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An Eye for Art: Eldersburg artist Virginia Sperry likes getting her hands dirty during the creative process

Virginia Sperry is pictured with her sculpture titled “Kangaroo.”
Virginia Sperry is pictured with her sculpture titled “Kangaroo.” (Courtesy photo)

Virginia Sperry is an artist from Eldersburg. She grew up in Salisbury, Connecticut in a family environment steeped in creative arts. Her mother was an artist.

“My Mom was Martha Stewart before Martha Stewart was Martha Stewart. She used anything from alphabet pasta, clay, egg cartons and paint to create art. She taught me that anything could be an art medium,” Sperry said.

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Sperry's father was a musician. He began his career as a jazz pianist. He was the organist of her church. He taught her that beauty could be found anywhere. Both of her parents were involved in the local summer stock theater. Her mother designed the sets and costumes and her father was administrator of the theater.

Her parents encouraged Sperry’s passion for dance. She started taking classes at only 4 years old. Sperry and her two sisters and brother all participated in music, theater, dance and art while they grew up.

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All the detours she took in her life had to do with the creative arts. Sperry received a bachelor’s degree in theater from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York in 1984.

Delayed for three weeks because of the surprise spring snow, Sykesville artist Virginia Sperry finally got to unveil her welded steel sculpture, “The Great Blue Heron,” on Thursday, April 12, at Piney Run Park.

After graduation, she spent a year dancing in New York City at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance (marthagraham.org). Since 1926, the school has been a world leader in contemporary dance instruction. Graduates have performed in 50 countries.

As a child, Sperry had always had a fantasy of dancing on the stage in New York but she never imagined how much hard work (and pain) was involved in being a successful dancer. Sperry found out quickly that she was not cut out to be a professional dancer. As a result, Sperry changed direction in her life and attended Goucher College to get a master’s degree in dance therapy.

Virginia Sperry's "Tundra" depicts a life-sized musk ox and recently won a Best in Show award at City Art Mankato in Minnesota.
Virginia Sperry's "Tundra" depicts a life-sized musk ox and recently won a Best in Show award at City Art Mankato in Minnesota. (Submitted Photo , Carroll County Times)

Sperry stepped back on to the art path in 1990 when she asked her 14-year-old niece where she got her earrings. Her niece had made the earrings herself from polymer clay. Sperry went right out and bought a starter set. That led to a 13-year involvement in making art and craft items from polymer clay including frogs, lizards and woven baskets. From 1990 to 2003, Sperry challenged the limitations of the media.

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“I loved the colors and the malleability,” Sperry said.

During that time, she participated in retail and wholesale crafts shows, including the American Craft Council Show (craftcouncil.org). For seven of the years, she owned Winter Moon Designs Studio and Gallery in Ellicott City where she sold high-end American craft items and art.

In 2003, tired of polymer clay with its intrinsic limitations, Sperry enrolled in a continuing studies class at Maryland College of Art (MICA) in metal fabrication, thinking it was just a class in taking pieces of metal and bolting or gluing them together.

When she arrived at the first class, the instructor lit up the oxy-acetylene torch. Sperry almost quit. Fortunately, she stuck with it and by the time the class was over, she learned to weld with a MIG welder and had fallen in love with welding.

“I knew I wanted to be a welder when I grew up,” she mused.

Virginia Sperry has fun as she creates.
Virginia Sperry has fun as she creates. (Phil Grout / For Baltimore Sun Media Group)

After years of creating things that had to be put in an oven to cure, Sperry was able to expand her vision and create life-sized steel animals and large abstract sculptures.

Sperry gave up her studio in Ellicott City and moved it to an industrial park in Carroll County. Then, in 2006, she found the perfect property in Carroll County to move to, complete with a barn that could be converted to a studio.

Virginia Sperry Studio will host an open studio tour at her sculpture garden, at 415 Heath Drive in Eldersburg, this weekend.

She continued making steel sculptures and sent them to sculpture walks and parks around the country. “Problem-solving changed enormously when I began to make art on such a grand scale,” she admitted. For instance, Sperry had to find a shipper that would crate, insure and ship her sculptures.

The Sioux Falls, South Dakota Lions Club purchased her “Lioness With a Cub” that is installed downtown. “Nest,” a 6-foot egg with a nest inside, was purchased by a private collector Mason City, Iowa.

Sculptor Virginia Sperry with a giraffe sculpture titled "Vulnerability," outside her Eldersburg studio Wednesday, May 4, 2016.
Sculptor Virginia Sperry with a giraffe sculpture titled "Vulnerability," outside her Eldersburg studio Wednesday, May 4, 2016. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Sperry’s life-size giraffe lived in Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis for six years. Then she decided to bring all her sculptures home and open her own sculpture garden. Two giraffes, a musk ox, bear, kangaroo and other assorted abstract sculptures are on her 6-acre property. She opens it up twice a year for visitors to enjoy. She also welcomes group visits by appointment.

“I like making something out of thin air. I like creating something that you can touch, feel and see the movement and the personality of the image. I like getting my hands dirty,” Sperry said.

Sykesville artist Virginia Sperry's welded steel sculpture "The Great Blue Heron" is displayed near the docks at Piney Run Park on April 12, 2018. The project was made possible with a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council with additional funds provided by the Carroll County Arts Council and Piney Run Park Recreation and Conservation Council.
Sykesville artist Virginia Sperry's welded steel sculpture "The Great Blue Heron" is displayed near the docks at Piney Run Park on April 12, 2018. The project was made possible with a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council with additional funds provided by the Carroll County Arts Council and Piney Run Park Recreation and Conservation Council. (Ken Koons / Carroll County Times)

Sperry created and installed a “Great Blue Heron” at Piney Run Park in Sykesville in 2018. It was commissioned by the Carroll County Arts Council and Carroll County Recreation and Parks. The sculpture was a co-vision of both the past Director of the Carroll County Arts Council, Sandy Oxx, and Carroll County Recreation and Parks Director, Jeff Degitz. The sculpture was paid for by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC.org).

Sperry is currently a member of NOMA, a cooperative art gallery in Frederick MD. (nomagalleryfrederick.com) She will be exhibiting there with another Carroll County artist, Jim Roberts, in March 2020. In addition, she will be creating temporary sculptural installations for three Frederick County libraries throughout 2020.

Her website is www.virginiasperry.com.

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