By Sarah West

Summer sunlight, sea and tide tempt one to reach for the beach bag, book and watercolors and set out for the shoreline. Life between the mountains and the sea affords residents of East- Central Alabama opportunities to enjoy the best of both worlds. For the artist, the greening forests of Appalachia yields refreshing colours that reflect into the waters along the gulf coast. This season, I carry with me a list of books to read, maps of paths to explore and destinations which celebrate the confluence of craftsmanship in art and cuisine. To this rural arts center, I return with talismans of travel, memories of diverse experiences and adventure that continues to inform the work in studio, conversations shared among students and visitors and plans for future projects and exhibits.
During studio classes, we discuss summer travels, and students ask for my advice on art supplies for use on vacation. Take only essentials, I suggest. Pack lightly. Consider the many sketches and paintings that can be carried in one paper tablet. A small set of pencils, or a travel-size watercolour paint box can take an artist everywhere. I also caution against weighted bags, a small one with shoulder strap such as a satchel, just large enough to accommodate the suggested supplies will provide hands free exploration whether collecting shells on the beaches or hiking trails to higher elevations.
The book lists grow. I call the bookstore and place an order for more. A student brings a book to class, lends it to me. I’m intrigued by it. The following week, I order two, one for myself and one for another artist. Recently I discovered, The White Road by Edmund de Waal. This captures my attention. His bestselling The Hare with Amber Eyes became a sensation. It has made my list of summer reading recommendations. See You in the Piazza by Frances Mayes ranks high upon my list. Her international chart-topping Under the Tuscan Sun has been sweeping people away to the cyprus lined, rolling hills of
Tuscany for decades. The many memoirs that followed align neatly upon my desk; a library of Mayes, complete with books of poetry by Edward Mayes. Well read, beloved companions, these I return to, time and again. For the naturalist in us, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben is a must read.
Informative as it is evocative, this book relating one forester’s lifetime of scientific study, renders riveting perspectives, unravels mystery, and strikes a chord of conviction.
In the quiet of the studio, I pour over upcoming exhibition plans, then consult on matters related to the imminent opening of Smiths Station’s Historic Jones Store Museum. The date commemorating this special gathering place for local and regional history draws near. Excitement builds.
The rains have returned. Gentle mists with occasion downpours quench summer thirst. Fading greens are enlivened once more. Grasses grow tall. On the rainy days, I place paints upon the palette and I too, return.
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 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,


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