Written June 6, 2015
This is when things got real.
Mrs. Stewart was my high school art teacher for the two years I spent in Louisville, Kentucky. She's the reason I have a painting in the Churchill Downs Museum. She's the reason I paint.
Art was always a part of my life, if not my day. I liked every kind of art making, in fact, I still do. I also like writing. I'm fond of reading, researching, and enjoy a bit of math. Learning about (rather than doing) science makes me downright giddy. History and anthropology are fascinating. So what is a young high school student to do when trying to figure out which college, if any, to go to and what purpose to put her life to when everything seems possible, doable, and interesting? I certainly didn't know. I thought I might go to school for chemistry until I had a second year of it and figured out that precision isn't as much fun as I wanted. I figured I could always be some sort of English major and write stuff for people for a living. I thought, you know, maybe art but wasn't sure I wanted to starve to death in a bed made of unsold works. I was vague and very much a teenager about the whole thing.
All in all, those two years were pretty standard lame high school stuff. There were bullies and a dress code. A group of us stood up to a group of them once and might have made things a little better for a moment. One of my friends ended up in the hospital after being jumped by three other boys at lunch. Kids had sex in the back stairwell. Racism and classism were rampant. My Senior class dropped in number by about half my Senior year. You know, it was normal America stuff with a touch of Southern flare.
Two years of art classes with Mrs. Stewart allowed for moments of sanity and peace. The art class I was in was a mixture of grade levels. There weren't other students from my other classes in it. My shy, loner self could just make things.
Mrs. Stewart had her eye on art competitions around the county and encouraged everyone to make things to compete. I did pretty well, all told, in those competitions. A collaborative work that Mrs. Stewart encouraged my friend Mechelle Sizemore (nee Peak) to create and enter into the County Fair got a little write up in the local paper. Some art awards made their way into my hands. I even made a sale or two thanks to her direction and encouragement. It was a good continuation from Frau Rosenow several years previous.
The big moment with Mrs. Stewart, however, really was a moment. A sentence. A declaration. It was like someone struck a giant brass bell inside me and all the separate pieces of me, all the loves and dislikes, interests and passions, fell into their appropriate places. It was as if I was in perfect alignment with my world. All it took was one short statement from a woman I trusted:
Sarah, you are a painter.