Sarah McArthur’s art, to put it simply, “pops” with color and creativity. This comes as no surprise, however, once people learn of the incredible, artistic people and sites that have played a part in her background.
Born and raised in Easton, Connecticut, McArthur ended up traveling west and landing in Roswell. When she speaks about back east, she talks about her beginnings in a home that at one point housed sculptor Louise Bourgeois, well-known for her large-scale sculpture and installation art.
“I was brought home to the same home my parents lived in from 1958, until I sold it to my neighbors in 2016. Once owned by Bourgeois, there are a number of sculptures in the backyard, including a huge spider!” McArthur said.
On Shelter Island, between the two forks of Eastern Long Island, McArthur spent summers that, according to her, were “full of adventure and lazy days.” Being near New York City allowed her to be exposed to some of the most fabulous museums in the world — from the Peabody at Yale and the MET; to MOMA and the Guggenheim.
“For my birthday every year,” McArthur said, “I was also allowed to choose what I wanted to do, so I always picked a museum. My mother had a grand dame friend whose sister was some sort of curator at the MET, and I loved talking to her. One of my earliest memories is being given a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard with an unlimited supply of chalk. … I wouldn’t stop drawing on the walls and windowsills — making patterns on everything.”
In addition, McArthur’s grandfather, Sanford Gerard, made a name for himself working as an art director for a number of houses on Madison Avenue. Building a career in advertising, he was also an accomplished watercolor painter.
“As a child,” she said, “I found his trunk-sized art pieces from his time at PRATT Institute. They say this is where all my artistic inclinations and talents come from.”
When high school graduation came around for McArthur, she enlisted in the Army.
“I enlisted because I was such a horrid student and I wanted to go to Europe right away — there was too much art to see. I was stationed in Kaiserslautern, Germany for 2 1/2 years. Although the Army wanted me to go to Monterey, California to study Russian, I wanted to see the entirety of Europe and chose to drive an 18-wheeler instead. I stayed in the Reserves, as well as joined ROTC and became an officer, receiving my commission as a 2nd Lieutenant the same year the Berlin Wall came down.”
Although there was more education that led her to study career paths, such as journalism and graphic design, it was in June 1989 that McArthur was told of the amazing art scene in New Mexico and moved to Santa Fe. Eventually landing in Roswell, she worked for New Mexico Military Institute for five years in the role of troop leadership advisor. Marrying in 1993, she welcomed a son into the world in May 1994.
As time moved forward, she found herself drawn to a new style in the creative world, ceramic art. (Her pieces can be seen on Instagram under the hashtag #coolerclayart.) When asked why she began this particular journey, McArthur talked about conflict and strife in her family and the roles she played of being both the “fixer” and the “scapegoat” depending on the situation.
“During these times, I would retreat to my chalkboard and art pads, and doodle massive patterns,” McArthur said. “I was just trying to establish order back into a chaotic childhood. When I paint on ceramics, it’s very relaxing and peaceful for me; it’s also that same mental challenge to make unbalanced things have balance.”
In 2009, she joined the Roswell Museum and Art Center and began taking evening classes under Master Potter Aria Finch.
“I am indebted for life to Aria,” McArthur said. “She has taught me everything about clay, and the many techniques and choices I make along the way. As I had a painting background, I was also thrilled to discover I could paint on clean, white ceramic surfaces, so I love to throw porcelain and columbine stoneware clay because the colored paints I use ‘pop’ once they are fired the second time. That’s definitely my style.”
Now retired, McArthur’s home was upgraded to sport a fully functioning ceramic studio. She states that inspiration comes from many places.
“Pinterest is an inspiration for me, art books, and sometimes just ideas germinating in my head for months,” McArthur said. “But ceramics can be unforgiving. I can start making coffee cups only to discover they want to be saucers because my clay is the wrong softness; or, a super large vase can turn into a platter. Then I have lots of Bisqueware on the shelf and will pick it up several times before I decide I ‘see’ something I want to paint on it. Sometimes monochromatic, and sometimes trying different color combinations, I then line the work with black to make it ‘pop.’”
Other artists love and collect her work, which McArthur says is a huge compliment. But she has also brought into focus the idea of penning a book.
“I’ve been considering writing a version of my family stories that is reflective of David Sedaris, or an actual memoir,” she said. “I keep writing memories on index cards while I educate myself on which style, format or narrative I want to write in. I also want to eventually write a manuscript set on Shelter Island.”
Even though she will always miss certain things that only the eastern shore can offer, McArthur is thrilled and very grateful to have such a fortunate life.
“My son, Dylan, is my biggest accomplishment,” she said. “We are very close. Not to mention, I’m a very proud mom.”
Another event to be very proud of is the fact that Sarah’s work was accepted in an Art Show in Las Cruces for the first time this past fall. It seems guaranteed that will most assuredly not be the last show. Locals can always see her work at both Bone Springs Art Space and Finishing Touches in Roswell.