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Local Artists Live: Tara Cady Sartorius
May 2, 2020; 10:00 AM–10:30 AM CDT
Saturday, May 2, 2020, would have been the Musuem’s 30th annual Flimp Festival, canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic along with all public programming based on guidelines from the Governor, Mayor, and health officials. In honor of this temporarily unrealized momentous occasion, Local Artists Live will feature the founder of the festival, artist and educator Tara Cady Sartorius.
Tara’s path to becoming an artist was a natural one, abundantly nourished by a creative, eclectic lifestyle growing up. During her childhood, Tara’s family moved so often that she attended 10 different schools before graduating high school, living on the east and west coasts of the United States and even spending a summer in France. Along with frequently moving, she learned from an early age about the dance of life by observing her seven older siblings and the death of her father when she was just five years old. Her mother, an artist and musician, was an independent thinker and surrounded her children with books, music, and art. Tara’s childhood overflowed with creative activities, and she remembers an obsession with scissors and cutting things, whether they should be cut or not, and specifically recalling that she did not get in trouble for this.
After earning her undergraduate degree in ceramics from the University of Santa Barbara, a certificate in art teaching while still in California, and eventually her MFA in sculpture and art criticism from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Tara’s journey brought her to Alabama. Her mid-summer move to Montgomery in early adulthood stands out as quite a shock. “Everything was so green it almost hurt my eyes…it was so hot.” Tara came to Montgomery in 1986 to serve as the Curator of Education at the MMFA, a position she held for 21 years. Brought here to oversee the development of the Museum’s new interactive gallery (what we now know as ArtWorks), Tara’s artistic vision and educational philosophy kept the MMFA’s engagement with the community fresh, fun, and ever-evolving. She believes now, as she did then, that “the pursuit of knowledge should be motivated by curiosity.” This philosophy radiates through the merging of whimsical art and FUNdamental learning, all embodied in the Flimp Festival, held annually during the first weekend of May at the start of spring. We asked Tara a few questions about Flimp, living in the south and Montgomery, and reflections on art and art-making.
Left: Tara Cady Sartorius, Running at the Riverfront, 2015, Oil on Board; Right: Photograph of Tara Cady Sartorius
This program is part of the series:
Meet the Artist
What sparked the founding of the Flimp Festival?
The idea for the Flimp Festival came right around the opening of the new Museum in 1988. At that time a group of us from the Museum used to go down to the beach to spend long weekends in Seaside way before it was very developed. One evening we all decided the museum needed a “signature” event and our brainstorming led us to [Geneva Mercer’s] Flimp Fountain and the Flimp Festival. We had lots of laughs but then got somewhat serious about it (in a fun way) as we gave it a mission (imagination, humor, and creativity) and chose components according to those three values.
Do you have an all-time favorite Flimp memory?
One of my favorite memories was the performance piece that Robin VanLear created the evening before Flimp. It was a spectacular group effort with costumes, lanterns, a boat, and a house-like construction (built by Robin) on the “island” across the lake. At dusk, performers holding bamboo sticks with round paper lanterns on the ends slowly streamed out of the museum and surrounded the lake, evenly spaced around the water. One by one the performers lit their lanterns in the direction of the house. At the same time, another performer was in a canoe with a “guide” being paddled across the lake. As they reached the shore below the house, the “guide” got out of the canoe and walked toward the house as one of our interns, Andrea Potochick, walked all the way across the slippery weir. Both figures then simultaneously appeared to “light” an electric light in the house, which was covered in a translucent white paper. After the performance that night, there was a huge storm and the house was struck by lightning. Flimp is just magical that way!
What is your favorite thing about living in the South?
I like that if I so much as scratch the surface of humanity around here, there can be a great outpouring of love. Southerners seem desperate to connect. I like that. The people I have met here are incredible, and I love the language and the double entendres, and I especially appreciate the lack of ability to assume anything about anyone. I have grown to be defensive and protective of the South in terms of culture and interpersonal human caring. The humanity here is way more complicated than it gets credit for. The tension between the races and socio-economic strata are palpable, and I wonder if reconciliation will ever be possible. My approach is entirely one-on-one.
What excites you most about the growth of Montgomery’s art scene?
I have seen several times when Montgomery’s art scene seems to be growing, and then it pulls back, and then it grows again. I have great respect and confidence in the artists I know and the arts institutions with which I have become involved or familiar. It does seem that there is a lot of duplication, but there may be a need for that if one institution, organization, or group cannot fit all needs. I am liking the current growing appreciation for diversity. It’s about time!
What is your favorite work of art from the MMFA’s collection, and what specifically about the artwork speaks strongly to you?
That is an impossible question to answer. The answer may change from day-to-day depending on my mood. Because I have written and researched so many of the works in the collection, I feel them very close to my heart. In playing this “judgment game” I recognize that there could be a difference between “my favorite” and a piece I would love to have in my home to look at every day–but here are some favorites, in no particular order:
- Stuart Davis, Summer Twilight;
- Charles White, Children’s Games #1;
- Robin Rose, Delirium;
- William Zorach, Genesis;
- Charlie Lucas, Herd in a Field (Tara’s made-up title);
- James Surls, I See Five and Nine;
- Charles Burchfield, The Open Road;
- Elizabeth Catlett, Sharecropper;
- Will Henry Stevens, Abstracted Landscape;
- J. K. Fitzpatrick, Negro Baptising;
- Hieronymus Wierix (after Dürer), St. Jerome in his Study;
- Irving Wolfson, The Tornado…
Do you have an all-time favorite work of art, and have you seen it in person? If you have, how did you feel at the moment?
It doesn’t matter what the artwork is, because the influence is what it is more about. Sometimes art appeals to me because of its intellect, sometimes I find things funny, and other times pieces are technically and visually arresting. If it’s worth doing, it is worth doing to a high degree of excellence. When I see excellence, I might cry. That’s when I know I have a “favorite.”
Tell us about your most preferred place to be on earth. What role, if any, has the energy of that place helped shape you as an artist?
The ocean: Beside the ocean or in the ocean, but not ON the ocean. I don’t enjoy being on a boat. I like being on the shore with waves that I can hear in a rhythmic pattern. When I die, cremate me, and then please scatter my ashes at More Mesa Beach in Santa Barbara. Cast them gently into the water while you are wading up to your knees.
What drives your creativity?
Curiosity, the need for quiet, the joy of tinkering, the desire to share beauty with others. That does not mean that everything must be literally beautiful, but the feeling must be strong and must access the same deep wellspring from whence beauty emerges.
What is your preferred medium?
Whichever one I happen to be using, but clay always transports me. It is a complicated material and I also appreciate making things that are useful and beautiful at the same time.
Do you listen to any particular music when you create?
I don’t listen to any particular music. In fact, sometimes I just want silence. I like pretty much every type of music except super-hard-non-harmonic punk rock. I do like to hear and contemplate poetic words in lyrics, but I love instrumental music that allows my mind to drift. I also enjoy good podcasts.
What piece of art that you have created is your favorite, and why?
This is another trick question, like asking a parent who’s your favorite child. Not fair at all. I’m still making – maybe my favorite is the next piece I create!
What advice would you give to beginning artists?
Dear Young Artist,
Please pursue whatever art form makes you feel that you don’t want to ever leave or stop. Do the things that your feet keep walking you to do when you aren’t thinking about what you “should” do. Consider exploring the option of teaching (even every once in a while), because teaching is more about learning than you might realize. If someone has ever inspired you, then you will be able to inspire others as well. I hope your work (in material, in spirit and in intellect) will reform and re-invent our educational system, and that you contribute toward helping others find what sparks their curiosity and joy while creating.