Sarah is a Landscape Photographer and illustrator. Born in Moab and raised in Green River, Utah. Sarah is the first local Fellow to join the Fellowship. Her family has been in the Green River area since the 1930s when her grandfather, James “Ed” Burnett arrived to work for the Railroad and start his family. Sarah graduated Green River High School in 1999 and from Snow College in Ephraim, Utah in 2001 with an Associates of Science degree. Sarah started taking photos after a divorce in 2009. Her therapist told her to find a hobby or go back to college. Sarah chose to use her camera as her outlet. Taking desert rides by herself with a camera in hand, she would post her photos to her Facebook page. Soon her FB friends would start looking for her updates on their newsfeed. Over time her photos got better (through many Pinterest, YouTube and trial and error tutorials) and her camera got more expensive. Sarah now has a wall sized mural of the “Golden Ratio” in the Tamarisk Restaurant; Prints and Postcards for sale at The John Wesley Powell Museum and the Green River Thrift Shop. As for her drawing skills, she is highly influenced by cartoons and various Anime from Japan. She is mostly self-taught while she did take a few art courses while attending Snow College. Sarah’s day job is being a bubbly breakfast attendant and Laundry worker for the First Choice Inns at the Swell motel. The Management also loves her work and has purchased canvas’ that decorate the motel. Sarah’s main goal is to change other minds about their opinion of Green River and the area. From one of despair and decay to that of beauty in the details and surprising moments of small-town living.
You can purchase the Green River Coloring Book from her residency here.
Connecting to the Green River Community:
As a Local fellow, things were different for me. I didn’t need to try and connect. I was already deeply rooted in the Green River community. I already knew the daily routine of what makes us tick and the long hours of hard work we all put in to make this city run. I knew of the ups and the downs, and the taboos, and the celebrations. As an emerging fellow, I was partnered with a Summer Orr from Reno, Nevada. Who was a ways from her home and was now living in the middle of no where. I felt the need to play tour guide barbie and a “behind the scenes” look in our world so to speak.
I wanted to give her a sense of why people choose to stay in a place that seems to not have a whole lot going for it.
In the beginning I wanted to make a booklet with stories or old photos of places in town. Tidbits and stories, that could possibly be shared to motel guests and even fun to read again by locals. Since I work as a breakfast attendant on the weekends, I tend to hear guest’s conversations and most of them don’t know any history about this area or that Butch Cassidy once frequented the area. Since I am a photographer, I thought I would be taking all the photos.
I felt a great weight on my shoulders too, weight of the town, I wanted to make them proud.
During a brainstorming session with Annalee Howland and Summer, bouncing project ideas off each other. I was having a hard time pinning down what exactly my booklet was about and how its any different from anything else that’s already out there. I felt the need to share a very crazy notion I had one night; A coloring book. I scoffed at the idea, but I wrote it down on a piece of paper. Thinking it would be laughed off the table, yet the opposite happened. Summer and Annalee both turned and stared at me, astonished with smiles on their faces and told me that idea was fantastic! I couldn’t believe it! Now I had to figure out how I was going to incorporate my idea of telling stories and local histories in with a coloring book theme. That was the hard part. I knew there was only one place to go, and that was to the Green River City Archives in the bottom floor of the John Wesley Powell Museum. I spent half a day in the Archives reading through a few binders that looked promising for stories with Butch Cassidy or any info that had grand wild west adventures in. Cracking open a binder with the title, “The Way We Were, Vol. 1” by Muriel Smith. I was pretty happy with what I had researched but I still couldn’t figure out how I was going to work it into my coloring/historical book.
I mention this uneasiness with Summer, that I wasn’t feeling it yet. She responded that maybe I should start drawing pictures and then add the captions and stories. BRILLIANT! I couldn’t believe I was thinking the complete opposite. I decided to first look at my photography and start drawing some of those first. I am always drawn to my sunflower picture first, because I always thought it was a good analogy for living in Green River, but also for me in my own life, recovering post-divorce.
Pretty soon, I was drawing at least one picture daily sometimes even two. I was still very nervous and not very confident about a coloring book being my big project. I knew when it was done and in hand it was going to be amazing, but I felt anxious about telling my friends and family in town what I was doing. I was sure they were going to look at me with a judging raised eyebrow and snidely remark, “oh, wellll that’s nice” in a condescending tone. I posted a few of my drawings on Facebook to test the waters as to if people liked it.
The only one in my way, was Me. I am still learning to let go and just let it flow, day by day.
Although I was drawing freehand from my photography, I thought it nice to get outside and do some artwork “plein air” style. Sometimes I wasn’t even drawing what I was looking at, but from memory, but just being outside with the fresh air made it that more inspiring. I still had thoughts about what the captions would be in the book. I would argue back and forth with my inner thoughts’ but feelings of nostalgia would always win out. I decided that it would be better to find quotes on Pinterest that created a feeling of what home, living in a small town, and living a slowed down kind of life felt. I felt really upset with myself because I had these awesome stories that I had looked up from the archives, but I think I needed to read through those to get my creative processes into creating that feeling onto paper. No matter what era we grew up in, the feelings of being at home, surrounded by supportive friends and family, even if we don’t always see eye to eye, translate through the ages.
I thought getting the pages scanned and put into a book format would be the easy part. It was but it wasn’t at the same time. Thankfully Summer was trained in Adobe Illustrator and worked on my pages and arranging them. I tried one night to do it myself but ended up a failed mess of figuring out where my drawings disappeared to. I decided to leave it to the professionals. I am eternally grateful to her.
In the End:
My goal was to inform others how I viewed my community and the love I had for this old, imperfect town I call home. In a cartoon I watch religiously, “Steven Universe” there is a quote: “If every porkchop were perfect, we wouldn’t have hotdogs.” Meaning if anything were perfect, we wouldn’t realize the potential for even greater things being made of it or the situation. I think and I feel my “Bloom where you are planted” coloring book achieves this goal but bringing in the reader and then letting them interact with each page by coloring what colors makes the picture feel homey to them.
Throughout this fellowship, it was like I was living in a different world inside of my own town. It felt very refreshing to be able to stretch my artistic abilities and that nobody cared if I wasn’t on par with anyone else. I was completely surprised that I only used my camera once in the whole fellowship (besides at the Rock and Mineral Festival) and that was to take photos of Summer’s finish project. I thought later it was rather fitting since she had helped me so much with my final project. I never thought I would be drawing a book rather than taking photos for one, and how things just flowed so smoothly once you figured out what just clicked. I am very grateful to of been paired with Summer Orr. If I didn’t know what I was doing, Summer sure did! I knew when she started eating my French fries at the Tamarisk Restaurant she felt pretty comfortable with me and that made me smile that I had made one last thing, A Friend.
Sarah’s Reading List:
The Way We Were, Volume 1 - Muriel Smith
Top Things I learned during my Fellowship:
How to order/what to order at La Pasadita Taco stand.
That you have to go INSIDE the actual building for toppings.
Kelsie Hart is the new City Archivist working at the JWP Museum.
Don’t slide down the steepest part of the hill.
You can’t prevent your pants ripping a hole if you slide over big rocks on your way down said hill.
Nasty butt bruises are gnarly. (not that I looked)
I am a Weirdo, Summer can attest…..oh wait nothing new here
Summer loves animals, using watercolors to doodle what she sees, and creates MASTERPIECES!
That I am a storyteller, according to Sarah Lillegard.
I like making people laugh and cry at the same time when I storytell.
That after an exhausting couple of days in the Big City, coming home to small town USA, is where I would rather be.
That you can be Mormon and an Artist at the same time and still be friends at the end of the day with others.