Catching your heart

“Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture your heart,” an ancient Native American reflection.

The exquisite Native American portraits by local artist Sharon Brening attract the viewer’s attention before asking for their hearts.

Sharon’s romance with vast Southwest landscapes and its indegenious people began as a child when her family relocated to Arizona.

Her photographer father would lead the family on adventurous treks through the windswept vistas of Monument Valley, the spiritual silence of Canyon de Chelly and the splendid grandeur of the Grand Canyon.

Often their journeys lead them to local trading posts where small Sharon was immersed in the vibrancy of the surrounding native cultures.

She watched her father respectfully photograph babies in their cradleboards, observed wooden wagons drawn by teams of horses or mules carrying families.
Even as young as she was Sharon picked up that the rhythm of life on the reservation was very different from her own.

Her mother enrolled her in a watercolor class at the age of 10. The medium became her way of expressing her deep reverence for the life of the Native people she met and wanted to better understand.

She would spend countless hours drawing and painting, perfecting her skills with a desire to share what she saw and felt with others.

One of her early works is of a small Native American girl with a pot on her head, which hangs in her studio to remind her of those early days.

Today, Sharon journeys back to Arizona’s Navajo land, the Hopi Pueblos and the high mesa villages of New Mexico.

She has developed long lasting friendships with the families whose children she has painted portraits of over the years. Sharon is proud to share that a portion of every portrait sold compensates the family that has so generously invited her into their lives.

Following in her father’s footsteps Sharon uses photography to capture her models unique personalities, clothing styles and the moods of the environment in which they live.

She returns to her studio with a wealth of images in preparation for her finished work. Each weekday Sharon is in her studio working for hours on a number of paintings.

She describes herself as, “A traditional realist painter. I feel compelled to continue painting the stories of people that I have come to know as friends and help preserve their rich heritage.”

It’s not unusual for her to have four or five artworks going at the same time.

She uses techniques of the old masters, painting and glazing layer after layer, which adds richness, depth and vibrancy to the subject.

Her subjects are rendered so skillfully the viewer feels as if the subject could walk right out of the canvas to greet them.

Sharon is a member of the Western Artists of America and was honored with a solo exhibition in 2010 at the Pearce Western Art Museum in Corsicana, Texas. Her work now has a place in their permanent collection.

She received two Awards of Excellence from the American Plain’s Artist show at the Museum of the Southwest in Midland, Texas and recently had a painting purchased that will hang in Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.

She also became the first woman to win the prestigious Gold Medal Award for oil painting at the Annual Western Artists of America Show and Sale in Texas.

“I strive to capture the spirit of the essence of each model I paint. The beauty we are surrounded with each new day inspires me,” she said. “I’m currently working on expanding my art work venue to include what I call Imaginative Realism, which is so exciting!”

Sharon is participating in the Arizona Fine Art Expo, happening now through March 24, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (

To view more of Sharon’s work visit her website at, or to set up an appointment to visit her studio contact her at: or 602-679-8484.

Contact Arts Columnist Shea Stanfield on her email at: