The ‘funky cats’ are coming back

Courtesy photo: As she is being observed, Sharon Welch shares some painting tips with onlookers at her gallery and studio in Pierre.

2018 award winner returning with fan favorites

BROOKINGS – Sharon Welch is a relative newcomer to outdoor arts festivals: She’s been in only two of them – and she finished in the money both times.

On her first try she was juried into the 2018 Brookings Summer Arts Festival and was named Media Award Winner. “This is the one everyone wants to win,” she said. “I was like, Wow! I was just so honored. And I had great sales. It was wonderful.”

Welch’s winning piece of work, a painting of a trio of multi-colored, sunglass-wearing cool cats – “Feeling Groovy” – has been chosen as the logo for this year’s festival. It’s being featured in BSAF promotions, adorns the cover of this special insert issue and is also printed on commemorative T-shirts.

On her second outing this past May at “Artburst,” an art exhibition at the annual Orange City (Iowa) Tulip Festival, she won Best of Show, two-dimensional art, for the overall quality and appeal of the booth where her work was displayed.

“Obviously, I want to do more outdoor shows,” Welch said, with two award-winning shows behind her. She’ll be in Pioneer Park on Saturday and Sunday.

“I am definitely going to bring the cats,” she said. “I’ll bring some figurative work, and I’m probably going to bring some Native American figures and some buffalo. I do lots of other things, but most people expect to see my cats.”

The cats come from her collection of work called “Funky Animals.” While it includes some marine life and a few dogs, felines predominate. In her collection of multi-colored, bespectacled cats are such titles as: “Beach Beauties” (multiple cats, ready for some fun in the sun); “Here’s Looking At You” (one, lone smiling cat); “Mardi Gras Cats” (a trio of felines ready for a Fat Tuesday celebration); “Sherlock” (one inquisitive-looking cat, on the case); and “What Canary” (three silent and stoic cats, no snitches or ratting-out here as to the whereabouts of a missing bird).

“I love paintings (of cats), funky ones,” Welch explained. “I started putting sunglasses on them. It was crazy. They’re whimsical; they’re so much fun for me. People love them. And obviously the jurors loved them, because they won the Media Award.”

Plenty of fun and color

Owner of Sharon Welch Gallery & Studio in Pierre since 2008, the artist is well established with a dedicated following. Her art hangs in private residences, community hospitals, businesses and restaurants across the country. She’s been in a lot of indoor shows and has won some awards, but Brookings was her first venture into the venue of outdoor arts festivals.

In addition to painting, she also teaches others to paint and brings to her classes a simple theory: “Have fun, remove the fear of failure and let the child inside you play.”

“I’m pretty much self-taught,” Welch explained, as to her own education and training in art. “I’ve done a lot of work, but I am self-taught. And I’ve been doing it all my life.

“I got real serious about it in the ’90s. I was in Watertown and I was part owner of a gallery there with eight other artists. Now I’ve got my own gallery here.”

In her pre-’90s younger years, before getting real serious, Welch spent a lot of time traveling around Europe painting and selling her paintings.

Born in St. Paul, she later moved to Sioux City and has also lived in Los Angeles and Chicago.

“I traveled extensively for many years. And then I moved back to Sioux Falls and got married and moved to Pierre. Then we went to Watertown and we’re back in Pierre.”

Her husband, the Rev. Warren Welch, a United Pentecostal Church minister, served as a pastor in Watertown for 17 years. 

“I really am a traveler,” Welch explained. “I backpacked through Europe at 19 and did it again years later. It’s in my nature.” Laughing, she added, “It was a good way to live.”

A negative-state painter

While she “did about 10 years exclusively in water colors” and won a national award with a water-color painting, it’s not her favorite medium.

“My real medium is acrylic and mixed media,” she said. “I like to add paints and crayons and ink to acrylic. 

“Acrylic is what I love, because I can be very energetic with it. I can be bold. I can add all kinds of stuff, and I don’t have to wait a long time to keep going into it if I want to.”

Welch describes herself as a “negative-state painter.” 

“Most people paint the positive shape and then work back on that afterward,” she explained. “I have my canvas full of stuff and then I chisel into it. From the background I pull out the positive shapes. Most people don’t do that.

“I’m unusual in that I do a lot of negative-state painting.”

She noted that she teaches a lot of classes at her gallery but admits she’s “never been able to successfully teach negative painting. Most people groan, ‘Oh no, not negative painting.’ But that is something I do.”

Not surprisingly Welch has been working on her cats since last year’s BSAF: “I’ve got to build them up, because I sell them throughout the year. So I’ve got some brand new cats and they’re going to be really fun.”


Contact John Kubal at [email protected]


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