By Sarah West

I found my direction through drawing upon observations. The more I drew and the more I painted, the clearer my thoughts, ideas and convictions became. Throughout a career in visual arts, I found my platform to advocate for historic and community cause. When I felt I had no words, I would draw and when the words came, I would write. My life has rotated around this axis and now with new discoveries I found ways to combine them.
“Paint from what you know” has been the transcendent rule. Painting from what I know and writing of it, I’ve done both. Yet, along the way, I’ve still been searching for a sense of alignment for these things and more. Its immergence has taken years.
I turned to my library of well-read books. There, I revisited my constant literary companion and began to read his words once again. Long past my student years, I now felt compelled to return to the root of it all. And so my course was set. I charted plans and began my pursuits towards greater dynamics than I had experienced yet.
Through every book, museum and academic institution visited, I have come away from them with a greater understanding of just who I am. Such was the result of my return to Philadelphia.
There is a current which pulses through a place. It accounts for all that has happened there and it doesn’t forget. Upon my first visit to the Old City, I felt a sense of kindred…understandably so, since most of us can trace our heritage to there. The center of it all was once this city’s cause, and in the centuries to follow most of our cultural beacons have gained influence at her heart. She has a revolutionary air which transcends the colonial age, it is emulated in architectural and cultural range.
Within the shadow of City Hall lays America’s first institution for fine arts academia.
I first set foot inside 118 N. Broad St., on a rainy early autumn morning. The building was quiet and reverence seemed to abound in the vacant atelier. I unpacked my things, retrieved an easel from the corner and chose my place. The arrival of others followed, then the instructor. Classes commenced, and I was enthralled by the opportunity to study in this historic institution. I produced a sketch followed by another, each gaged by instructor’s critique and conversations continuum. One work inspired the next.
All the while working, I couldn’t help realize that my lessons here far surpassed what was learned from just the chosen course.
On my lunch break, I took only a moment for a coffee and croissant. My free time, I knew could be better spent communing with the masters in the museum, next door.
Artists of a sacred brotherhood, near to my heart, I found them upon the walls. There I stood with Eakins, Sloan, O’Keeffe, Henri, Twatchman and the academy’s early acquisitions of Benjamin West. A building of stately grandeur, she is opulent and timeless, yet there is a humility beneath the surface comprised of all she has felt.
By midday in studio, I recognized that this experience wasn’t so much about the science of technical components, or artistic accomplishment. This rendered an incomparable journey within, and taught me more about myself, than I knew when I first stepped in.
At day’s end, I packed away my things and into portfolio, I placed a number of new works. I stepped out onto N. Broad Street with a profound sense of being, likened to the old streets and the walls above, and those who came before.
Sarah West serves the Opelika Observer as a contributing columnist, with written works of cultural arts relevance and prose. She is a preservation and conservation advocate, activist and visual artist of American Illustration with a focus on regional narrative painting. She is the founder of the Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art, a center for cultural arts, Smiths Station, Alabama’s premier fine arts destination. She is the appointed official artist to the city of Smiths Station, a Lee County syndicated columnist, the director of her art center’s Cultural Arts Outreach Initiative, which partners with local schools to make the arts accessible to all. She also serves a chief curator to the city of Smiths Station, City Hall Art Galleries. She is a founding member of the Smith Station Historic Commission. She is a member of the Women’s Philanthropy Board-Cary Center, Auburn University College of Human Science. She is an elected member of the Society of Illustrators-NYC. She mentors art students of every age through weekly classes at her studio located in the heart of Smiths Station, Alabama. To learn more about her work and activism visit,