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A & E

Joliet Junior College art professor felt called to teach and paint

Retiring Joliet Junior College art professor blended vocation, avocation

JOLIET – “I saw I could make a living.”

That’s why Steve Sherrell of Yorkville, a prolific artist before he turned to teaching, embarked on a 26-year career as college art professor that will end Dec. 22 when Sherrell retires.

A large sampling of his artwork is on display until Oct. 17 in the Laura Sprague Gallery at Joliet Junior College, where Sherrell has worked as an art professor for most of his teaching career.

But the allure of teaching – for Sherrell – was more than the color green. Sherrell said he was “called” to teach – a call that fit perfectly, like a coat.

“I have very good relationships with people of college age,” Sherrell said. “I can relate to them; I can talk to them. They’re not put off by me; they’re not weird about it. I’m a 65-year-old guy, and I talk to them like their buddy. We get along perfectly. And I still made time for art.”

In addition to instructing his students in the mechanics of making art, Sherrell discussed the technical challenges of making a living with that art – the money problems, the life problems and the overall lack of support for artists and their work.

“People have a tendency to think it’s [art] frivolous and silly, so an artist has to live with that and figure out a way to get through it,” Sherrell said.

Thus said, Sherrell is pleased folks are enjoying his JJC show, although he really is not surprised.

In his 40-year art career, Sherrell said he has displayed work in more than 200 exhibitions. For the most part, Sherrell did not seek out these opportunities; they came to him, and he thinks he knows why.

“I’m never going to give what you expect,” Sherrell said. “People like that.”

Calling himself a painter and a computer artist, Sherrell said he has worked with oil, watercolor, acrylic, tempura, charcoal and graphite. He does washes; he loves mixed media.

Sherrell blames his ancestors – they came to the United States in 1670 – for his wide and varied preferences

“They were traders and explorers,” Sherrell said. “They came into Maryland and found their way to North Carolina. I have that in me. I’m kind of an explorer, but I explore art. For me, art is about doing new things and finding new things.”

He has one source for inspiration – the work itself.

“It [artwork] tells me what it wants of me,” Sherrell said. “I’m attracted to whatever the painting wants to be.”

Still, Sherrell can point to trends in his work. In the past, Sherrell produced quiet, meditative art, the result of experimenting with textiles. Today, Sherrell is fascinated with color, composition and the “psychological feel of things,” so he’s producing pieces to reflect that interest – and to pique the viewer’s interest, as well.

“When you’re working with abstract reality, you’re dealing with more internal things than when dealing with subject matters,” Sherrell said. “You’re relating to people on another level of their minds.”

Originally from Indiana, Sherrell said he was 18 and in a drawing class at Ball State University in Muncie when the realization hit him: I am an artist. Sherrell eventually studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in art.

Sherrell was regularly showing his pieces when he accepted an offer to teach art as an adjunct instructor at Waubonsee Community College in Aurora. Soon afterward, Sherrell began doing the same at JJC. When JJC offered Sherrell a full-time position, he happily accepted it.

In retirement, Sherrell said he will focus more on his art and maybe even music, too, as he’s self-taught in both guitar and piano, although he stops short at calling himself an actual musician.

Sherrell also would like to return to Florence, where six years ago he spent several weeks with his, wife Sally. And why not? he said.

“It’s the nicest city in the world,” Sherrell said. “We just walked for six weeks and enjoyed it.”



WHAT: Steve Sherrell art exhibit

WHEN: Through Oct. 17

WHERE: Joliet Junior College, Laura Sprague Gallery, J-1004, 1215 Houbolt Road, Joliet.

CONTACT: Joe Milosevich, gallery director, at 815-280-2423 or 815-280-2223

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