A little local treasure has been sitting in the heart of Slater since last summer, when local resident Sherrie Taha opened Expressions Gallery & Studio at 412 Main St.
It’s a place that is open to the public with limited hours, usually one Saturday a month. The currently scheduled hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays, May 13, and June 10 and 24 or by appointment, which is probably the best way to see the interesting works of art that Taha is creating.
“I’m very open to people calling to schedule an appointment. It’s often easier to take time to talk to people that way, to show them different pieces and the various processes that are involved in creating a piece,” Taha said.
Primarily, Taha works in the mediums of clay and wax, which are the original works of art from which bronze sculptures are then produced. Her gallery displays a number of bronze pieces, along with a photographic and physical display of elements involved in the bronze sculpture process.
Her largest bronze sculpture is a piece she calls, “Angel Rising,” that stands as tall as her in one corner of the room. Taha said the piece is symbolic of the work it takes as a mother to oversee and guide children. And ironically, while the front is very intriguing, it’s the back of that sculpture — the angelic wings — that Taha loves most. The huge amount of detail in the wings, she shared, makes you feel as though you can feel a breeze blowing through them.
Recently, Taha, 62, introduced a show of some of her clay sculpture work called “The Nasty Women Show.” It is available to see from now through the month of June and features original clay and wax sculptures of notable “Nasty Women” (to coin Donald Trump’s description of Hillary Clinton during one of the 2016 presidential debates) throughout our country’s history, all of whom were involved in achieving equal rights and representation for women.
A big table in the gallery shows five of these sculptures in various states of their process toward completion. At the center is a full body sculpture of 2016 presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wearing one of her trademark pantsuits.
The other four pieces shown at this time are busts. One of the closest to nearing completion is Victoria Woodhull, the country’s “first nasty woman to run for president,” Taha said.
It’s not surprising that Taha would feature a show based on political woman, because she herself is very active in politics. Some may recognize her name as a former candidate with the Democratic Party for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture in 2014 and for state representative in 2016. Taha, who moved to Slater in 2015, formerly resided in Polk County, where she was elected as a soil and water commissioner there.
“I’ve been very involved in issue politics and public policy through my involvement with civic organizations like the League of Women Voters, the Democratic Party and others,” she said.
She’s also been very active in her art.
“In the early 1990s, I finished a B.S. degree in art education from the University of Minnesota. I was licensed (to teach art for) kindergarten through 12th grade,” she said. But it was at a time when school counselors, and art and music teachers all over the country, were being laid off. She did substitute teaching and had several “long-term” art teaching positions in the Portland Public Schools in Oregon. But those experiences made it pretty clear to her, she said, that she wouldn’t end up being in that environment forever.
“I started making my own work. I made and sold candles and sculptures at the Portland Saturday Market and did numerous art fairs throughout the Northwest and in California and Idaho. I’ve also had a number of clients who commissioned one-of-a-kind bronze sculptures, and I’ve enjoyed doing commissioned work for people,” she said.
Taha also has finished a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in public administration. She’s always been able to find employment through the years, while being able to enjoy her art, too.
Along with bronze, Taha has worked with other art mediums, including doing some glass casting and steel sculpture (welding). “I’ve also done some pastel drawings and begun a few oil paintings. The drawings and paintings and perhaps some jewelry may be future additions to the gallery,” she said.
Most of her work, she acknowledges, is to some degree representational, and elements of nature are commonly included.
“I love making something from nothing, beginning with an empty space and shaping something of interest to people,” Taha said. She adds that she loves figuring out how to move an idea into three-dimensional space. She likes exploring and working with different materials and figuring out which materials, colors and textures best reflect the original idea or feeling.
She also likes working with people. “I enjoy talking to people and helping a client figure out what they’re looking for in a commissioned piece,” she said. “I like sharing the process with people, showing them the possibilities and limitations. Commissions also challenge me to expand my range of subject matter beyond what I may otherwise choose.”
Taha admits that when she first decided to move to Story County, she had intended to be in Nevada, but she was having trouble finding the right kind of studio space. She happened to be in Slater on other business and saw the building at 412 Main was available.
“It not only has the right kind of studio space I was looking for, but also gallery space as well as office and storage space,” she said.
And the community of Slater suits her personally, too, she shared. “I’m halfway between Des Moines and Ames, both places in which I’m involved in other activities. On a more personal note, there is a great pool in Slater and bike paths that I haven’t even begun to explore enough yet. I’m very glad to have found this place and look forward to many years here. I’m thrilled to be in Slater.”