Sharon Que (shortened by her family from Querciagrossa) inherited the Italian artisan spirit of her ancestors, but discovered a passion for wood grain and the curvilinear scroll of a Stradivarius all on her own. From a wood model-making apprenticeship at Macomb and General Motors, she has fashioned a successful career for herself as a violin restorer, with clients that include The Henry Ford. Still, she is always searching for that next, new endeavor that will inspire her to do even more.
“After high school, I started right off taking art classes at Macomb,” says Que, who had been encouraged on that path by a teacher impressed by her artistic ability. After two years of ceramics, photography and general education courses, she transferred to the University of Michigan and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. Interested in acquiring a new skillset that would allow her to work with her hands while supplementing her income as an artist, Que returned to Macomb and signed up for its wood model-making program.
“Artists tend to gravitate toward the trades,” relates Que, one of few women at the time to be accepted into a GM/UAW-sponsored apprenticeship program. After four years of training, she received her journeyman’s card and a full-time position at the GM Tech Center. “We made models of everything from armrests to small hinges. I loved that job, it was so intellectually demanding, and Macomb was a part of that – it perfectly prepared me.”
After two years at GM, however, Que was in search of a new challenge that would require less than 10 hours a day, six days a week. She came across an article about two Ann Arbor violin makers and decided to pitch them the idea of hiring her as an assistant. Another apprenticeship ensued as Que learned the violin restoration trade, including how to play the instruments she was entrusted with, before branching off on her own with both her employers’ blessing and referrals.
“I worked for these two fabulous violin makers for 13 years,” says Que, who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband Tom Phardel, retired ceramics chair at the College for Creative Studies. “The Henry Ford has an amazing collection of violins that they decided to bring out of storage, and that’s when my former employer sent them to me. These instruments are so expensive, so valuable, I have to work on them in The Henry Ford’s own restoration studio.”
Que is also a sculptor and she maintains separate studios at home to accommodate her two artistic pursuits. Her sculptures have been exhibited in Venice, Italy, San Francisco and Chicago, as well as being part of the permanent collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts and Oakland University. Locally, she is represented by the Simone DeSousa Gallery in Detroit, which describes Que’s work as a marriage of “traditional and industrial.” And it is to the latter that she recently returned.
“I’m back at GM,” enthuses Que. “I get to work in one of the buildings designed by Eero Saarinen,” a mid-20th century leader in industrial design. She also marvels at the old photographs that line the hallway and her second opportunity to be at the heart of what makes Detroit the Motor City.
“I needed a change again, and the auto industry is pretty exciting,” says Que, who has been relearning the wood model-making trade in all its fully digitalized glory. “I’m still running my business part-time, my customers count on me, and I couldn’t let them down.”
And, too, there are those moments she would miss when she is restoring a violin, perhaps with a Bach violin concerto playing in the background, when its lyrical beauty charms her all over again. “You really can get lost in it,” says Que.