As I hefted another heavy slab onto the table, I admired the way the two pieces of steel curved together to fit my sculpture design. My MIG welder shot a shower of sparks almost as bright as the sparks of joy that lit my heart.
Creating public art was my passion. When finished, this sculpture, commissioned by the city of Vancouver, WA, would be a monument to volunteerism in our community.
As I stood back to admire the weld, a stab of pain shot through my gut. No. I shook my head. I didn’t have time to be sick again. I said a quick prayer, lifted off my helmet and swallowed a pill. Then I set the next slab of metal into place. Today I couldn’t let sickness derail me. My deadline was looming.
Throughout my life, sickness and creativity have intertwined and intersected in ways that only God could use. Today, I would choose to trust him and keep working.
Rising above the storm. By Sharon Warman Agnor. Private Collection
Sometimes the sickness fueled my creativity.
As a child, I remember lying in a hospital bed, fighting for my next breath while my dad pleaded with God to heal me. In those days, they didn’t have very good medicines for asthma, and fear of an attack hampered my normal childhood activities. I’ll never forget feeling left out and odd as I stood on the sidelines unable to join my friends in their outdoor games.
Thankfully, during that time, my parents fed the creative side of my nature. I’ll always remember my happiness when they gave me free reign and a budget to redecorate my bedroom. This gift of artistic expression made being forced to stay indoors bearable.
Wing as an expression of hope. By Sharon Warman Agnor.
One time my creativity fueled my sickness.
After a year of trade school in fashion design in Detroit, I got a job at an advertising agency creating promotional banners with petroleum products and plastic ink.
When I moved back to Portland OR, I started my own shop called Teaser’s, where I designed and created silk-screened T-shirts. I also developed a commercial silk-screening business making shirts, caps, and jackets for businesses to sell. During this busy time, I married, and we had three delightful kids.
After time, I began to get sick. Soon, I was too sick to even climb out of bed, and I began a series of doctor visits. During an allergy test for petroleum products, I suffered from anaphylactic shock and we discovered my body had developed a toxic reaction to the strong petroleum-based chemicals I had used in my job.
I learned that these same chemicals were imbedded in my furniture, carpets, and the very walls of my home. I felt better when I slept outside on the deck, but I was still too sick to take care of our three young children.
I wore a positive airflow helmet to the grocery store even though people stared at me like I was a freak show. During this time, I was reminded of when I was a child, locked away from others by my disease, isolated and alone.
We decided to move to Hawaii where the Oahu trade winds swept through the house day and night. There, I began to get better. Finally, after seven years in Hawaii, I was well enough to move back home to Vancouver.
Doing the hard work of healing, By Sharon Warman Agnor
City Hall, Puyallup, WA
My desperate sickness fueled my creativity.
In Vancouver, I was overcome with a desire to create something to sell. I discovered a sculptural welding class at our local community college. The first time I shot the flame from the acetylene torch, I was terrified. But soon, I realized I had found my passion.
Steel, bronze, and glass are affected dramatically when they are subjected to extreme heat and intelligent design. I enjoyed the parallel between real life and the process these materials underwent as they were transformed from basic elements into an instrument of meaning.
In the welding class, I also found a creative community. After years of feeling like an outcast, I finally had that sense of belonging that I craved. As a member of a group called The Women Who Weld, I collaborated to create and install several sculptures around our area.
Collaboration piece by The Women Who Weld, Vancouver WA Waterfront
My new freedom didn’t last long. When I turned fifty-eight, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Again, I was shuttered off as I suffered rounds of chemo, radiation, and surgery.
And again, in time I healed and began my latest chapter in my creative journey. Steel, glass, and bronze continue to be my mediums of choice. But my sculptures changed.
By Sharon Warman Agnor, Private Collection
My sickness fueled a new creative vision.
I have learned to take great joy in exploring the effect of life's unpredictable events on the human form and spirit. Our ability to sustain loss and heal is both amazing and central to our existence. Through my art, I work to create an external visualization of the stories of pain, suffering and joy imbedded beneath the surface of our lives.
Installation in Rotating Sculpture Program
Lake Oswego, OR
Through the searing heat and darkness of my own suffering, I’ve sensed the hand of God making and molding me as his own creative expression. He has comforted me when I was sick and sustained me when all seemed hopeless. When I was lonely and set apart, I sensed his nearness. He has guided and formed my art and given me meaning and deep satisfaction in and through it all.
"I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust."
Find out more about Sharon at https://www.sharonwarmanagnor.com