Artist encourages students to embrace diversity

“Balancing heart and brain” is on display in the library in the C Building. 

MCCC’s visiting artist encouraged students to pursue variety and flexibility in their art.

Chicago artist Sharon Bladholm said it is important to be diverse as an artist because each material teaches something about the other materials. 

Her expertise includes cast glass, bronze, and ceramic in the sculptural realm, as well as stained glass, printmaking and works on paper.

Bladholm is featured on campus during the month of April. She visited art classes, lectured, and set up a public display of her art in the library.

At her lecture on April 5, she intertwined art, science, nature and conservation topics through stories and pictures. 

She discussed the evolution of her career and her participation as an artist on scientific expeditions to isolated areas of South America and other remote areas.

“Basically, my whole life has been a synthesis of art, science, nature, and conservation starting from a very young age,” she said.

She grew up freely roaming 40 acres of woods in Wisconsin and traveling the states with her family in a Volkswagen van.

She also had access to abundant art supplies because her father was an artist.

Bladholm’s work is the interface of people with the natural world, integrating the sciences of anthropology with biology and botany from the plant world.

On a trip to Chiapas, Mexico, she fell in love with the rainforest. She loved the diversity of the plants.

“I am definitely not a minimalist. Rainforests are not a minimal kind of place,” she said. “You have the most abundance of different species, so that has been a reoccurring theme in my artwork and life.”

She said nature and art are inseparable. They are the twin roots of her life and artistic development. Her artwork is in service to the environmental issues people face today. 

Bladholm has participated on expeditions with The Field Museum in Chicago, Conservation International and the Andes to Amazon Biodiversity Program to the Brazilian, Venezuelan and Peruvian Amazon, documenting the life of the Yanomami people through her art, and exploring conservation of endangered plant and animal species in isolated communities.

The participants of these expeditions found dozens of new species of plants and animals, and Bladholm documented their findings through her artwork and occasionally photography.

She has run Opal Glass Studios in Chicago since 1983, and she continues to complete many important commissions and show her work in galleries and museums.

She also creates public art such as installations at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Bordeaux, France and the Garfield Park Conservatory, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. 

This year, she is working on a public art piece for greater Chicago’s Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, which is one of the oldest metropolitan conservation organizations in the nation. 

She is also creating new works of art based on her involvement with the Andes to Amazon Biodiversity Program in 2009.

Bladholm said she would like to see more of her work in conservatories because then her artwork would look like it is in a natural environment.

All of her artwork is symbolic. Each piece reflects the interface of humanity and nature.

She said she is inspired by science. She is an avid reader, and many of the books she reads are science related. 

“Balancing heart and brain,” which is on display in the library, symbolizes the fine line between choosing with heart or brain.

“Of course we should be using our brains and thinking with our brains, but maybe tempered with the wisdom of the heart,” Bladholm said.

When people think with their heart, they are thinking seven generations ahead, like Native Americans.

“I really believe we should be thinking with our hearts, and there would be less environmental destruction,” she said.

More samples of Bladholm’s work can be found on her website at