Old City Park is more than just the staff, our circle is much wider than that. We are starting a blog post series about the whole OCP family so you can get to know all the people that are a part of what we do here…
Guest post by Peggy Helmick-Richardson, History Host and our textile expert
Last April, Old City Park opened its doors to the arts in a whole new way. Three rooms in Brent Place were converted to studio spaces for local artists who found themselves displaced when the Continental Gin Building sold. Today we offer the first of three articles on our resident artists.
Intrigued by a dead cedar waxwing lying by the holly bushes in her yard, Sarah Theobald-Hall snapped a photo of it. Today, she credits the striking image of that bird for being a primary influence on her current creative process.
Recalling a childhood of nurtured artistic expression, Sarah notes that this was especially significant after her family moved from New Jersey to the small town of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, when she was 10. “My parents made it a point to find creative resources, so we were enrolled in music lessons, dance lessons, painting lessons, and we volunteered at the local performing arts center. We were also put in choirs, and I did musicals with the church growing up.”
After acquiring her bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma, Sarah went on to earn both her masters and doctorate in English from the University of Tulsa. A primary reason for selecting the latter school was the opportunity to work with the semiannual journal Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. She later returned to the publication in 2003 to hold the prestigious position of managing editor for seven years.
Sarah also worked as the literary programs manager for the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa and a grant writer for Domestic Violence Intervention Services in eastern Oklahoma. “There was always a writing and editing component to most of the work that I did,” she points out. “I could have these flexible sorts of jobs where I could help start something new or identify a problem in the community and brainstorm with people on how to solve it. It was really a great experience.”
In her spare time, Sarah took a variety of art classes and workshops. Many of her instructors were artists introduced to her through working with Tulsa’s Arts and Humanities Council. Although she explored an assortment of media, her primary interest then was in photography.
“I found myself always wanting to be around artists,” Sarah continues. “I had a really good friend who was a photographer, and she probably wondered why I was constantly either hiring her to do something or showing up at her studio…an old converted gas station with a little iron stove. It was charming, with all vintage furniture. I think I trace my own yearning for that kind of studio for myself back to that place.”
In 2010 Sarah moved to Dallas with her husband Larry and sons Joe and Adam. Although she continued to pursue a career utilizing her writing and editorial expertise in publication, with an emphasis on nonprofit organizations, her fascination with the arts continually tugged.
She began studying under impressionistic painter Marianne Gargour at her studio in the Continental Gin Building. First invited by her teacher to sublet some of her studio space, Sarah later came to occupy two other studios in the popular arts community facility.
It was here that the inspiring cedar waxwing photo proved pivotal for Sarah. Although describing her initial attempt to translate the photo onto canvas as “an abysmal failure,” Sarah allowed the experience to draw her into exploring saturated colors and artistic energy. She studied the birds both in nature as well as in photos and played with vibrant colors on even larger canvas. When the Continental Gin Building hosted its final Open Studios in November of 2018, Sarah’s stunning and popular paintings of cedar waxwings were on display.
Immediately following this final Open Studios, the artists housed there had to scout out new locales. Sarah not only recognized the similar ambiance Brent Place shared with her friend’s Tulsa studio, she was also attracted to Old City Park’s “pastoral setting in the middle of an urban landscape.” In addition, she laughingly confesses to a fascination with the sheep here. “I think their eyes are so different from anything I’ve experienced up close … and they will walk right up to you.”
Today, Sarah’s primary mediums are acrylic and oil, with occasional pencil, marker, and “whatever seems to suit the project.” The two Dallas artists who have offered the greatest inspiration to Sarah are her teacher Marianne Gargour and Mary Vernon. Her artistic influences are Matisse (composition), Alice Neel (line), Alexander Hogue (color), and Maruyama Okyo (birds).