” (“Memento mori” is an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death.)

In an earlier interview, we asked Cosgrove why she never does abstract art, contrary to so much modern art. “I have to chuckle when I’m asked this,” she replied, “because actually I wish I could create a good abstract painting. I’d even 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.'”

Borrelli's Chestnut Hill Gallery is now open for walk-ins on Saturdays and full-time appointments otherwise. For more information, visit Len Lear can be reached at


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