Sarah Stolar found her creative voice; you can too
Bill Knief, For The Taos News Sep 16, 2016
Sarah Stolar, the newly appointed director of the UNM-Taos art department, has been a practicing artist and art teacher for a good part of her life. Her mother, Merlene Schain, a college professor, holds a master’s degree and owns an art school in Cincinnati. Nevertheless, Stolar started out wanting to be a concert violinist – that is, until the day she came face-to-face with her true calling.
“I was living with my mom in Cincinnati, and one day I was walking through the lobby of the Art Academy of Cincinnati and I saw all of these amazing drawings on the walls and I had an epiphany,” Stolar said. “There was something about the energy of that building, and it kind of hit me all at once that I wanted to be there. I ended up getting my undergraduate degree in painting at the Art Academy and immediately went to grad school at the San Francisco Art Institute as a painting major.” Stolar said that, about halfway through the program, she changed to a new medium — new media, installation, performance and sound art — all mostly considered to be “non-traditional” forms of fine art.
“I’m a traditional painter in some sense, as I work with the landscape and the figure, but I make installations,” she said. “I do video art, sound art — I was a costume designer for a very famous artist named Annis Sprinkle and her equally notable partner Beth Stevens. So you could say I’m interdisciplinary and art has consumed my life.”
A look Southwest
In 2011, Stolar came to the Southwest for the first time to do a video installation for a Santa Fe festival.
“When I stepped off the plane I had this overwhelming feeling,” she said. “I’ve heard people say this before about New Mexico. It’s like an apparition moves through you and you feel like this is the place you want to be. That literally happened to me the minute I stepped off the plane at the Santa Fe airport, and I can still feel that feeling.”
Stolar said she and her husband then began talking about what it would take to stay.
“I loved teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute, but nothing was really happening for me in the Bay Area,” said Stolar. “I felt that I was known as a costume designer for Annie and Beth rather than for my own work. I had some pieces that were getting in some juried shows here and there, but I wasn’t represented by a gallery and it was a big struggle for me.”
She and her husband decided to go for it. “So we did what everybody says they want to, but they don’t do it. We ‘cashed out,’ jumped off the cliff with no parachute, and moved to Santa Fe,” said Stolar.
She eventually was hired to teach painting at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. At a faculty meeting, she said, Santa Fe painter Lily Richardson told her the chair of UNM-Taos was looking for new teachers. “So I went straight home and emailed, and one thing led to another, and here I am,” said Stolar.
UNM-Taos art culture
Stolar describes two populations at UNM-Taos — the adult lifelong learner and the degree seeker.
“And often there is a feeling that the older student population is not as valid as the degree seekers, and I just think that’s absolutely ridiculous,” she said. “I want to help create a culture where there are learning opportunities, studio and exhibit opportunities for everyone in the art department. We need to let the lifelong learners influence the younger population and maybe the younger students can help push the older ones out of their comfort zone into new places in art. It works both ways.”
Stolar added that she wants Taos residents to know there are excellent teachers at the UNM-Taos. “There are teachers that can teach skills and fundamentals — but also push students to find their own creative voice,” she said. “They are going to figure out what kind of art they want to make, and if they don’t necessarily want to be artists or art majors, art can still influence what they do and how they live. We need to show the world what we can do, and show the community what we’ve got here. That’s it in a nutshell.”
On Oct. 8, the Klauer campus, located on County Road 110 southwest of Taos, will host an all-day open house featuring 30 new art acquisitions, cutting edge architecture, fantastic landscaping, program demonstrations and a free picnic lunch. It’s an event designed for anyone, families included. It will be a great time to get to know your community college.
Knief is the UNM-Taos communications director.