Meeting Sarah Goodyear

In the midst of a small town in Alabama, like Northport, nobody would expect an artistically rich gem like the Kentuck Festival of the Arts to shine. I certainly hadn’t.

On the morning of the festival, my group and I chattered about what we would expect and what we would do on our car ride there, and soon the fatigue from waking up too early was long forgotten. For my friend, it was her first time, but for me, I was looking forward the same thing as I had the year before: food, music, artists . . . the usual things you’d find at an arts festival.

The same people from last year, in their yellow shirts with their matching yellow sticks, directed our car to where we should park— though a lot less furiously than I remembered, so that in itself was a welcoming change. We didn’t park so far last year, so I thought that either we got there later than usual or that there were just more people to join in on the fun.

My theory was confirmed a mere walk later. It was a little warm when we got to the entrance, and for how many cars there, there were twice as many people lined up to get their tickets. I eventually got my ticket, for a flat fee of ten bucks.

I walked through the gates, and breathed a deep breath of air . . . and some other things, considering how strangely nervous I was to be there in the first place.

My friends and I paused in our places, once we had walked a good distance away from the gate, and tried to discuss where we would go from there. But when we turned one way and turned back the other, our friend Stephanie had mysteriously disappeared.

“Do we just go?” another friend asked.

My anxiety skyrocketed. Uumm . . . I twirled around, trying to find our lost friend. I uttered a lot of uumms and uuhhhs until I concluded as a natural flighter, “Y-you know what? Let’s go.”

So we embarked on our journey, going to the right first, toward section A.

During the quick stroll to my friend’s interview, I recognized a few returning artists, but there was definitely a new set of people. It made my heart race harder than it had originally been before. I was having palpitations just thinking about my interview.

As my friend wrapped up her interview, we made our way to mine. We passed by clusters of unique tents. One artist had spiraling wire that depicted horned creatures. There was an exotic display of guitars, and we had even seen photography of action figures. Totally different from the selection of last year where there were more traditional and folk-art displays.

We crossed into an alley between the tents and found the section right where I would find Miss Sarah Goodyear. I was trembling on the very ground where I stood . . . when I shouldn’t have. It wasn’t my first time doing an interview, but . . . maybe I had a vision of how it would go. A very disastrous vision!

My friend reassured me, so I again took the walking lead. I counted the numbers on the sides of each tent, admiring the respective works of them, until I saw Sarah Goodyear’s tent draw near.

And, by some sort of panicking mechanism that clicked in my head . . . I walked right past it.

“Um,” my friend called. “You just passed it.”

“I know. I meant to do that,” I tried to chuckle off.

Before my friend can even think to pull me back, I pulled myself back and shoved myself into the black tent. I wanted to do a double-take so fast, I’m sure I left skid-marks at the entrance with my feet.

But there was Miss Goodyear, hunched over, probably getting something of hers.

I looked at my friend.

My friend looked at me.

“Uh.”

My friend shoved into me, probably to make her way inside, but probably to push me aside too.

I approached the small table where Miss Goodyear was situated, fumbling with the contents of the small backpack I had— I don’t even remember properly introducing myself.

“Um, hello! I— the interview . . .”

“Oh, yeah! Come on ahead,” she replied.

“I hope it’s alright that I ask the questions from my phone—”

“Oh, it’s alright!”

I fumbled with my bag, rummaging through its infinite contents – Wow, when did I ever think to bring so many things! – for my phone.

When I finally grasped it, I shoved my bag to my friend. I pulled up Google Docs— but to my greatest dismay, the questions couldn’t be seen offline, and I had to borrow my friend’s phone to look at them. I totally dropped my notebook a few times.

I wanted to cry because I was making as much of a fool as myself as I had anticipated I would . . . but Miss Sarah Goodyear was a God-send – the epitome of an angel – when she patiently dealt with the nervous wreck that was me. I gathered myself (not completely, but most of me) and dropped my notebook, for the final time, into my bag. I used my friend’s phone to ask her questions and my phone to record.

Do you tell stories in your works or are they created by the way you feel when you pick up the brush?

