Throughout the 1970s, Sharon Long, a single mother raising two kids on her own, worked four and five jobs a day, seven days a week. She hated all the work and was worn out.
When she went to enroll her older daughter in college, she mentioned to a financial aid officer that she wished she could enroll as well, but that she was probably too old. The woman convinced her that it wasn’t too late, and then helped her fill out the paperwork. At 40 years old, Sharon entered the University of Wyoming and began taking classes toward a degree in art.
In order to graduate, Sharon was required to take a course in science, a subject she believed she was not particularly good at. But with guidance from an adviser, she signed up for a physical anthropology class, and started on a path that led her to find her calling as a forensic artist—using her skills as a sculptor to recreate human faces from skulls.
Over the course of her career, Sharon has worked for museums—she once constructed a face from a skull that was more than 9,000 years old—and for numerous law enforcement agencies, using found skulls to help put a face to unidentified remains. She has also made busts for the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian, and her work has been featured on the History Channel and the television show America’s Most Wanted.
Now 75, Sharon retired about four years ago, but hasn’t been able to bring herself to completely stop working. She focuses her energy now on the protection of archaeological sites through her work at the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office.
Sharon came to StoryCorps with her friend and colleague Steven Sutter (pictured together above) to talk about her passion for forensic art.
Sharon’s story is one of 53 work stories featured in our new book, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work. Click here to order Callings today.
Originally aired April 29, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.