Sarah Hempel Irani is a classically trained sculptor, working in clay, plaster, bronze and marble. In 2000, she graduated from Hillsdale College, Michigan. There she studied sculpture with Anthony Frudakis. After graduation, she moved to Maryland in order to work as an apprentice to Jay Hall Carpenter, former Artist-in-Residence at the Washington National Cathedral. In 2001, she established Hempel Studios in Frederick, Maryland.
In the summer of 2001, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Potomac, Maryland, commissioned Sarah, in collaboration with another young sculptor, to create the Stations of the Cross. The project consisted of fourteen bas-reliefs. Each four-foot tall, two-foot wide sculpture was placed into an individual niche around the sanctuary. At the completion of the project, she competed in a national sculpture competition sponsored by the National Sculpture Society and was one of ten sculptors chosen to compete in the week-long figure modeling contest hosted by Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts. On the basis of her portfolio, the National Sculpture Society awarded her the Edward Fenno Hoffman Prize, given to the “young sculptor who strives to uplift the human spirit through the medium of her art.” Two of the Stations traversed the country with “Redeeming Beauty: Religious Works of Contemporary Artists,” a traveling exhibition sponsored by the Foundation for Sacred Arts, which opened at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. in August of 2007.
At only twenty-five years of age, Sarah was awarded a commission to create two larger-than-life sized marble sculptures of Saint Joseph and the Virgin Annunciate for Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church. In her Maryland studio, Sarah articulated each of the sculptures full-scale in clay and had the plaster casts carved in Carrara marble by a crew of talented stone carvers. The Virgin Mary was carved in Virginia by former carver at the Washington National Cathedral, Malcolm Harlow. Saint Joseph was carved in Pietrasanta, Italy at Studio Antognazzi. Each of the sculptures weighed over two tons! A dedication mass was held on November 17, 2007 at Our Lady of Mercy celebrating the completion of the project. The sculpture of the Virgin Annunciate was featured in “Dappled Things,” a literary magazine “dedicated to providing a space for emerging writers to engage the literary world from a Catholic perspective.” For her work in sculpture, Sarah was awarded a Maryland Arts Council Individual Artist Award in 2009.
In November 2010, a half-life-size sculpture entitled, “A Voice in Ramah,” was awarded third prize at the Third Annual Catholic Arts Exhibition, at St. Vincent’s College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, by Sister Wendy Beckett. Then, in January, 2011, she graduated with a Master’s of Arts in Humanities, with a concentration in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, from Hood College Graduate School in Frederick, Maryland. She focused her studies on European religious imagery; her thesis was entitled, “Piero Della Francesca’s Misericordia Polyptych: Artist, Patron, and Community.”
Sarah is currently working on four sculpture for the sanctuary at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. They are each four-and-a-half feet tall, depicting St. Ignatius of Loyola, Sts. Mary and Joseph, St. Luke, and St. Vincent de Paul. They are scheduled for installation by the end of the year.
Sarah moved to Northwestern Pennsylvania in 2009, where she lives in a little yellow cottage with her husband and their daughter. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Grove City Arts Council.