“It’s a  combination, and sometimes I will paint something and not really know where it’s coming from and later, even months later, I look back on it and I say, ‘I see why I painted this, because this was going on in my life.’ It’s totally a subconscious thing as it’s happening, but a lot of times, I do look back and find that they are relevant to my life in some way.”

Are you portraying an abstract thought with these, your art?

“Mm . . . I just like to put the paint on really thick  and be free with it. That’s kind of a release for me, not being bound to any confines. I put it down really thick, smear it around and it feels good to me.”

Being here in Alabama . . . I saw that you came from Pennsylvania. Where does most of your art making take place?

“For the last five years, I’ve been living in North Carolina. I had a studio there in Hillsborough, but next month I’m moving to West Virginia, so that will be where my new studio is. So I basically just make it all in the studio, wherever that happens to be.”

I see that some of your works have scenery and city-scapes. So are they particular places or places you have in your head?

“No, they’re not particular places. They’re fragments of memories that come out. A lot of it is subconscious as I’m making it and it’s things that are just going on in my head.”

Alright, so I looked at your page on your website and I’d like to ask . . . do you still draw hearts?

“Not really. Only because I don’t really like using symbols. I don’t like using recognizable symbols in my art. I feel like nowadays with emojis, hearts are really overused and I don’t wanna seem generic. So, no, I don’t really draw hearts, but sometimes when I’m writing, I’ll put a heart, like a heart note. I’ll put hearts and I analyze my heart when I do that.  I don’t really put it into my art per se because I don’t wanna be too cheesy.”

Do you have any artistic inspirations, or do you just draw it from yourself?

“I do,  but when I see art that is moving to me, I definitely log it in my head and it can present itself in my art. I can’t exactly say who inspires me. Sometimes I’ll see a painting and go, ‘Oh, I like that – I like that technique!’ or ‘I like some particular thing about that’.”

Are little pieces of you in all of your works?

“Absolutely. I would say that it’s every piece of art is made up of a million pieces of me.”

Have any of your works been inspired by any family members? People close to you, friends?”

“Yes, actually. I’ll give you a great example. That one with a skeleton in a suit holding an apple there? That was actually inspired by my sister. It’s called ‘Nine to Five,’ and when she got her job as an engineer, she hated it and she said, ‘I feel like my life is not my own, like, in the professional world, like  I do nothing but work.’ And when she said those words, ‘I feel like my life is not my own because of my job’, I got to thinking about it and I was like ‘Huh, that would be a cool painting of this person in their office attire taking a bite of an apple that represents the daily grind.’ So she definitely inspired that one.”

How does your family feel about your art?

“They are definitely very supportive now. They were a little slow to warm up on it. It’s funny. One of the greatest pieces I’ve ever made, it’s called ‘Apparition.’ I don’t have it any more, but my mom was crazy about that one. She doesn’t show a lot of enthusiasm for my art. She’s supportive of what I do, but for the art, she doesn’t really seem to be that moved by it. But this one piece, she said, ‘Oh that’s a great piece of art!’ I wanted to give it to her,  because I thought ‘Wow, my mom actually likes this piece of art, huh. Crazy.’ But my dad was like, ‘We’re not hanging a zombie in our house!’ It’s not a zombie to me, but . . . it’s definitely dark like a lot of my art is. My dad doesn’t understand great art, I guess.”

Are there any pieces in here that are more experimental, or are all of them like that?

“I feel like they all have that a little bit. I like to learn new things like every time I paint.”

What is the hardest thing you’ve done in art?

“The hardest thing? Once I did a commission. I don’t really do commission work any more because I made the mistake of doing a commission this one time and it was the bane of my existence. It took me a year to make this painting. Literally a year. I hated the whole process of it. He was very specific about what he wanted. I never went to art school, so I never had an assignment and I just hated it. I thought, ‘Why did I take on this project?!’ It was like this great weight was lifted the day I shipped that painting. It was like, ‘Get this thing out of my life!’ I was so happy.”

“I hope he liked it.” I interjected.

“Yeah, he better like it! ”Cause he got a good deal on it. I said no to commissions from that point on.” She laughed.

Final question and the most important one! Do you enjoy this— like, the art process, everything?

“Oh my gosh, there is nothing I’d rather be doing.”

