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Expressing Reality as Felt: A Glimpse Inside Sharron Parker’s Craft

Card the wool. Layer the wool. Pin it. Press it in hot water. Press it without cloth. Fold and stitch the wool. It’s a beautiful, delicate process. Like a seasoned cook creating masterpieces without a recipe, Forest resident Sharron Parker has the technique down to a science.

A fiber artist, Sharron has been creating handmade felt pieces for 39 years. Interestingly, she has never once gotten bored with her craft. “There are endless possibilities,” she smiles contentedly as she looks at the colorful bundles of wool in her art studio. There are no chemicals involved in the felting process. Sharron appreciates the simplicity of a craft that allows her to tell so many stories and “paint” such vivid images. She particularly enjoys creating images of light, doors and windows, living things, color, and the earth.

Beginnings

Born in Ithaca, New York, Sharron spent most of her childhood in Florida. Her father worked for an engineering firm that required him to do much traveling. When he was ready to start his own business, he moved the family to Florida. He built houses, and his wife, Sharron’s mother, made choices for the interiors. It was largely because of her mother’s work that Sharron became interested in interior design.

Making her house a home

At The Forest, Sharron’s own cottage has been carefully designed. Impressively, the artwork and other arrangements within each room bring out a wide scope of colors and themes. In the half bathroom in the hallway, antique door hinges and two rusty feet from old cast iron clawfoot tubs pair well with pastel portraits of the Parkers’ late feline companions, completed by a friend.

A large, sheltering tree towers over the living room, creating a sense of coziness and paying homage to the Parkers’ lifelong appreciation of nature. Even the coats and jackets lining the wall by the cottage entrance are arranged in color harmony – blues, greens, and purples that complement the beautiful felt statement piece hanging on the opposite wall of the foyer.

A creative conversion like no other

The dreamy art studio formerly owned by artist Sharron Parker.
Charming character surrounded Sharron at her former studio on the Neuse River.

The main attraction, though, is the master bedroom, a space converted into Sharron’s art studio. There, she regularly and skillfully pieces together inspired, eye-catching felt compositions.

The large and open room, filled with glowing natural light, has proven to be a comfortable transition from Sharron’s former workshop. That workshop, a private oasis housed inside a three-story, mid-nineteenth century mill, was located on the Neuse River, just north of Raleigh.

Felting in a castle-like retreat

Her previous atelier spoke to the romantic in Sharron, who has always been mesmerized by castles, ruined abbeys, and other such dreamy constructions. Her studio in the longstanding mill featured historic touches and recreations of old-world character, like castle doors and exposed granite walls fit for a throne room.

These inspired surroundings – including a wealth of rocks, water, mists, and wildlife just outside the large windows – further encouraged and influenced Sharron’s art.

During her childhood, she lived in Florida but spent many of her summers in the North Carolina mountains. “For church camp, choir camp, camp camp,” she laughs. She especially loved the rocks and the way nature looked during each of the changing seasons. In North Carolina, there were always plenty of old buildings around to keep her starry-eyed and inspired.

An artistic fervor

She eventually chose to come to the Old North State for her undergraduate education, largely because she fell in love with Duke’s Gothic architecture. In 1968, she graduated with degrees in education and art. Afterward, she pursued master’s degrees in interior design and art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. While in graduate school, Sharron took a number of art courses but found that textiles was her favorite area of study.

The beautiful master-bedroom-turned-art-studio in Sharron’s cottage at The Forest at Duke.

Sharron graduated from UNCG in 1974 and moved to Raleigh. Over the next several years, she attended multiple classes and workshops at the Penland School of Craft, near the small mountain town of Spruce Pine, North Carolina.

Sharron discovers felting

At Penland, she took part in a two-month weaving class and met full-time textile artists. This edged her ever closer to the discovery that fiber arts make her heart skip a beat. Sharron continued to take more courses at the school and eventually fell in love with felting. The oldest textile technique, felting dates back to the New Stone Age.

In 1980, Sharron traveled to New York City’s American Craft Museum (now The Museum of Arts and Design) to attend the United States’ first-ever felting show. During Felting: an exhibition of traditional and contemporary work, she learned that evidence of early decorated felts originated with the Neolithic people of Catal Huyuk in Anatolia, circa 4000 B.C. Royal felt objects discovered at Pazyryk, in the Altai Mountains of Western Siberia, date back to the fifth or fourth century B.C.

It was here, when Sharron saw 2,500-year-old felts from an archaeological dig in Siberia, that she really had her “aha!” moment. The crafts were intricate. They included gold and leather pieces and were attributed to what may have been a matriarchal society. After the exhibition, Sharron’s deep exploration into felting really took off.

Muses the whole world over

A handmade felt piece by artist Sharron Parker
In 2017, Sharron created this striking handmade felt piece of an old door surrounded by climbing vines. It is “based on a photo I took in St. Tropez, France, a few years ago. It struck me that a Good Witch would live in a place like this—such a fantastic, magical setting.”

As she learned more about the art and began honing her craft, Sharron discovered more about herself as an artist. She found that she enjoyed the simplicity of working combed wool in hot water until the fibers locked together. This allowed her to create stunning pieces of art in a way that few contemporary artists were.

Over the decades to follow, her work could be seen in exhibits throughout the United States and through the Art in Embassies program in Turkmenistan and Armenia.

She drew inspiration from her surroundings, observations, and travels around the world, to the exciting destinations like Iceland, France, Italy, and Ireland, to name a few. Raku pottery, Picasso marble, fossils, underground geodes, hawk wings, and a multitude of other muses also fueled her creative spark and continue to do so today.

Storytelling through felting

The knowledge and practice of felt art is now expanding in the United States. Notably, Sharron can be counted as one of the country’s early felters. She doesn’t consider herself a pioneer of the trade among contemporary artists. Rather, she sees her art as “an exploration of all the possibilities one can do with handmade felt. It covers new ground.”

Her résumé is as impressive as it is extensive; Sharron has shared her love of felting through workshops and demonstrations. She has sold numerous commissioned pieces and original works and won prestigious awards. Furthermore, she has served as the artist-in-residence at multiple schools and art centers.

Sharron’s passionate commitment to the practice of felting has borne nearly four decades of storytelling through brilliant, thought-provoking, and unique compositions. Our community is honored and privileged to have such a talented and distinguished artist in its midst!

—Lauren Young, Marketing Specialist

"The function of the artist is to express reality as felt." —Robert Motherwell

Header image: Sharron cards wool in her former studio on the Neuse River in 2017.
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