When Sara Turner and her husband Britt both retired in 1980, Sara decided it was time to pursue her nearly lifelong desire to paint. She finally had the time, but she lacked teachers. “I just had that desire to paint, and I knew that if I had proper instruction that I could learn,” recalls Sara of the events that led to the creation of Sara Britt Arts painting workshops. Today these workshops are filled to capacity with developing artists from across the country and have waiting lists in the double digits.
“The idea for the workshops came about because I wanted to learn how to paint from the experts,” continues Sara. “But there wasn’t anybody doing anything like that, bringing people in. So I thought, Well, I’ll just do it. We started with eight or ten people, mostly friends of ours and other people who were interested in painting and wanted to learn.
“I got in touch with John Lonigan, a retired high school art teacher in Birmingham and an excellent artist. He was eager to teach adults. About three or four carloads of us would go up to Birmingham for his classes.
“Then I said, ‘Well, John, instead of us coming up to Birmingham, why don’t you come to Tuscaloosa to teach us’. So, that’s how we started having workshops in Tuscaloosa.”
In time students were also traveling from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa for the lessons. It was suggested by some of the students that Sara try for a national artist to conduct additional workshops. Charles Sovek was the first, and a wonderful teacher, according to Sara.
Encouraged by their success, Sara and husband Britt forged full steam ahead with their workshops. Full of community pride, Sara fearlessly pitched her hometown to top artists, and they came.
“From then on, I would just call artists and tell them about the Warner Collection here and how wonderful Tuscaloosa is and how much they would enjoy coming down here for our classes. I sought out artists who specialized in all different subject matters, like landscapes, still life, portraiture and figures–a little something for everyone.
“We’d paint on the President’s lawn at the university and they were just wonderful to let us paint there,” continues Sara. “Dr. and Mrs. Sorensen would open the house for us to see. It just grew and developed.
“We’d usually have a party on Sunday night when the new artists were coming in. We take them to the NorthRiverYacht Club one night so everybody could see the art there. Jack Warner always comes and joins us for dinner and tells the group about his art collection, and for many, that’s really the highlight of their trip.
“This is how we got these really good nationally prominent artists. One artist would tell another that he had a good time in Tuscaloosa, or that he was well taken care of. They are paid handsomely and we provide food, travel and lodging. You pay them and they come.” Sara and husband Britt, who work as a team at this and in every other area of their lives, begin the process of planning for the next set of workshops by contacting national artists with whom their students are asking to study. Students come from all over–North and South Carolina, Mississippi, Michigan, New York, California, Georgia, and Oregon.
The word is out.
“When Kevin McPherson was here, I didn’t make a single phone call,” notes Sara, reflecting on the level of popularity that these workshops have attained. “We filled both three-day workshops to capacity with word-of-mouth alone. Robert Johnson is coming in January, 2003. I haven’t mailed out any information on him or advertised it, but his workshop is already full and I’ve got a waiting list.”
In January, 2002, Sara Britt Arts hosted their “For the Love of Art” demonstrations with big-name artists at NorthRiver. When they set up large monitors for easy viewing of the painters at their work, Sara got her next idea-videos.
They hired professional videographer, Ed Todd, to professionally record the workshops. Each video sells for sixty dollars plus five dollars shipping and handling and can be ordered from the Sara Britt Arts website, www.sarabrittarts.com.
“The tapes are basically like going to a workshop,” explains Sara. “You can set up your easel next to the television and pop the tape in the VCR. People have told me they’re absolutely wonderful.
“A two-day demonstration with four national artists cost three hundred fifty dollars. Included is the dinner in the grand salon at NorthRiver and two lunches. That’s the most terrific bargain there is!” enthuses Sara. “The one in January, 2003 is all set and we’re thinking of doing another one in the fall.
“I couldn’t do this if it wasn’t for Britt. We work together, we always have,” reflects Sara of her husband and business partner.” Their mutual admiration and affection is a part of what they bring to their work together.
For Sara, to pursue painting is to follow her heart. And hers is a big heart, as anyone who knows her will attest. Sara is warm and welcoming and the success of the Sara Britt Arts workshops is a reflection not only of her recruitment of popular artists and skillful planning, but also of her love of art.
Sara and Britt Turner have created a highly popular series of painting workshops that attract serious artists to Tuscaloosa from around the United States.