Artist Thomas Sterner works in his Leppo Road Studio.
A selection of Carroll County artists will open their studio doors to the public this December as part of the 11th annual Studio Arts Tour. To help commemorate the event, now entering its second decade, the Times will feature profiles of participating artists biweekly in Life and Times.
While other artists are content to merely reflect the natural world, Thomas Sterner of the Art Factory in Union Mills, said he's interested in elevating it, using the iconography of altars and to bring greater attention to the environment.
Interested in art from a young age, Sterner said he started treating the creative process more seriously his senior year of high school. He studied art at then-Kutztown State College, where he said he met artists like Philip Glass and John Gage. After graduating, he took a job in manufacturing at Laser Applications, Inc. while still producing some work.
After 30 years in manufacturing, Sterner began creating art full time at his studio, Art Factory, in Union Mills. His sculptural work combines natural wooden shapes with paintings, external elements and more creating a juxtaposition between the natural and the man-made. Sterner said his work in manufacturing taught him new ways and techniques for combining media and processes and leaving evidence of how things are made.
One of the themes Sterner said he is interested in capturing is reflecting and elevating nature and natural forms. Many of his pieces incorporate images and textures of trees and sprouting seeds in an effort to personify plants and their root systems, creating a reflection of the interconnectivity between humans and the rest of the world. He said he also enjoys lightening up these concepts with an element of humor, by using juxtapositions of image or concept or title.
Sterner said his passion for natural forms and his work's reflection of the world is inspired partially by his backpacking and rock climbing days.
"I think a lot of people overlook nature or take the world for granted," Sterner said. "The younger generation seems to be aware of our planet and its fragility. I like highlighting it and showing the power and beauty of it."
Sterner said while some people approach the act of creation with a desire to create something technically flawless, he prefers to leave the human touches of creation in his final works. He said the human error factor is something he was drawn to, and mistakes show that a piece was made by a human and can sometimes act as a road map to how it was made.
"If people wanted to buy art that was perfect, there are plenty of machines that can approach perfection," Sterner said. "In industry, I fought against human error. Now I sort of accept and embrace imperfections."
Though he enjoys the process and finding new opportunities in mistakes and errors, Sterner said his two favorite parts of creation come at conception and completion, with execution often just serving as the work that gets him from start to finish.
"There's nothing more thrilling than finding a great idea that you just can't wait to put down on paper or execute," Sterner said. "There's also a tremendous satisfaction of completing something and wanting to share it with people."
Sterner said he always looks forward to the Studio Arts Tour, as it's one of the most successful times of the year for art sales. He said each year, he can usually count on selling more artwork in two days than he could during a year exhibiting at Off Track Art. He said it's gratifying to see people appreciate his work in person.
"I think my goal has always been to make people think and make them smile," Sterner said. "If they leave and continue to think about something they saw, then I've succeeded. If they buy something, then I've really made an impression."
Future artists in the series include Gwen Handler, Larry Fisher, Kelsey Wailes, Linda Van Hart, Teri Koenig, Sharon Schaeffer, Lori Baker, Carolyn Seabolt, Trista Fedoruk, Laura Wailes, Joyce Schaum, Virginia Sperry, Max Groff and Elisa Dasher.