Art casually passed from hand to hand. Although the gathered audience handled the oil on panel with respect, Sara Pedigo insisted that her art is not sacred. She paints over finished pieces. She holds her art loosely even while clutching memories so firmly that time dissolves in her paintings, vanishing like sand from a tightly clenched hand.
Sara, the artist, was presenting pieces from her “Transliteration” project with fellow professor Liz Robbins, the poet, to a local study club. The craftsman style home we filled buzzed with old and new friends hungry for knowledge and culture. The group gathers to learn from one another. Sara and Liz’s friendship started the same way.
Both are educators at Flagler College. Both love the art they teach. Both use their craft to communicate life experiences with poignant truth and depth. They both hold the other with respect and are as comfortable sharing their pieces with a St. Augustine study club as they are in a Flagler classroom.
“Liz and I naturally gravitated to one another,” Sara shared, turning to Liz. “I don’t know if I ever told you this, but my stomach dropped when you read the poems.” She’s referring to “Hope, As the World is a Scorpion Fish,” one of Liz’s earlier books of poetry. “I bummed money off the person I was sitting next to because I needed that book now!”
Liz leaned back into her chair and a smile warmed her face as she mused, “so we were both fans of each other’s work first.”
From Fans to Friends
Collaborations with friends were not new for either artist, but Sara insisted this one was different. “Our friendship grew out of the collaboration. I respected Liz’s work and naturally gravitated to her work. She showed up at art talks and we started talking.”
The friends start swapping stories of when they first heard or saw the other’s art. “I saw Sara’s art around town. I loved [her] use of color,” Liz complimented.
“I felt like, as an artist, collaborating was such a good exercise,” confessed Sara. “We are like minded in some ways, but we are also different in some ways.”
“There is something really neat that Sara does,” Liz shares. “She does this time warp thing. It’s a unique and innovative way of depicting time and family.” Experiences in a painting may have occurred decades apart, but Sara chooses to paint what could have been, which softens the harsh lines of reality to match the sweet feelings childhood evokes. “Sara is so interested in making positive family scenes, I felt like working with her might draw me in a different, maybe positive, direction,” Liz added candidly.
“…and you are the perfect escapist,” enthused Sara, whose childhood was filled with the challenges of terminal illness in her family. “My art is trying to make something beautiful out of something that may or may not have been that way. And I think that’s what I love most about poetry. You can slip on someone else’s shoes. But I’m not a very good rebel.”
“I’m trying to draw that out of her,” laughs Liz.
“We thought we’d try a project where we were riffing on each other’s work,” Liz added. “We didn’t really have plans to do a show at that time.”
It was Crisp-Ellert Art Museum Director Julie Dickover who saw the potential in this friendly collaboration. She took Sara and Liz’s project and produced the exhibit “Transliteration.”
As a lover of art and as a professor, Liz voices her support of Director Dickover. “She’s a great curator. She is impressive in that she has brought some big name artists here to Crisp-Ellert. She thinks of everything.”
“Her level of interest is fantastic!” Sara and Liz’s friendship may be new, but they complete each other’s thoughts like lifelong pals.
Liz started again, “Julie really made our exhibition possible. I was picturing taking a poem and framing it and putting it on the wall…”
“…she blew it up onto the wall so we could see it from far away!” Sara completed. “We never would have thought to do that.”
Both women were quick to give credit for their exhibit’s success to the museum director, but neither is new to awards and recognition. Professor Liz Robbins has received numerous awards for her work and is widely published both in print and online.
Teaching on the First Coast has brought Sara back to her alma mater. “All the things that drew me to Flagler as a prospective student are keeping me there as a professor,” she proudly shared. Professor Sara Pedigo’s art has been recognized locally and nationally including an exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
Bringing Art Full Circle
Although they are educators by trade, neither strive to critique each other’s work. Instead, their collaboration is like a musical riff – a solo instrumental layered over a harmonious backdrop.
“People really wanted to know which came first,” Liz puzzled. Poetry. Art. Which comes first? Does it really matter?
Both women have grown from using the other’s art to inspire them, but no input was ever given by the original artist.
The goal was not to interpret a piece, but to use it as a springboard for additional creativity.
The duo’s presentation of “Ashputtel’s Mother” provided an excellent illustration of the creative tension in their collaboration. The poem is Liz’s riff on a traditional Cinderella story. “I’m trying a little bit to look at attributes Cinderella had other than beauty… like kindness or just being a hard worker.”
The irony arose when Sara disclosed her model was a beautiful woman standing in a doorway… from a fashion magazine!
“The great thing about [art and] poetry is you create images in your mind,” Sara shared with the study group as everyone laughed.
Her art holds different meaning for each person touching it. Sara passed another painting. While one woman saw the angst of a wife vanishing behind a man’s lead, another saw the joy of friendship between siblings.
“When someone sees themselves, it’s just as valid as anything I ever thought of,” Sara insists. Both women’s goal is to provide thought provoking art for the audience to contemplate.
“This is my first sense of seeing how collaborating with someone else can elevate your own work,” Liz shares. “Collaborations speak to people. When you’re working with more minds, there is more material to weave in… it’s a great trend.”