Sarah Hull reflects on making art and living in Washington, D.C.

Sarah Hull reflects on making art and living in Washington, D.C.

One More Thing

Artist and Smithfield native Sarah Hull lives in Washington, D.C., the epicenter of national and world politics. The White House is less than two miles away from her home.

As anyone who is the slightest bit aware knows, the city has experienced an unprecedented series of confrontations following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minn. The event set off intense demonstrations, protests, and conflicts in cities across the country and around the world.

Hull, 40, is positive about the hope she finds in the ensuing dialogue that is emerging, citing the interaction that had already taken place among various groups in coping with COVID-19. She sees it as a model for developing cooperative strategies that can facilitate changes being sought by the protesters.

On a personal level she observes, “I am grateful that we didn’t have to deal with what to do in a ‘what if’ situation.” She also notes, “It was a little anxiety-producing to hear the helicopters flying over.”

She characterizes the highly-charged clashes and emotional disputes as “a tinder box waiting to be sparked. It was a long time coming.”

Yet, the self-possessed Greenvillian, who has lived in the nation’s capital since 2002, sees potential for healing in the make-up and talents of the people.

“D.C. has a long history of peaceful protests. People were actually distancing and being mindful of the pandemic (before the protests),” she points out.

“It has been a trying few months for the community, but there have been so many great responses from the public and from businesses. There is a great diversity of people here, and they help each other. It has been fascinating to see how people are being creative to address the situation, both the pandemic and the protests.”

Hull, who has had asthma for much of her life and contends with severe allergies, is vigilant about health protocols. An artist who works with fabric and embroidery, she majored in architecture at Wellesley College (with some pertinent course work at M.I.T.) Typically, she does her embroidery at her studio, but the coronavirus has limited her travel outside her home.

Her chosen field of art proved to be a surprise even to herself. It came after a suggestion from her father.

“I’ve probably done every medium but ceramics,” she divulges. “It was my Dad who suggested needlepoint. I began reading about it, and discovered its potential. At first I thought it was all about sparkles and fancy stitches. It seemed too ‘bling-y.’ I wanted to strip it down.”

So, she went to the Art League School in nearby Alexandria, Va., where she says she became excited by the possibilities she saw in the medium. She is also enrolled in the Royal School of Needlework’s Certificate and Diploma Program in the United Kingdom.

Drawing on her background in architecture to utilize shapes and form, she has developed a concept of reducing her creations to combinations of shadow and light.

A description of her method that she wrote explains it this way: “The quiet minimalism, inherited from my intentionally limited palette, creates stillness and demonstrates how a quiet form can be imbued with potential energy and presence.”

Not exactly your great-aunt’s needlepoint interpretations of country scenes to be framed and hung on the living room wall. Those have their place, but they come from a different aesthetic perspective than Hull’s. She displays no hint of condescension. She just operates from a different point on the compass. Simply put, she is focused on the repetition of patterns “present in nature, science, and mathematics.”

She does it all in white or black or natural taupe or linen-colored stitchery which forms subtle repeated shapes that suggest the potential for movement or progression. Typically each piece is approximately 8 by 8 inches square. They can be grouped together to occupy larger spaces or hung individually.

She is building a following. In March of 2017 she entered five of her creations in a show at the District of Columbia Art Center. Four were bought. Then the gallery director offered her a fellowship and at her next exhibition, which contained eight pieces, all eight were sold.

Since then Sarah has been invited to display her work in galleries in St. Louis, Mo., Brooklyn, N.Y., the Providence Art Club, and in Arlington and Alexandria, Va.

She gives her parents a lot of credit for her growing success. Her dad, Charles, is a visual artist and entrepreneur, and her mom, Doris, teaches math at The Lincoln School in Providence, where Sarah received her secondary education.

“They always taught me to observe as you’re learning and observe as you’re doing,” she confides, disclosing that she regularly applies this maxim to whatever she pursues.

Her parents still live in the house they built in Greenville in 1974. It’s the place where Sarah grew up, and from where she went to William Winsor School each day.

She recounts how she played softball in the town rec leagues through the 9th grade. She was a pitcher and occasionally caught. She also proudly recalls how she bowled a near-perfect game at the now demolished Hearthside Bowling Lanes on Route 44.

Of the town, she remarks, “I always love going back. It makes me so happy ... the smell in the fall driving through the apple country. I had lots of good times in Smithfield.”

In Washington she is eager to get back to interacting with her colleagues in the art and yoga worlds. (She teaches Iyengar Yoga, named after and developed by B. K. S. Iyengar, and has students as far away as London, England.)

“The arts community is navigating how to exist in a virtual world,” she declares. “However, we need to see things not through pixels. I learn so much about my art work by talking with people,” she explains, recounting how before the corona-necessitated lock-down she would sit in the gallery and watch people react to her pieces. Then she would find out what they were experiencing by engaging them in conversation. It helped her develop a viewpoint on her work.

“That’s what I miss the most,” she confesses.

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Bottom Lines

Along about this time of the season, for many years there was a fishing contest at Slacks Pond in Greenville. The purpose of the contest was to help control the population of a certain type of fish. What was the name of this annual event? First person to reply gets a shout out here next time.