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The cold did nothing to keep the crowd away from an artist’s talk with Sheila Pepe on Thursday night. They came with hats and coats (and one person with a bag of fries), but a diverse group of students and non-students gathered in Ball Hall at ETSU for the event hosted by Mary B. Martin School of the Arts.


Pepe is an artist and educator active since the mid-1990s, and in her craft she seeks to bridge the divide between abstraction and figure. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Massachusetts College of Art and a Master of Fine Arts from the School of Museum Fine Arts, Boston.  Currently, she works at the Pratt Institute as the assistant chair of fine arts.

Pepe has a softspoken eccentricity, highlighted by her appearance: blue polka dot button-down under red suspenders, large black cat-eye glasses, flyaway salt-and-pepper hair cut short, and a “Stay Woke” button. Her quietly cheerful demeanor warmed into hilarity as the evening progressed, the crowd laughing loudly at her jokes.

“I grew up in a family deli, where work was play and play was work,” she noted. This and her upbringing in the Roman Catholic Church led to her fascination with “transformation and temporality,” which shines through in her work. She also commented that she is as much influenced by the pop art from the New York World’s Fair as she is by her family’s trip to Vatican City when she was young.

With a slideshow, Pepe took the audience through her personal art history, as well as what influenced her along the way. While she works mainly in three-dimensional mediums such as crochet, photographs of her work can be found on her website here.

An hour and a half after it began, the crowd greeted the end of her talk with heavy applause.

“My work is smarter than I am,” Pepe said, “and I have to catch up to it.”

For a full list of Mary B. Martin School of the Arts spring schedule, visit the website here.

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