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Sherri Young Dunbar: Wild Bird Artist posted: 12/18/2003
by Carolyn Lee Vehslage Printable Page
Category: General Method: All Series: In the Studio
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Having painted wild life for years, Sherri Dunbar became enamored with herons and shore birds on a trip to Maine in 1996. "Our friend has a cottage on a tidal river and a heron comes to visit every day. I watched the elegance and patience of that bird as it waded and waited for a fish to come by."

"Approaching Storm"
Oil based paints on cotton
Sherri Young Dunbar, 1996

Soon after getting back home, Sherri painted and quilted "Approaching Storm" which remains in her private collection to this day. The hand sewing on her paintings brings extra dimension to her artwork. Since then she has created several other wading bird pieces including "Sea Lavender" commissioned by Dr. Robert Stein.

"Sea Lavender"
51"h x 42"w, Setacolor and oil based paints on cotton
Commissioned by Robert Stein, MD
Sherri Young Dunbar, 2002

Dr. Stein, "first saw a picture of a quilt that Sherri had done in a glossy magazine of crafts delivered by mail. The piece she had in that article was a fox in the hollow of a tree trunk. I thought it was fantastic: colorful, with a very natural feel.

"I called Sherri and we talked about commissioning a piece with a similar fox and maybe an adjacent forest. We talked a little about design elements and she sent me a sketch and some fabric swatches, which I liked a lot." Dr. Stein's wife is of Cherokee Indian heritage so Sherri worked in her tribal symbol of a raven.

"The Fox and the Raven"
42"h x 54"w, mixed media
Commissioned by Robert Stein, MD
Sherri Young Dunbar, 1998

"About two years later, we went over to the Winterthur Museum crafts show and stopped by Sherri's display. She had branched out to make several great quilts showing underwater sea life and herons wading in the shallows of a marsh. I asked her to make us two more wall hangings, one of each. ("Sea Lavender" & "Moons Rising") This time, although she sent us swatches and a preliminary sketch, I knew I could trust her to make something beautiful. My wife and I sat back and waited for Sherri to send us the finished quilts. They have both arrived and are also truly fantastic! Working with Sherri has been a great experience. She has an eye for nature that I really appreciate."

"Moons Rising"
52"h x 42"w, mixed media
Commissioned by Robert Stein, MD
Sherri Young Dunbar, 2000

Most of Sherri's artwork starts with a sketch. "I take the sketchbook on vacation and I always have a small one in my car. Every summer vacation is recorded in some way. The heron and the gulls and the sand pipers all were sketched on the beach. Sometimes I just get an idea -- otters sliding down an icy bank or a fox eating blueberries -- and the sketch stays in the book for a year or more before it comes to life."

"I use photographs for reference and I use reference books, Petersen and Sibley, to make sure I get the coloring and shape correct. I have lots of ideas in the sketchbook and lots of notes for more work. I need to live to 125 just to finish what's there and spinning in my head."

Wild bird rescuer Miriam Moyer "met Sherri Dunbar when I was on a craft fair committee for the wildlife rehabilitation clinic. Sherri had just finished a quilted wall hanging "Oil in the Ocean" in response to the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. It was a subtle but moving tribute to the animals that suffered from that infamous example of human carelessness. We featured that artwork in advertising the fair."

When the Moyer's renovated their house, Miriam decided to commission an original artwork. "I gave Sherri the bird species I had helped raise at that time, and the approximate size of the finished artwork. Sherri selected fabrics, sent samples with suggestions, and a sketch in scale of the picture. Then I waited. When the quilted artwork was finally finished, I was delighted with the results."

"It hangs in our new sunroom. Before, this space had been a screened-in porch where I would care for the birds. After it was enlarged, I decided to decorate it with a bird motif. The twelve tall windows frame living pictures of trees, sky, and birds. The one high, solid wall opposite the longest window wall is where Sherri's "Celebration" hangs. Now, I can't imagine the room without it."

60"h x 49"w, oil based paint on cotton, hand quilted
Commissioned by Miriam Moyer
Sherri Young Dunbar, 1995

Celebration portrays Chimney Swifts, Northern Orioles, Cardinals, a Catbird, a Mockingbird, Cedar Waxwings, a Blue Jay, a Kingbird, a Yellow-Shafted Flicker, an American Robin, Common Night Hawks, and Mourning Doves.

When asked why she likes creating commissioned artwork, Sherri responds, "They get me into areas I might not have tried -- different color palettes and all those birds in "Celebration". When I was invited to do a one-woman show at the National Wildlife Visitor Center, I did a lot of research about creatures of the Chesapeake Bay area and the mid Atlantic region. That research generated all the artwork in my Shore and Wetlands series and is still driving my work."

Sherri Dunbar is a juried member of the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen and past president of the Montgomery County Guild of Craftsmen. Her artwork has been exhibited in the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building, the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen's "Best of Crafts" exhibits, and in New England Quilting Association's "Images '97." Her artwork may also be found in private collections in the United States, Europe, Japan, and the Philippines.

To commission artwork, contact Sherri at

Her wild bird scenes are viewable at and available at

Abington Art Center Gallery Shop
515 Meetinghouse Road
Jenkintown, PA 19046

JJ Fish Studio
14 N. Main Street
Berlin, MD 21811

She will have booths with her one-of-a-kind and limited artwork, note cards and pillows at

American Craft Council
Robarts Arena
3000 Ringling Blvd.
Sarasota, FL 34237
December 5-7, 2003

Patuxent Wildlife Art Show
National Wildlife Visitor Center
10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop
Laurel, MD 20707
March 26-28,2004


In early February, quilt artist Sherri Young Dunbar had a massive stroke and never regained consciousness. Her husband Ron wrote, "Sherri's body followed her mind and spirit into eternity. She died peacefully with her family at her side. She's finally free of pain, and no doubt furious about all the art projects and other things left undone."

He added, "The underlying theme of Sherri's artwork and a great motivator in her life was nature and wildlife. To this end, she also volunteered her time and talents at a local conservation and nature preserve of several hundred acres. Sherri would be honored by any contribution you would care to make to this worthy organization: Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust, 2955 Edge Hill Road, Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006-5099."

Sherri was a member of the Heartstring Quilters Guild in Bala Cynwyd, PA. They will be presenting an award in her memorial to one of the artists juried into "ArtQuilts at the Sedgwick 2004" at the opening on April 3, 2004 at the Sedgwick Cultural Center in Philadelphia, PA.

It was an honor and a pleasure to know Sherri. Peter and I will always treasure Sherri's quilt The Salt Marsh that is a part of our fiber art collection.

Carolyn Lee Vehslage

2003 Carolyn Lee Vehslage
Carolyn Lee Vehslage maintains an onboard studio on her Mariner Yacht "Fandango". Several of her quilted wall hangings that were created while cruising, are viewable online at Her award winning artwork is in private, corporate, gallery and museum collections around the world.

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