IN CONVERSATION WITH LAUREN DAVIS
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in our community who doesn’t have a Sawtooth story. Since I joined as Executive Director of Sawtooth School for Visual Art, I’ve heard countless stories of how Sawtooth has impacted people of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels.
While the stories are as unique as the people who tell them, they all have one common thread; Sawtooth has served as a space to create and to be inspired for generations. Few stories have the longevity of Sawtooth’s Director of Metals + Glass, Sara Sloan Stine.
Lauren: How did you get involved with Sawtooth?
Sara: Don’t do the math, but I arrived at Sawtooth School back in 1987. I’d come to Winston-Salem after graduating from Iowa State University and was directed to Sawtooth by the Arts Council as ‘the place where art education was the focus.’ I joined the team as Administrative Assistant and was hired as Metals + Glass Studio Coordinator the following year, the role I’d been eying since my first day.
Lauren: What initially drew you to metalwork? What aspect of this medium inspires you the most?
Sara: I was introduced to metal as an artistic medium in college, and it was love at first sight. I’m drawn to the challenge of working with metal. Each piece created is like a puzzle to be solved, with steps to be taken in certain order. I also love its transformational process as I work with it from start to finish. When I teach students I often remind them that pieces go through an ugly-duckling stage, and emerge as polished, finished pieces quite near the end of the endeavor. I’m also more than happy to create “pretty things” and love the sparkle of gemstones often included in pieces.
Lauren: Being a crucial part of both Sawtooth’s creative and administrative efforts, do you have any tips for balancing these responsibilities effectively?
Sara: Luckily, I think I’m a pretty good multi-tasker, and when one aspect of my job is stifling, there’s always another task to be taken on. I’ve also learned that I’m quite an optimist, and finding a bright side in each workday is usually an easy thing to do at Sawtooth.
Lauren: How has your department grown over the years?
Sara: For the last 35 years, I’ve had the honor of seeing the incredible evolution of Sawtooth and how it serves the community.
I remember years ago when we celebrated 75 students enrolled quarterly in the Glass + Metals department…and now we educate more than 300 students a quarter! In 2012 I helped launch our Wood Program, and again in 2018 was able to add Lapidary classes where students can learn to cut and polish stones.
Our departments have grown because of the continued interest of our students, dedicated instructors continuing to come back to educate in new ways (some of the instructors in my department have been teaching for decades!), and of course, our community who recognize and understand the importance of Sawtooth’s mission.
Lauren: You have successfully used MCAS to promote and provide a platform for metal clay artists. Could you share the story of how MCAS came to be?
Sara: I give credit to Carrie Story for bringing the idea of a metal clay symposium to me and Sawtooth. Carrie is on Sawtooth’s faculty and a metal clay retail business owner. The world of metal clay had been without a USA-based conference for many years, and she had heard of artists eager to start an annual meetup like those that had happened in the early 2000’s on the campus of Purdue University.
Our first MCAS in 2016 had a young female artist from Russia as the Featured Artist, and her inclusion brought much national and international attention to our event. We started off with a bang, and over 100 attendees came to Sawtooth for the inaugural 4-day symposium. 2018’s symposium included a representative from Mitsubishi Materials in Japan, then manufacturers of Precious Metal Clay, so it was exciting to see the continued international appeal of MCAS. 2020’s symposium was delayed by COVID, but when we rescheduled to 2021 attendees were eager to attend. And likewise this year’s symposium is proving to be another terrific draw for folks, with attendees from across the USA, Canada, Puerto Rico, and including 2 instructors from Europe.
Lauren: Can you share a special memory from your time at Sawtooth? Additionally, what accomplishment are you particularly proud of?
Sara: The special memories that I have of my years at Sawtooth School are always tied to the people I’ve met and worked with here. Two very special women I’d like to acknowledge that passed away too soon include Photography Coordinator Merry Moor Winnett and Executive Director JoAnne Vernon. Both were instrumental in my success here and are treasured memories.
I’m proud to have started both the Wood Program and Lapidary Program while here at Sawtooth. The Wood Program has grown to be an independent department with a wonderful Director, and the Lapidary Program (gemstone cutting) is small but mighty with dedicated instructors and enthusiastic students. Both programs took advantage of Foundation support to begin but have grown into self-supporting additions to Sawtooth’s ever evolving array of mediums taught.
Lauren: If you had the chance to travel back to your first day at Sawtooth, what advice would you give to yourself?
Sara: I would remind myself that I was young and still growing/improving my skills, and the Sawtooth School was also still growing. I’d love to have known the fuller potential of my position (and Sawtooth) as both have grown to surpass my expectations. The Sawtooth School is a wonderful compilation of both physical space and creative personnel. We’re large enough to have great studio spaces, yet small enough to be able to cater to Studio Director’s individual strengths and focus.
We touch lives on a daily basis, and I know that the students who attend our classes appreciate their opportunity to learn in such a unique, community-based art school. We often hear from visitors who wish their communities had such a school, and we’re so fortunate that the Sawtooth was started back in 1941 and has remained a priority for the artistic folks in this community.
Photograph by C. Stephen Hurst