Sarah Hempel Irani works out of her studio in Frederick, Maryland, north of Washington, D.C. She specializes in Sacred Art and Portraiture and works in clay, plaster, bronze, and marble.
Sarah studied Fine Art and Classical Studies at Hillsdale College in Michigan with sculptor, Anthony Frudakis. Then she moved to Maryland and was apprenticed to Jay Hall Carpenter, former Artist-in-Residence at the Washington National Cathedral. Sarah then established Hempel Studios in Frederick. She earned a Master of Arts in Humanities from Hood College Graduate School, with a concentration in Medieval and Renaissance Studies.
At only twenty-five years of age, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Potomac, Maryland commissioned Sarah to design and create two larger than life-size sculptures cut from Carrara marble of Saint Joseph and the Virgin Annunciate, each of the figures weighing more than two tons. She had already sculpted the fourteen Stations of the Cross collaboratively with another sculptor for the parish.
The National Sculpture Society awarded her the Edward Fenno Hoffman Prize for her work that "uplifts the human spirit." Two bas-relief sculptures traveled the United States with the Foundation for Sacred Arts for over a year, starting at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Sarah was also awarded a Maryland Arts Council Individual Artist Award in 2009. Then in 2010, Sarah received the third prize for the Third Annual Catholic Arts Exhibition at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, PA by juror Sister Wendy Beckett for her evocative sculpture of a woman grieving the loss of a child, entitled A Voice in Ramah. She has been a visiting artist and speaker at Ave Maria University, Grove City College, Slippery Rock University, Covenant College, as well as numerous churches and religious organizations.
My work is inspired by the unique knowledge that comes from living in a female body. From fertility to death-bed vigils, biology and cultural expectation push women toward constant awareness of corporeal existence. My sculptures attempt to express the distinctly feminine and visceral aspects of reproduction, care giving, and grief. In both commissioned and personal work, I frequently depict the Virgin Mary, who stands as the archetype of female experience. In her, divinity and humanity became one in the body of the infant Christ, and reflects our own experience of bringing forth and caring for fellow image-bearers.
My process involves working from live models. I model softened oil-based clay around metal skeletons called armatures. I whap, pound, press, and move the clay with a rubber mallet, pieces of wood, and the heels of my hands. Details are articulated with delicate handmade wooden tools. It is a physical labor, my body rendering the image of the body in clay. The final step involves sending the finished clay piece to a foundry where a mold is made and cast poured in bronze or plaster; and plaster casts can be sent to a marble carving studio. I have recently begun to experiment with carving my works in wood and stone. This change of medium appeals to my desire to work with a natural material and be more physically involved in the entirety of my creative process.