Sharon Agnor

Sharon Agnor

There’s a box filled with bottles and rusty panels on the sidewalk opposite my house. I’ve been eyeing it for two days, waiting for someone to take it away. Too busy to move it myself. On a bright spring morning, this visual seems like a harbinger for my conversation with Sharon Agnor, a sculptural welder whose distinct creations are finding homes in private and public spaces around the Pacific Northwest. 

Her Vancouver studio has an ironmongery-meets-laboratory feel. You see a mix of intimidating power tools, safety gear, and well-organized equipment at multiple workstations, alongside an array of works-in-progress. There’s a mix of bright colors punctuating the supply of bronze, glass, and steel she keeps at the ready. It is a busy space, but well-loved and intentionally arranged. Everything here has a place, a nook, a home. 

Sharon’s work has come a long way in the twenty-plus years since she first picked up a welding gun. She came to this craft as a curious learner, anticipating a challenge, ready to give herself the time and space to improve. “There’s a learning curve, but the biggest thing is getting used to all the equipment. It’s intimidating - this took some time getting used to it,” she says. “Once I overcame my initial fear of it, I got obsessed.” 

Today, her work is ambitious and frank. Each piece tells a story within a story, exploring the outer limits of human resilience through fantastical scenes that point to an impending transition: stillness into flight, trauma into peace, pain into freedom.

In no small part, this is her story. She has overcome a multitude of hurdles to get to this place: her own studio, physically fit, creatively charged. Before this chapter of her career, she was gravely ill for over a decade - getting through that was a fight for her life. The grit and determination it took to get better is very much a part of her aesthetic. Heavy materials are bent and burnt together, hung from ropes, suspended with chain links, reassembled from chaos—mimicking the healing process that takes place when broken people are made well.

“Heat is a stressor,” she says, discussing her work with steel. “I want each piece to come out more beautiful in my eyes than they went in. And I think that is just a great analogy for living. We want our stressors to make us more beautiful or better people.” 

There’s a layered physicality to her sculptures that forces you to think deeper and look more closely; the truth below the surface is where hope can be found. In a very tangible way, she uses the heat from her own lived experiences. “I like coming out here and being alone. It’s healing to come out here. It feeds you and makes you feel better when you do it.”

What’s Ahead

Right now, Sharon is currently working with the City of Vancouver, LSW Architects, and C-Tran on an installation dedicated to volunteerism. The plan is to transform a lesser-used street corner and bus stop into an experiential plaza; a first of its kind locally and hopefully the standard by which all curbside remodels will be measured moving forward. 

While a street corner is not the first place that springs to mind when you think of art and public engagement, there’s an opportunity hiding in plain sight: foot traffic. People, by virtue of going to a bus stop, must take a moment to pause and wait; the goal is to use that time to provide a meaningful experience.

“I like how public art can engage people,” she says. “Sure, people can access a gallery but if it’s on the street then people look at it, touch it, walk around it. How people engage is a reflection of where they’re at.” 

This plaza will be dedicated to Lee Coulthard, a one-person force who championed many causes for the city - including the hanging baskets on Main Street. Sharon's sculpture, called ‘Volunteer In a Hat,’ is made in Couthard’s likeness; it features his trademark stetson and the stretch of Main Street where he was known to take daily walks to fix broken trash cans, water the flowers, and generally make the city’s business his business. The seven foot piece will take center-stage at the corner, acting as the plaza’s central talking point. It’s intended to inspire others to follow his example: to get involved, care, and keep making this city look and feel beautiful.    

By getting LSW and Vancouver’s Downtown Association involved, the project has the benefit of creative input from multiple perspectives. The timing for such a project is ideal for Vancouver, where two forces are converging. One is growth: the city’s population, workforce, economy, and general sense of place is expanding and taking form. At the same time, the community is healing from the pandemic and all the historic pandemics it unearthed in the country and world. 

These circumstances aren’t unique to Vancouver, but we’re at a good moment for planners, residents, and anyone with a vested interest in the city’s health to be asking what can be done to help. To set the tone for years to come. To redress accepted norms. To evolve. To become pandemic-proof. For artists, maybe especially, the key question is what role art can play in responding to these shifts?

In Sharon’s mind, there’s already a strong sense of community activism in Vancouver; it only needs to keep growing. The residential sense of duty to the city is partly why the city is thriving. “I am optimistic because it feels like the city is moving forward - people are engaged. Maybe that’s because of the volunteerism push that is so embedded here.” 

If a bus stop can be a source of inspiration or a place to reflect on what matters, why should we stop there? Given the economic and social growth happening in the city, it is important to allow more space for art to reflect the story in a public way. 

Sharon contends that more resident programs and display opportunities are needed to help “In Vancouver, we are just at the beginning stages of having public art. We’ve got some beautiful pieces of the street, but there’s so much room for more. I would really like to see a rotating public sculpture program, like I participate in, curated by a committee.”

To allow art into our public spaces will expand the dialog beyond pain alone; it can be catharsis, hope, joy, and whatever else it needs to be. To Sharon, this comes back to focusing on what is local and in front of us. “I do not have too much of an effect on national news. But I can make an impact on people around me and the people I come into contact with and my immediate sphere of influence.”

This brings us right back to the spirit of her current project. “If we have ownership of our town, we naturally want to take care of it. And one way to feel a sense of ownership is to volunteer.” Hours after our conversation has ended, this quote from Agnor sticks in my mind. 

There’s no way to ignore or let this sentiment recede. 

Even though the public plaza will not be ready for another year or so, I’m already inspired. It’s time to act. Locally. This starts at home. 

I can’t keep waiting for someone else to pick up that box of trash. It stands a better chance of walking away on its own. So, when I’m finished writing this draft, I’ll head over to that patch of grass and do it myself.

You can follow Sharon and learn more about her work at

All photos by Shannon Korta / Riff_Creative, unless otherwise credited.

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