In 1969 Sarah Faragher’s father, Donald Faragher, drove to Waterville to see a show of painter Fairfield Porter and photographer Eliot Porter at the Colby College Museum of Art. The brothers had received honorary degrees from the College that year. A painter himself, Mr. Faragher took photographs of some of Fairfield’s canvases.
Sarah Faragher has the contact sheet for those photos, which include several of her as a toddler painting at an easel on the family’s unfinished deck on Eden Street in Bar Harbor. The die would appear to have been cast for a life in art, and Colby would play a major role in shaping her destiny to become one of the most respected and admired landscape painters in Maine.
Faragher, who recently published Autobiography of an Island, an intimate record of her painting life on Bear Island in Penobscot Bay, might have had an inkling she’d become an artist. She was surrounded by art growing up. Not only were both of her parents painters, but her family lines going back several generations are “littered” with artists, including, most notably, the renowned Impressionist Julien Alden Weir (1852-1919), her great-great-great uncle.
Faragher’s parents met as students at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. When one of their teachers, printmaker and sculptor Dan Miller, instructed them to go to Maine to paint, they did so. They married, built the house in Bar Harbor, and had three children. Faragher is the middle daughter.
After the parents divorced, Faragher’s mother and Thomas Godfrey, who became her life partner, moved the family to Addison in way Down East Maine. Sarah was about 5 at the time. She remembers going to an opening at Norma Marin and John Marin Jr.’s Cape Split Place Gallery in South Addison, a few miles from her house, sometime in the late 1970s.
The Colby connection
When Faragher visited Mayflower Hill as a prospective student in 1986, her tour guide was an art major. “I loved the way she talked about the school,” she recalled, “and she showed me around Bixler, the art and music building, even though I had no idea at the time that I would be an art major.”
Her first year at Colby, Faragher signed up for an art history course when other options were full. In the course of study that followed, she had memorable interactions with several professors, including David Simon, the Ellerton and Edith Jetté Professor of Art, Emeritus, and Michael Marlais, the James M. Gillespie Professor of Art, Emeritus.
Faragher learned to paint at Colby. In classes with Professor Emeritus Abbott Meader and Gina Werfel, well-known artists with extensive experience in the art world, she discovered she had some facility “in her hands and heart” for painting.
In his foundation course, Faragher recounts, Meader walked around the room as the students drew, reading to them between critiques. One day it was Frank O’Hara’s poem Why I Am Not a Painter; the New York School poet would become one of Faragher’s favorites. Werfel supported Faragher’s artistic pursuits in many ways, including encouraging her focus on still life, her first love as a painter. “In the classroom [Gina] treated me with respect as a painter,” she says. Today, they are online friends.
Literature and writing also came into play during Faragher’s Colby years. She took poetry with Robert Farnsworth, a visiting assistant professor of English whose enthusiasm was infectious. English Professor David Mills helped her believe in her writing skills in the mandatory English composition class. Receiving an A+ on an essay may have been the “single brightest highlight” of her academic time, she said.
In addition to being a research assistant for Marlais, Faragher worked in the art history slide library in Bixler, photographing images in art books and preparing slides for classes. She performed these tasks during the school year, at around 10 hours per week, and one summer, full time. On her breaks, she would go to the museum to sit in the air conditioning.
The museum was also one of the first places Faragher saw her own work up on the wall in what she calls “that kind of a formal setting meant for the viewing of art.” She showed a series of still life paintings in the annual senior art major show.
These days Faragher visits the Colby Museum to be with a few works of art that she loves, among them, Alex Katz’s sculpture Frank O’Hara, the “small gray” Georgia O’Keeffe Shell and Feather, George Bellows’s Hill and Valley, and Josephine Halvorson’s Wilmott 4.
After graduation in 1990, Faragher moved to Orono and worked full time, eventually opening a bookshop, Sarah’s Books, in Bangor. She also found the love of her life, Ryan King.
Faragher’s return to painting came some years later when she was in her late 30s. On ferry rides to and from a Maine island, she felt the urge to paint her home landscapes. Taking up the brush again, she rediscovered the “lush pleasure” of painting. It took her a few years to figure out color in the landscape and develop a palette—and a style she could call her own.
Faragher received encouragement along the way. Through the good graces of printmaker Siri Beckman, she was introduced to Anina Porter Fuller, niece of the aforementioned Porter brothers of Great Spruce Head Island. Fuller hosts a week-long island residency every summer; Faragher applied, was accepted in 2005, and eventually became volunteer scholarship coordinator, fundraiser, and archivist for the residency.
The island residency changed Faragher’s life. “The scales fell from my eyes” is how she describes it. She worked alongside painters who became friends and mentors, including Fuller and Brita Holmquist, who started her own residency on Islesboro, which Faragher has attended for years. And thanks to Fuller, Faragher began her own personal residency, on nearby Bear Island, former home of visionary architect Buckminster Fuller. She rented Birch Lodge, a humble abode, for 10 years running and became a part of the island, as painter and writer.
In her Bear Island memoir, Faragher states that nature is one of the great themes of art and has been throughout time and will continue to be, “especially as the Earth and our climate continue to change.” In her island immersion, she came to fully realize that humans are part of nature, not separate from it. “I feel strongly that working with nature is a radical and necessary act,” she writes, “even in my own quiet way, when I go out to paint.”
Faragher considers herself fortunate to have built a career in painting. She makes about 100 paintings a year, of various sizes, at her Stockton Springs studio.
Faragher has kept up with a few friends from her Colby days and visits the campus from time to time if there’s a show or talk that interests her. Meanwhile, she’s working on a new memoir “about painting and walking in the woods of Maine.” The book will be dedicated to her husband, Ryan, who passed away unexpectedly in July 2021. As Faragher grieves, putting brush to canvas and pen to paper will bring some solace and help her begin a new chapter in a remarkable life in art.
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