N.S. artist brings town’s beauty, history to life in watercolor paintings

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – With a resume that starts at the age of 11, it appears that Sharon Guglielmo is a natural born teacher.

At that young age, the North Smithfield-based artist was already instructing younger children in arts and crafts at her local community center. At first she was a volunteer, but the response of the kids was so enthusiastic that she was soon hired as a paid member of the staff.

“The community center gave me an opportunity for personal growth and a guide toward a teaching career,” Guglielmo told NRI NOW. “I’d originally planned to be an art teacher, but my high school math teacher made numbers so interesting that I ended up teaching math instead.”

However, art and math were always intertwined in Guglielmo’s approach to education. Not surprisingly, her favorite subject to teach was geometry.

“Measurement, perspective, symmetry, patterns, shapes and dimensions can be better understood using art, such as tessellations and fractals,” she said. “In fact, spatial reasoning and recognizing patterns not only helped me with my math courses as a student, but as a visual artist creating a 2-D painting that gives the illusion of 3-D.”

Guglielmo attended Rhode Island College as a math major, with a minor in studio art. She credits her sense of imagination in color to professor Samuel Ames, who had an unusual approach to painting – in his oil classes, students worked on sheets of metal and sculpted porcelain forms rather than traditional canvasses. Her college courses introduced her to a variety of other mediums as well, including pencil, charcoal, pastel, and pen & ink, but Guglielmo was not exposed to watercolor, her favored medium, until much later.

“At the time,” she remembers, “most colleges didn’t even offer watercolor painting.”

It was Allen Johnson, a professor from Rhode Island School of Design, who encouraged Guglielmo to look into courses at Rhode Island Watercolor Society after she’d painted his portrait in class – and she says it opened her eyes to new possibilities. At RIWS, she enrolled in classes to study portrait drawing as well as plein air and studio watercolor. The medium presented techniques Guglielmo says were intriguing, and the teachers she encountered there had an influence on her work.

“Watching many fabulous demos of painting scenes using shapes by Al Albrektson at RIWS was definitely an enriching experience,” Guglielmo said.

Other New England painters to inspire the artist include Charles Reid.

“I admire and can relate to his artwork – he renders the figure so simply, using shapes with a beautiful sense of color,” said Guglielmo, “Norman Rockwell impresses me too, with his expressive illustrations and portraits that reflect the American culture and tell a story.”

She said she prefers watercolor as a medium because of its transparency, and the endless variety of colors created by mixing paints with water, or by layering when the surface is wet or dry.

“The painting effects are something that no other medium can match,” Guglielmo said.

Of the 30 years that she has lived in northern Rhode Island, eleven of those have been spent in North Smithfield. The influence of the area on her subject matter is apparent – she developed an interest in bird watching, which led her to explore the forests and back roads. There are also numerous local historic buildings among her transparent, layered watercolors.

“I am fortunate to live in America’s first planned industrial mill village, Slatersville,” she said. “It is part of the Blackstone Valley where I’ve been inspired to paint the picturesque Slatersville Mill with the Stone Arch Bridge, and the Slatersville Congregational Church on the Common.”

Now retired after 28 years as a secondary school math teacher, Guglielmo is able to devote more of her days has to painting, She said that she finds it an absorbing distraction that has helped her to deal with difficulties in her health and her personal life. The pandemic has given her more time in her studio, but she misses the connection to community: She’ll be joining an Art Studio on Zoom in the fall to share ideas with other artists while painting.

She’s opened her own shop on Etsy – SharonAtEasel Artistic Visions – where she sells prints of her originals. She said she doesn’t hesitate to use technology to capture her own photos to work from in many of her portrait paintings.

For Guglielmo, math, technology and art are not on opposite ends of the spectrum, but are, rather, synergistic:

“Art makes a technological world more aesthetic and exciting,” she said. “Technology makes the art world more accessible and global. A perfect match.”

For more of Guglielmo’s portraits and prints, visit https://www.etsy.com/shop/SharonAtEasel

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