Fox Chapel Area teacher earns top grade for artwork

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

Jody Shell protected herself from childhood pain with forays into painting, drawing and other creative outlets.

“I could create a safe world for myself,” said the Fox Chapel Area High School teacher, who parlayed her elementary talents into a career as an artist.

Not long ago, Shell unearthed some of her early works and put a fresh spin on them. She photocopied paper dolls, painted them and attached them to a canvas she co-created with longtime friend Karen Larson.

The mixed-media piece, “Paper Armor,” received a Juror's Award as part of the Pittsburgh Society of Artists' show, “Scapes.”

Shell and Larson's creation was among 155 pieces submitted to the exhibit by 85 artists.

Winners were selected by juror Petra Fallaux, the creative director of Springboard Design and the former director of Carnegie Mellon University's Art Galleries.

The pair were honored at an opening reception in September at the Panza Gallery in Millvale, where the piece will be displayed through Saturday.

Friends for two decades, Shell and Larson met when they worked at the Carnegie Museum of Art's Children Museum and quickly bonded over childhood dramas they endured.

The artists would discuss the adult issues that plagued their young lives and how they escaped with artwork, said Shell, a district teacher for 17 years.

In “Paper Armor,” the pair depict two women holding dresses covered with the pictures that shielded them “from the adult things happening in their lives.”

“We're trying to show the safe world that protected us,” Shell said.

Each woman completed one side of the project but the collaborative effort appears seamless.

“Maybe because we shared many of the same issues,” Shell said. “We didn't want it to look like it had a starting point and a finish, and I think it worked.”

Shell, a graduate of Edinboro University and Carlow College, said she enters exhibits and sells her artwork only sporadically, mostly as memories of her childhood make their way back to her.

“They come back in snippets,” she said, citing two recent pieces that focus on memories of her grandmother. Those two are now showing at the Fein Gallery on the North Side.

Returning to the art circuit has improved her teaching skills, Shell believes. She laughed at her frustration over composing an artist's statement for her most recent exhibit.

“That's what we tell them to do; start with an idea and come up with a statement,” she said. “And here I was, having to do just that. It puts me in their shoes and I feel more involved with what they're doing.”

The Panza Gallery is at 115 Sedgwick Street, Millvale. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or

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