By William Thrift
Photography by John Wrightenberry
One may think that talking to a stone is akin to talking to a brick wall – an exercise in futility – but not so for Sharon Collings Licata. When she “talks,” the stone listens and then talks back in chips and fine, heavy dust. A conversation ensues until a form emerges and the stone reveals its truth to her.
Perhaps Sharon has “heard” the stones all along – she recalls collecting rocks as a child. But somewhere between school and career, she was drawn away from them, obtaining degrees in Art and Political Science at Agnes Scott College in Georgia, and then a Master of Media Arts at USC. She specialized in photography and eventually became a producer/director of video programs for staff and patients at Emory University.
Despite her career success, the stones never really stopped calling. She attended the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN, first studying pottery (leading her to USC’s MFA Program in pottery). Somewhere along the way, she rediscovered her love of stone – heard what they were saying, so to speak. So after a few years, she returned to Arrowmont and began studying stone sculpture.
Using her experience with clay, Sharon often creates mockettes to study and get the design and proportion for realistic sculptures in limestone blocks. Other pieces in various hues and shapes of alabaster random boulders tell her what they want to become. Some of her works, especially the larger pieces, require power tools. She dons goggles and earplugs; flips on the studio’s exhaust fan, and zones out for awhile. But most of her pieces are created in relative quiet, using steel hand tools. She chisels and shaves at the stone, inspired along the way, until she reaches the stage when “everything is crisp and flowing with a strong composition from all angles.” She polishes almost exclusively by hand, using increasingly higher grit, since most of the surfaces have curvature. When she teaches, one of her mottos is “caressing stone permitted.” Leaping Together is a large limestone sculpture featuring two dolphins, polished to feel like a dolphin’s skin, bursting out of a column of water finished with a rough, rippling surface mimicking the ocean. Touching it, you almost expect your hand to come back wet.
Sharon’s “conversations” have led to realistic and abstract forms in a variety of media including stone, bronze, and clay. Her work resides in numerous private and corporate collections and she frequently shows throughout the country. To carry on your own “conversation,” visit her studio at Gallery 80808 on Lady Street in the Vista, or at gallery80808vistastudios.com.