Sharon Donlon

Friends Celebrating 40 years!

The Friends of the Snite Museum are very pleased to introduce you to a founding Friend, a previous Friends of the Snite Museum board member, and docent Sharon Donlon! 

Born in Lake County, Indiana, Sharon was close enough to Chicago during her childhood to visit the various museums and art galleries, sparking her interest and passion for art.  After college, Sharon and her family moved to South Bend in 1965.

"What a happy surprise to learn that South Bend had the Art Center and that Notre Dame had the O’Shaughnessy Art Gallery plus several other fine venues” Sharon shared. “With the breadth and depth of the museum collection, it was a wonderful place to introduce children to art.”  Later, a subsequent marriage to a widower added eight children to Sharon’s flock. “My dream come true!” said Sharon of the larger family.

Through her many visits to Notre Dame and her love of the collections, she was asked to be on the ‘Friends’ board when the Snite Museum of Art was built. Her professional work took her to Indianapolis, where she enjoyed a lively art scene. Once retired, Sharon returned to South Bend, and to the Snite Museum as a docent.  "I happily acquainted school children with museum manners and art.  Now I spend my time enjoying the Snite and various community art gatherings and openings." Sharon enjoys the city’s First Fridays,  and other community art venues, especially CircaArts and Fire Arts, where she served on the board.

Ashbaugh Madonna

When asked about her earliest interest in the arts, Sharon responded, “Beauty has always been very important to me. One of the sweetest and best gifts that our parents gave myself and my five younger brothers was the love of beauty and nature. Our whole lives they were always pointing out things that we should look at and see, and taking us to museums and galleries, and so I started very young enjoying art. When I moved here in the 1960s the art gallery on campus was the O’Shaughnessy. The people were so welcoming and I grew to just enjoy and love it so much. Because I was hanging around a lot, I met Dean Porter who was the Director at the time. Dean was every place. He was making plans. He was writing. He was he was there doing everything. Dean was always thinking of fun and interesting things for adults and children, and I treasure those memories.”

“Dean and I developed a friendship and he asked me when the Snite Museum of Art began to be on the Friends of the Snite board. That's one of the nice things about art -- is that you meet people with similar interests. One day I was here and Dean said, “Sharon! You've got to come downstairs!”  The Ashbaugh Madonna had just been delivered, and so I had the thrill of seeing it and sharing with Dean, and we were both just so thrilled. What’s nice is to have people giving things that they love to the University and the Art Museum that they love.”

One of my favorite artists at the Snite is Ivan Meštrović. He came here in the 1950s from Croatia and brought many of his works with him, and one of them is at the basilica. The Pietà is magnificent and I would like anybody to go to Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame just to look at that piece. He has several pieces around campus, but a favorite one of mine is on the 2nd floor at the Museum called My Mother. it just evokes motherhood. It is so sweet and so precious and it makes me feel that he loved his mother very much.” 

My Mother, Ivan Mestrovic

Sharon served for a couple of years as a docent for the Snite Museum of Art. When asked about what she most enjoyed and what piece the children seemed most touched by, Sharon reflected: “The Snite has a wonderful docent program, and I was able to become part of it. Just for clarification, a docent is just someone who explains the art to people. One of the things I liked about being a docent is that I met so many nice people that have become friends, so I loved that, and I loved taking children around. Most of the children had never been to an art museum before. You don't necessarily explain everything. You let the children ask questions, and so it becomes an education for the docent, because you see what interests the child and that's really a fun thing for me.”

Fr Corby at Gettysburg










“One of the pieces that really stands out in my mind from when I was a docent is the large painting (Paul Wood’s Absolution Under Fire) of Father Corby giving Absolution to the soldiers at Gettysburg. It’s such a powerful painting It’s also big, so that all of the children sitting down could see it.  The painting shows when Father Corby came and stood on that rock, and gave general absolution to the troops.  What the children saw were all the people, and bowed heads, and looking very serious. It’s a nice piece that’s  connected to Notre Dame, but it also provides a little bit of history. The children heard about Gettysburg, and know what a serious time the Civil War was in our American history.”  Additional information of interest about the painting is found here.

Sharon loves to encourage art appreciation and reduce intimidation about art.  “When the children come for visits to the Snite, they’re a little shy and reserved because a lot of them had never been to an art gallery. I try to make them comfortable by asking them questions about art they may have in their home, even if it is on a calendar or on their clothing. I told them that we're going to see some things today that you may not have seen before and I want you to ask questions. I want to talk to you about what interests you not just what I want to talk about, so as we go up to a piece of art just talk to me about it and we'll discuss it.”

We at the Snite Museum are so very grateful to spend time with those who have been a part of the history for so many years, and who continue to be committed to the growth and evolution of the arts at the University of Notre Dame. Thank you, Sharon!

Respectfully video-interviewed and written by board member Juliane Morris

July 2019