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Shari Dierkes


Picture of Shari Dierkes
Photo: Emily Troutman

Visual Arts: Crafts

By: Gail Obenreder

“I need to know as many materials and processes as I can. I may not use them all, but when I learn them, I have them. It’s my personal currency.”

Shari Dierkes didn’t grow up around art. Born into a military family, she lived in California and Turkey before settling (with her mother, stepfather, brother, and two sisters) in small-town Illinois. “We didn’t go to art museums. We didn’t have family or friends who were artists. I rarely had an art class in school.” Her earliest influences were coloring book drawings, which Dierkes reproduced in her sketchbook.

It was when she went to Southern Illinois University that “I got to experience this first love of my life.” Though she was majoring in Art Education, the studio art world “kept whispering not so softly in my ear,” as teachers opened up new paths. Continuing to draw, Dierkes concentrated in metalsmithing (“I felt powerful being able to manipulate metal”) and added work with gemstones. She kept signing up for studio classes that “I didn’t need but NEEDED,” and that led to a double degree – her BS in Art Education and the BFA in Studio Art she had not intended to pursue.

When Dierkes and her husband arrived in Delaware in 2007, she taught in the Appoquinimink School District (Kindergarten art) and then in the Smyrna School District, “where I took root and have been since,” teaching art to grades 9 through 12. The committed educator, mother, wife, and homeowner continued to create (“I made. I made all of the time”), but it wasn’t her art. But two things recently changed her life markedly.

photo of 5 vases of irregular shapes
“Predominately Inattentive,” 2020, basswood, fine silver, acrylic paint, 6 x 6 x 6 inches
photo of vase with external decoration
“Discriminate Frequency,” 2020, basswood, fine silver, polymer clay, 3 x 2 x 2 inches
shallow bowl with mushroom like stems coming out
“Extrinsic Motivation,” 2020, basswood, polymer clay, 24k gold leaf, pearl, ruby, garnet beads, 3 x 4 x 2 inches

First, after struggling for years with fatigue, at her husband’s urging Dierkes sought medical help, and a diagnosis of ADHD allowed her to more successfully focus on artwork. But just as this “finally gave me answers to a lifetime of puzzle pieces,” the COVID pandemic created a striking dichotomy. “I found myself using the isolation to catch up on my life. COVID gave me stress, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. But it also gave me time.”

One of the ways she used that time was to apply for the Division’s 2021 Fellowship, a project she had long wanted to undertake. And with the additional time for artistic exploration, she “fell in love with wood” while whittling the armature of a piece that she submitted for the Fellowship.

Dierkes is a lifelong lover of plants and gardening. As a child, a favorite chore was to “water my Mom’s houseplants, finding it peaceful.” Longwood Gardens is a continuing inspiration, and so it’s not surprising that in her work, Dierkes utilizes natural forms. She sees them as a metaphor for her experience of the human condition, representing her female self, and creates organic forms and vessels using materials “with recognizable inherent properties that are also malleable.”

Dierkes continually explores dichotomies in her work. “As women and mothers, we are bombarded with expectations . . . and this carries over to the art-making process.” She finds inspiration in artists like Cy Twombly, Amy Sherald, and Kehinde Wiley. But Dierkes is not deterred from her biggest challenge – the search to speak authentically in her own voice. The Fellowship has given her a sense of forward motion, and “I am looking forward to being the artist I always wanted to be.”

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