As a 12-year-old Queens girl — visiting her divorced father here in 1969 — Sherri Wolfgang fell in love with Westport.
She was a camper at Mahackeno, and later became an art counselor there. Her dad took her to Max’s Art Supplies, where she bought her first drawing pad.
The budding artist always got an “artists’ vibe” from this town. She grew up, earned a BFA at Carnegie Mellon, and embarked on a career as an illustrator.
Sherri got married, and lived in Greenwich Village. When she had kids, it was time to move to the suburbs. But she wanted a place with that same “great, creative environment.”
In 1992, Westport was that place. Through Max’s — and meeting spots like Glynn’s restaurant — Sherri met artists, illustrators and cartoonists. Stan Drake, Curt Swan and many others welcomed her in.
She formed a studio, called Dynamic Duo. She created covers for Time, Barron’s, Sports Illustrated and Business Week, and helped with ad campaigns for Coca-Cola, Burger King, IBM and MTV. She couriered her work to New York by train, just like all the famed illustrators here did.
In 2004, Sherri turned the studio into an art school. For 2 years she taught her craft to kids and adults.
But she missed painting. Ten years ago she started again. She’s been a full-time painter ever since.
Sherri proudly calls her style “old school.” Figure painting is not as popular today as it once was, she says, but that’s how she was trained. She loves it.
She layers oils and resins in traditional style, like the old masters. But Sherri is not da Vinci, Michelangelo or Rembrandt. Her paintings are contemporary. Many include a bit of whimsy or humor.
She paints large canvases, often in series. “Twisted” — which took several years to conceive, create and complete — portrays women who are addicted to cosmetic surgery. That doesn’t sound funny. But Sherri — who believes that “beauty comes from within” — manages to turn that serious subject on its Botoxed head.
If you recognize some of the women, you should: Sherri used herself as a model.
Now Sherri is gearing up for her biggest show yet. It opens June 1 at Bridgeport’s Housatonic Museum of Art.
Specifically, the Burt Chernow Gallery. It’s named for the longtime professor, who began his teaching career in the Westport school system. He helped found the Westport Arts Center — where Sherri spent plenty of time, in its studio days at Greens Farms School.
Sherri will exhibit 2 complete series. “Nick.e.lo.deon” celebrates the wonders of the human form. Her model was Nick Daley, a Staples High School 2012 graduate and professional dancer.
She’ll also show “Twisted.”
The Chernow connection to Westport’s old arts vibe is important to Sherri. Glynn’s is gone. Max’s closed too.
“I’d walk in to buy art supplies, and end up hanging out for hours with Shirley, Nina and Jay,” Sherri recalls. “That was our haven.”
When owner Shirley Mellor sold everything in August 2014, Sherri bought its iconic clock. She beat out fellow artist Miggs Burroughs by a minute. He’s still a friend, as is Nina Bentley — reminders that despite many chances, artists still live, work and thrive here.
Ten years after resuming painting, Sherri says she is in “mid-career.” She feels “lucky and honored” to be able to work in her large, bright and art-filled South Kings Highway studio.
After years of study — including lugging large books of the masters home from the Westport Library — Sherri says, “Things make sense now. I’m a more confident painter. My brush strokes are more solid. And I know when a painting is done. When it’s finished, I can walk away.”
With “Nick.e.lo.deon” and “Twisted” done — and preparations underway for her Housatonic show — Sherri is ready for her next series.
Called “American Pathos,” it’s based on what she sees as her daughters and their Staples friends begin their adult lives. (Sherri calls Class of ’12 grad Maya Schumer — a neuroscience major at Carnegie Mellon — and current junior Eden Schumer “my best works of art.”)
Those young women and their friends wear earrings and tattoos. Sherri will paint those — with Renaissance backgrounds.
Move over, Old Masters. I can’t call Sherri Wolfgang a New Mistress — but I sure can be at her Burt Chernow Gallery opening this spring.