By Morgan Bryce
For the mother-daughter painting duo of Michele and Sarah West, art is not only an expression of self, but a common denominator that unites humanity and draws it closer together.
“Art connects us. It’s important that we not take our everyday people, places and surroundings for granted,” Sarah said. “We’re passionate about recognizing and recording tangible proof of our existence right now in our community, state and region as a whole.”
The two manage and operate the “Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art” in Smiths Station, a nearly 1,200-square-foot-space they use for teaching art lessons, holding events and exhibiting samples of their work.
A lifelong entrepreneur and businesswoman, Sarah said she traces the gallery’s roots back to a drawing class that she took in high school with her mother.
“I grew up making things. There isn’t a time that I can recall not being creative and putting those skills to use, whether it was in fashion, or art in general,” Sarah said. “Those interests propelled me to seek out further education to cultivate those skills, and that came together in the form of a drawing class. We took a drawing class together with an independent mentor, and immediately, we fell in love with it.”
Samples of their work drew the attention and eyes of local art patrons, and soon, both began working on commissioned artwork from their Salem home.
In 2006, the Wests joined a Soho-style art co-op in downtown Columbus, “Peachtree Art Studios,” a learning experience that pushed them to find their own space.
“In the space we had leased, you as an artist had the ability to develop … but when the copper was stolen out of the air-conditioning system, and rain was coming into the building, and we were mopping out the building and the owners were not ready to invest in the building … we just could not continue to stay in those circumstances,” Michele said.
After a brief return home, the Wests were presented an opportunity to open their own studio by one of their clients, Tim Thomason.
Owner of a building located in downtown Smiths Station, Thomason presented them with a small, 600-square-foot space to house their gallery. Even in the midst of the Great Recession and in an area whose appreciation for art was unknown, Sarah said she and her mother knew it was a risk worth taking.
“There’s never been another option or something to fall back on. Even at the low points during the early days of the gallery, most of those were brought on by economic turmoil or downfall,” Sarah said. “It was a very uncertain time for us … but it was impossible to think about the ‘what ifs,’ … and I think you have to rebuke those doubtful thoughts.”
Since their 2008 opening, the Wests have greatly expanded their business and presence locally. They were able to double the size of their gallery in 2010, and have shifted toward instruction rather than commissioned work.
Students of all ages and abilities come from as far away as Valley, Opelika and West Point for art lessons. The Wests also award scholarships to six students at Wacoochee and West Smiths Station Elementary schools to help promote and instill a love of art into area youth.
“I hope that the work we’re doing (at the gallery) inspires people to consider about what their contribution can be to current society and to history as a whole. We all have something worth giving, we all have a capability worth further cultivating, and ultimately, I hope that we inspire people to be stewards,” Sarah said. “Stewards of civilization as a whole.”
For more information about the Wests, their gallery, class schedules or to see samples of their work, visit www.thesarahwestgalleryoffineart.com. The gallery is located at 2750 Lee Road 430 in Smiths Station.