After the interview, I thanked Miss Goodyear for her time and patience. (Really, she deserves at least a thanks from this wreck of an interviewer.)

My friend and I left her tent, promising to return to buy a print.

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The Mission Behind the Missionary

Kentuck. Between the trees and translucent sun, chill vibes and music spill out. The smell of popcorn hits my nose as I enter the gate, anticipation building as I look to see where Missionary Mary Proctor is. A-20. I also need to figure out how to record.

The Kentuck Festival of the Arts is full of colors and stories that could fill books. While walking towards Missionary Mary’s booth, I take in all the colors, sounds, and booths in section A, while trying to figure out if my group was behind me. Coming to Missionary Mary’s booth I am not surprised, or anything less than amazed, at her vivid colors and not only Pro- Black but Pro- People — if there is such a thing — art. I am captivated by the tent surrounding me and the images of African- American women with a background of purple and light blue. Each piece telling a story and each woman showing a personality through her clothing. Going towards the back of her tent, I see the queen herself, Missionary Mary Proctor.

Being a bundle of nerves, I don’t really know what to say to her. Missionary Mary is talking to a fellow artist, but I gladly wait to catch her attention. Once I have her attention, I politely ask if I may interview her . . . and I am well on my way to stumbling through my questions.

“I already know about your history,” I say. “And how you have a mission: if this way doesn’t work out, how will you come back and what will be your next medium?”

“Well, my next media is to do books,” she replies. “I plan on writing my stories and making them into little small books . . . I don’t intend to give up my gift because it’s a gift and I think this here will never go away. People need to see some things and treasure things that have been said . . . So I am trying to transform in my writing.”

I also know that Missionary Mary Proctor grew up with her grandparents, an interracial couple, and wanted to know if that in any way influenced her art.

“Yea because I never knew there was a difference in color,” she says and pauses. “I grew up with people that didn’t care about color. My granddaddy never taught me color… My grandfather just showed me what he was a man of strength and power and a man that new God and was a strong man that’s all. I don’t see—  I never understood racism. My art’s, you know, mixed with color and it wasn’t a big deal.”

She then speaks more on the topic, saying that she did not see color or race until she went up North. In the country where she grew up, race just wasn’t a big deal.

I had read somewhere that Missionary Mary had left high school in 9th grade. Is that true?

“Ninth grade,” she says. “Between ninth and tenth grade, I did stop because I ended up having a baby. My grandmother wouldn’t take care of my baby, but she loved him. But she wouldn’t wanna sit there and baby my baby!”

“And lastly, I heard about the meaning of your doors and you had a vision of the house being set on fire and I think the doors being the mouth to the house like the eyes are to the soul (And how the windows would probably be the eyes). How do you see your doors as?”

“I see my doors (as) an avenue to come out,” she begins. “It’s almost like my Grandma and them couldn’t make it out of those doors that they were in. I see my doors as an opening for people to make it out of something like, for instance, when you see a door, it’s saying something . . . I asked my Grandma, I said ‘Grandma, ‘What is it that you want the most out of life,’ and she said, ‘Just to be treated equal, that would be sweet.’ So I think that’s an avenue to open up the door for people so they can understand that my grandmother worked hard and she just wanted to be treated equal . . . We have to fight for that right to be treated just like another man, no matter what color.”

After my interview with Missionary Mary, I realized that color doesn’t describe or person or hold them back, if anything it gives them ammunition to push forward. Behind her words seemed to be a deeper meaning, one that was caught not only by myself, but from the others who surrounded me.

Missionary Mary started our interview journey through Kentuck. Next we went to see the artist that Alexandria would interview, but before getting there, I realized the sun was out but being covered by the trees. Feeling some inspiration from Missionary Mary’s words, I decided to take a picture and risk being left. Happily I wasn’t left, and after standing by while Alexandria, Destiny, and Maytreecia did their interviews, the Kentuck fun began.

I figured out quickly that, when it comes to food, follow Maytreecia and that, even though I was the youngest in my group, I was not the most childish. After sitting in really tiny chairs in the children’s area and having to figure out if Maytreecia would break one, we continued to color and to help out with a blanket for charity.