Wheeling Women Artists: Creative Librarian Finds Her Passion

Cheryl Harshman comes from a long line of makers. Her family includes brick masons, fiber artists, painters, potters, and gardeners. For holidays a common tradition was to give hand-made gifts to each other. So, being a creator has always something that has been natural for Cheryl. “I must make things. Whether it is a pie from scratch, a new shirt, or a pair of socks, I love making something from nothing, making it all on my own,” said Cheryl.

She started her art-making with a needle and thread. She laughed about how she grew up in the country. All there really was to do was to either go to church or join 4H. When Cheryl was 15 she found a love with fabric through the 4H program. “I won a competition to go to the Ohio State Fair with my 4H project. It was such a big deal.” Cheryl reminisced.

Most of her life has been in black and white. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in English from Bethany College. She then later continued her education at the University of Pittsburgh for a Master’s of Library Science. Some of Cheryl’s greatest milestones includes the publications of her children’s pictures books—Sally Arnold, Red are the Apples, and Christmas Morning. For her efforts she received the West Virginia Library Association’s prestigious Literary Merit Award. This award is given to recognize an outstanding literary contribution by a West Virginia resident. She was not only recognized for being an author but also for her roles as a storyteller and librarian.

Cheryl’s colorful creative life has only blossomed within the past 10 years. She is a self-taught artist; all of her training has come from books. “I spend my whole life in black in white with databases and books. There was this other part of me needed to come out in color,” said Cheryl. One day a friend, Bob Villamagna, approached her about a workshop that was going on at West Liberty University and asked her to go. It was a workshop with Mitch Lyons on clay mono-printing. This different form of printmaking felt so natural to Cheryl.

“This happened at a turning point in my life,” said Harshman. Instead of feeling sad she thought to herself it was time to get to work. “I thought to myself, when was I truly happy? When was I myself? Then I thought about winning the 4H Fair. I was happy then, that was my true self,” Cheryl continued. This lit a fire in Cheryl and she then knew what she wanted to do. She then sent prints from that workshop to a West Virginia state Competition where she beat out 400 people for one of the 80 spots. “I thought beginners luck but it was a great affirmation. I listened to my gut, my art angels guided me this way,” said Harshman. Her clay mono-prints have won places in various regional competitions including, Cross Currents at Oglebay Institute, West Virginia Juried Biennial, and Tamarack’s Best of West Virginia exhibits.

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Image is from a week with Fran Skiles at the Quilt Surface Design Symposium.

Cheryl’s inspiration comes from two places. One, she just likes to play. “I just play and follow my gut,” she laughed. Whether she works in fiber, clay, or paint, she likes to see what will happen next. “Each stitch, each mark, each brush stroke changed the work, moves it in another direction, maybe even away from where I thought I was taking the work.” she continued.

Second, she pulls inspiration from a gift she received from a by-passer in an art gallery.  One day, Cheryl went to an International Fiber Show in Charleston, WV. There she met a woman who was being pushed in a wheelchair covered in afghans and was wearing a chemo cap. “My daughter laughed at me and said, “Mom you never meet a stranger.” But women who work with needles are not strangers. So, as I was going through this art show, she and I occasionally talked and got to know each other a little bit,” said Cheryl. As they left the gallery, the women stopped and asked Cheryl for her name and address and told her she wanted to send Cheryl her collection of paper fortune cookies. “At the time, I didn’t think much of it but then I realized she was passing her fortune on to me. Pretty heavy stuff,” continued Harshman. Cheryl had this bag of fortunes for a few years and after accidentally knocking them over one day it just hit her. “I heard it. I heard it from inside. I heard, ‘What are you waiting for use my fortunes,’” she said.  Now she uses the fortunes as a kick off for her paintings or includes them in collages. “Once I started this series, I have been very successful in selling and getting into art shows,” Cheryl said with a smile.

Advice that Cheryl wants to share with other artists is that life is long and that it’s never too late to start something. “Don’t think you’re too old to start something. There is always time,” she shared. She also stress that it’s important to read. “Dare, I says as a Librarian, read. Read as much as you can. Read about your passion. Who is doing the best ‘fill in the blank’ and read about it. Be nibby. Ask questions.”

Currently, Cheryl works in her studio in her spare time. She also is working with a friend, Betsy Cox, on a project to celebrate Women’s History Month in Morgantown.

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Wheeling Women Artists is periodic Weelunk series unveiled in the winter of 2017 that features working artists in the greater Wheeling community.  If you like this type of story please leave us some feedback.