When I visited Sharon’s Brentwood home during Weird Homes Tour 2015, I was in awe. Her 1,500-square-foot home peeked out from behind a tall front yard garden. The tour cryptically dubbed the location, “Sharon’s House,” so I wasn’t sure what to expect at first.
When I entered, I saw that the house was alive and breathing with folk art and fascinated tour-goers. I didn’t meet Sharon that day, since I was too busy carefully navigating the house and taking pictures of every nook and cranny. A few months later, I was still thinking about her home. I set up a meeting with Sharon Smith to give our readers and myself some insight into one of Austin’s weirdest homes.
Welcome to Weird
It doesn’t surprise me that Sharon knew other Weird Homeowners, such as Aralyn Hughes and Lois Goodman, before the Weird Homes Tour. Many of Austin’s creative homeowners have a certain dynamism that connects them at some point. Casa Neverlandia’s owner, James Talbot, was actually a student of Sharon’s and recommended her for Weird Homes Tour 2015.
Sharon prepared for a month before the tour and panicked a bit when she heard how many tickets had been sold. Thankfully, the home was well received and everyone was gracious, despite a few pieces breaking due to purse or tush collision.
Accidents from a crowd that size is understandable, since Sharon’s home is packed with art. When you walk in the door, you’re greeted by shrines and tables covered in art from floor to ceiling. A clear pathway winding throughout the house takes you on a tour that requires you to stay on the route and appreciate the eclectic sights around you.
Some of the tour-goers, Sharon feels, may have seen her home as “entertainment or a freak show of sorts,” which isn’t necessarily a negative reaction. In reality, what she has is an impressive collection of folk art from around the world, with cultural and spiritual significance.
Sharon’s Incredible Collection
Growing up in “dull, normal, bologna-and-Velveeta-cheese America,” Sharon didn’t have an outlet for her love of oddities like she does now. Until 5th grade, she lived in Galveston, and then her family moved to New York, Philadelphia and Austin. She took off for Europe after college and lived all over Germany, Switzerland, Spain and England for 10 years.
Her continuous travels, like going to Dia de los Muertos ceremonies in Mexico, fueled her love for religious and spiritual artwork, while creating her own pieces grew her collection even further. Now, 23 years later, she has rooms filled with her own ceramic artwork, items she has assembled and enhanced, travel collections, objects given to her from friends, and even things left on her porch by anonymous donors.
The collection sits fluidly throughout the home, but there aren’t exactly sections for certain regions or artists. Colonial Peruvian art might sit next to a piece from an outsider artist in San Antonio. It’s a peaceful colliding of items, creating a powerful mood within the walls.
Many of these objects were cherished by families in South America and Mexico, but eventually needed to be sold for money. Often, older family members have religious folk art pieces made by elder artists. The younger generation might not feel the same religious connection, or may need to weigh sentimentality against practicality. This emotional element isn’t lost on Sharon, and she gives these significant items a home.
The word “broken” doesn’t worry Sharon. As a potter, she loves multiples, so when stores like Tesoros are getting rid of things that are in bulk or broken, she takes them all. She will reassemble delicate pieces to their original form or happily acquire a single earring from estate sales. “So what if it doesn’t have a mate?” Some earrings have been glued to the doorway in the main hallway. This reminded me of Weird Homes alum Stefanie DiStefano’s glittery kitchen cabinets. “Now, pieces are going on the ceiling,” Sharon says, as she shows me that flatter items are finding their place above, so the collection can continue to grow.
There is one item you won’t find in Sharon’s house that’s a staple in many Austinite homes: a computer. She does have one, but she says she can’t even get to it because it’s so tucked away. Though the allure of eBay and the “free” section of Craigslist calls to her, she doesn’t feel the need to “la de da around on Facebook typing updates.” She’d rather be outside tending to her garden or reading.
Sharon currently works at Austin Community College, teaching classes in ceramics. She knows the importance of getting materials to those who don’t have the extra money for such items, so she donates art supplies to different organizations when she can. After work, she comes home to read spiritual or art history books, or attend meetings of creative minds like the Austin Film Society or Austin Friends of Folk Art.
Continuing her own art education and love for craft, Sharon is taking mosaics classes, and she finds time to check out Austin’s art scene. Though she admits she’s over the alienating reign of conceptual art: “sometimes I don’t even want to put my glasses on to read the blurb.”
Her artistic training has granted her a tough sense of humor when it comes to some art. When she studied ceramics at UT, they took a hammer to their bad pieces without exception. As I chatted with Sharon, I couldn’t help but get away from the topic of this article. Her voice has a soothing quality, and she mixes kindness with biting humor. The whole time, I felt fueled by the work around me.
The Future of Sharon’s Collection
For a while, Sharon considered moving to Smithville and buying a larger home for her collection, which she could call The Smithsonian in Smithville. Unfortunately, Smithville doesn’t seem like the right fit for extroverted Sharon. She feels the need to be in a larger city, though Austin’s pricing is pushing many artists away.
Downsizing and having estate sales are two things she sees friends doing, but Sharon doesn’t know if that’s something she will ever do. Her family doesn’t seem interested in inheriting her collection, so she’s hoping to find a larger space like a warehouse to use as a museum, to really showcase her items.
You might see Sharon during Weird Homes Tour next year. If not, consider this your exclusive look into Sharon’s profound collection.
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