The Work at Hand

Currently, at the studio the major work that is happening is a commission for a church south of Pittsburgh. The parish is condensing its ethnic parishes into one congregation, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, after the first American born saint. To honor the heritage of the parishes in the consolidation, five saints will be placed in four niches at the front of the sanctuary behind the altar and on either side of the Tabernacle, where the Host is contained.  Each of the sculptures will be made from a white resin, made to resemble marble. From left to right: Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saints Mary and Joseph together in one niche, Saint Luke, and Saint Vincent de Paul.

Over the past many months, I have been working on designing the figures at 18”, or about a third of the final height. The niches are only six feet tall, so I am designing them with a little bit of head room in the space. For those of you following Hempel Studios on Twitter (@SarahHIrani)  you already know that we’ve had a bit of a hiccup with the studio space. Back in June, I had my sights on a great downtown space that would have worked beautifully for this project in particular. High ceilings, wood floors, good company (I was planning to share the space with two other artists and a shop owner.) For various reasons, some still unknown to me, it didn’t work out. And another space was promised. It didn’t work out. And another. You get the idea.

Again, for those of you following me on Twitter, you’ve seen this quite a bit #prayforstudio. And you’ve also seen plenty of pictures of tiny titular saints lining up on my kitchen counters. It has been working more or less because these sculptures are only 18” and can be moved fairly easily. The full scale pieces, on the other hand, will each be on three-foot high bases and then be an additional four-and-a-half feet tall. This will not work in my tiny, cottage kitchen.


Solutions, anyone?

The community in which I live has been a bit of an arts desert, but something has been stirring. As I have combed the community for a studio space to share with two other artists, I’ve met others who have been looking for the same thing. Some artists in town have partnered with the local coffee shop owner and hosted exciting arts events, drawing three hundred people into the space. This is quite a feat for a town of only eight thousand. In the fall, the local revitalization organization hosted an Art Walk, where over twenty artists partnered with local businesses for an evening of tremendous fun. Again, the crowds came downtown! We were tasked with starting an Arts Council. We had four people show up to our first meeting in October and now have a full board of nine and a 501c3 non-profit tax status. Our first event is this Saturday.  And we are already planning an arts and theatre summer camp. (Check out our website:

One of the goals of the Arts Council is to move into a physical location to “provide a supporting and affordable working environment for a group of individual artists. Out of an overflow of creativity, the Studios on Broad Street would open its doors to the community for events such as gallery shows, open studio, art film and discussion, figure drawing, lectures, poetry readings, creativity workshops, open critiques, a variety of performances, and arts education in the form of classes, workshops, and mentor relationships.”

In the meantime, what is a sculptor to do with four three-quarter life-size sculptures that need to be done in the next few months? I need to move into a space yesterday. Plan C: the garage. We are currently talking with a few local contractors to get a price and idea what we can do with our old two-hundred-square-foot garage. It has a new roof, two tiny windows, and is painted yellow. It’s a start. Can I work there? What will need to be done to improve the space? Should I just be patient and wait for the Arts Council space to materialize. The space needs for a sculptor are considerably more difficult than the needs for a painter. For one, I have to be on the ground level of a building, unless it has a freight elevator. Moving heavy sculptures up and down stairs is rough, not to mention all the clay, bags of plaster, power tools, and lumber. It just won’t work.

Perhaps I’ll end up inhabiting two spaces at once: the garage for sculpture and a second-floor space for painting and drawing. Second-floor spaces are much easier, not to mention cheaper, to rent. Either way, it needs to happen soon.


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