Deaf Jewish artist makes exquisite Judaica
Sharon Jo Serbin is a wood carver, sculptor, mosaic artist and muralist.
She wrote a children’s book, entertains at birthday parties, models in the nude for art classes, is a trained masseuse, and teaches Pilates and drama.
She teaches babies how to communicate by signing, as she just happens to be deaf.
“I consider myself a creative specialist,” Serbin said in a clear voice, although she has not heard a sound since she was 18.
With no formal training in art, Serbin creates intricately carved yads and menoras, and hand-painted ketubas — custom designed depending on the character of the couple.
Serbin’s art career was born of practicality. When her three children were young, she would paint over stains on their clothes because she could not afford to buy new ones.
“I have no training in art,” she said. “It just pours out of me.”
From her humble start in painting, she began experimenting with a variety of media, learning the art of mosaics from her sister, Pittsburgh artist Daviea Davis, who created the two dramatic glass mosaics depicting Old Pittsburgh and New Pittsburgh at the Pittsburgh International Airport.
Serbin also creates stunning stained glass works, and donates much of it to various nonprofit organizations. The candlesticks she made for Temple Sinai are multimedia masterpieces of hand-carved wood and glass mosaic, evoking the Old City of Jerusalem.
Believing everyone is charged with continuing God’s work of creation, Serbin’s own work is infused with an undeniable spirituality.
“I think God just started creation, and it is up to us to continue it,” she said. “We make it beautiful with our stories, our songs, our babies. Each part of us is a part of creation.”
Born with a hearing loss in her left ear, Serbin’s hearing became progressively worse throughout her childhood. When she got to high school, she was losing hearing in her right ear as well. By the time she was 18, she was completely deaf.
“I believe my art work is better because I am deaf,” Serbin said. “I can completely focus on things. Nothing distracts me.”
Last year, when a physical evaluation indicated that cochlear implants would allow her to hear, she declined to undergo the procedure.
“They said everything would be high-pitched,” she said. “I didn’t want that. I have a memory of sound. I don’t want it replaced.”
A patent optimist, Serbin sees other perks of being deaf.
“I can sleep in a crowd,” she said, smiling. “And I can win fights by closing my eyes.”
Serbin recently quit her full-time job as the infant supervisor at a day care center so that she could focus on her art, and so that she would not be tied to a rigid schedule. She likes to have the freedom to go downtown when she feels like it so that she can talk to and hug the homeless.
The Facebook page devoted to Serbin’s art is called “Wild Woman Creations,” and the moniker fits. She recently satisfied a longtime longing of howling with a wolf.
“I was the storyteller at the Council of Three Rivers annual Pow Wow,” she explained. “This year, a vendor there had a wolf hybrid. He was beautiful. I started playing with him, and wrestling. We understood each other. I’ve wanted to hear a wolf howl my whole life. So I put by hands on his throat, and I threw my head back, and I howled. Then he started to howl and we howled together.”
Not surprisingly, another of Serbin’s many vocations is motivational speaker.
“I spoke at St. Lucy’s Auxiliary for the Blind,” she recalled. “I spoke about positive thinking. If you build up the negative, you build up a wall. But if you build up the positive, you build up a ladder.”
“Being deaf didn’t stop me,” she said. “To be truthful, I think it spurred me on.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)