Memorial, New York City, October 29, 2006
Housing Works Used Book Café
I met Sarah in early July, 1968. We both attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, which was founded by Ben Shawn and a few friends shortly after WWII as an art students summer retreat on a bucolic lake-side setting in the center of Maine. I was sent by my art school on scholarship, as were probably 75% of the students. We got there a week before the paying crowd to set up the buildings that each fall were heavily braced for the ten foot plus Maine winter snows.
We scholarships students quickly bonded into cliques and started speculating on what the paying students would be like since Skowhegan wasn't cheap. I'd made friends my first day with a young woman also from the south named Ruth. Ruth spent all week wondering what her paid-student roommate would be like, who she'd learned (in Ruth's words) was, "Some white chick from Connecticut." Ruth was a young black woman who'd grown up in the south in the 50s and 60s. She had a tendency to be a little suspicious.
The day of the paid students' arrival, Ruth appeared and said to me, "She's here. She's OK. Come unload the car." And that's how I meet Sarah. She had the longest hair and shortest skirt I'd ever seen (although the hair was to get longer and the skirts shorter for the next couple of years). She was radiantly charming and not at all what you might expect a "white chick from Connecticut" to be like aside from her perfect skin and manners, and her blond hair. She and Ruth were buddies within a couple of hours and she joined our circle of scholarship kids.
Except for one aspect. Skowhegan faculty assigned studio space based on their assessment of how serious a prospect you were vis a vis the future of the art world. If you rated, rather than being in one of the group spaces in a barn, you got an open-sided shed space outside the barns. As far as I remember, no paying student got a shed space. I, and most of our friends, got a shed space. Sarah didn't get a shed space, she was put inside a barn.
Well, that's what they thought. Sarah set herself up behind one of the barns on a wall with no sheds, but with a lovely view of the woods. She put nails into the side of the barn to hold her painting, she set up something like fruit crates as a painting table, and proceeded to start work on a rather enormous painting of her motorcycle's carburetor. The faculty making their rounds had no choice but to seek her out. They were amused and impressed, both by her spunk and her art. When someone left mid-way through the summer who'd had a shed, it was offered to Sarah.
I chose to tell this story because it's something you don't already know - rather than to describe Sarah with words like creative, smart, fiercely ethical, beautiful and funny - because if you've experienced Sarah, you already knew that.
And I'm sure, as it was for me, your life was never the same again once you met her.
And now I'll turn you over to Vanessa, our lovely daughter.