For many of us, our first experiences with art come in the form of crayons, markers, or chalk. We would crudely draw stick figures, flowers and animals, which we then displayed, proudly, to friends and family. But this experience is not the case for artist Sara Lynne Lindsay, whose childhood art practice wasn’t drawing but potion-making. Lindsay says she would combine shampoo, glue, dirt and whatever else she could find to create her mixtures. The tactile experience of making, finding and combining is still a prevalent part of her art practice and what Lindsay considers her “natural state.” Lindsay’s work, full of dyed dresses and pressed flowers, offers its viewers an opportunity to consider deeply the growth, decay and sacrifices that surround us.
Raised in California, Lindsay moved to Utah for college and graduated from Utah State University in 2000 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. It was during this time that she met her husband, David, who also is an artist. “We were the married artist couple and then we were the married artist couple that was pregnant and then we were the ones that were bringing their baby with them to classes,” Lindsay says. Degrees and child in hand, the Lindsays moved to Portland, Oregon, where they hoped to “debunk the myth of the starving artist.” They quickly discovered that this was no myth and decided to move to Pennsylvania for David to pursue a graduate degree. After he graduated in 2005, they moved to Texas where David worked as the associate director for the school of art at Texas Tech University. During this time, they added five more kids to the family and Sara’s focus and work rested largely on raising and caring for their children.
Many of David’s professors, who knew Sara was an artist, were vocal about their dissatisfaction with her choices. One professor asked her, in a derogatory tone, “How many times a day do you hear the word ‘Mommy?’” Another, after coming to visit them in Texas, was astonished and perplexed to hear they had added three more children since they had last since each other. Though these decisions were always hard for Sara, she sacrificed to do what she felt was best for her family and her choices were eventually validated when one of the very professors who had criticized her later told Sara that her time as an artist would be made richer because of the sacrifices she had made. This comment has proven true as Sara has recently decided to return to school to earn her Masters. Leaving Texas and David’s job behind, in 2019 they moved back to Utah where Sara is currently a student at BYU and finding success in her art practice here (she won Best in Show at Utah Arts & Museum’s 2021 statewide annual). To allow Sara to focus completely on her art and schooling, it is now her husband who is staying at home to care for their children.
Sara’s work is largely made up of dresses and flowers. She instills in these common, everyday items creativity and a meaningful beauty that makes her style of art unique and captivating. She turns her flowers into dresses, quilts and oven mitts. She dyes her dresses using uncommon ingredients, such as wax, rust, kool-aid and hibiscus flowers. Lindsay allows her dresses to speak about our connection to both our ancestors and our parents while also allowing them to speak about growth and decay, letting them mold and decompose before her viewer’s eyes. Her work has the ability to speak to a wide range of experiences and always focuses on four themes that she highlights in her artist statement: growth, decay, sacrifice and nurturing.
Lindsay collects a lot of flowers, which she doesn’t pick but rather gleans as they fall to the earth. Taking just a glance around her studio one will see bags and mason jars taking up whole shelves filled with a wide variety of petals, moss and even tree sap. Another glance around her studio and you’ll see many of her pressed flower dresses leaning up against the walls (in preparation for her upcoming shows). To make these works, Lindsay uses a dress form, which she has named Mannequin Skywalker. She sews the dress with the seams facing out onto the mannequin, then she adheres the flowers to the dress and, once dry, presses the dress between two panels of glass. The dresses are beautiful and during the process of creating them the other side of the dress, touching the mannequin, gets stained with the colors of the blossoms used. Both sides of the dress become a display of color and texture.
Lindsay has also created two flower quilts from the blossoms she collects. In the vibrant and eye-catching “Pietà” each quilt square has a smaller square inside of it that is filled with different colored petals. Hues of yellow, pink, purple and white fill every inch of the quilt. Lindsay has draped this flower quilt, gently, over the arm of a clear chair. Her other flower quilt, “Taming the Unruly,” does not appear to have a specific pattern. The dandelion tops, dandelion bottoms and cottonwood used in this work form unpredictable shapes across the folded quilt. These usually unruly flowers are contained and nicely placed on top of an olive-colored chair. Sara explains that to create this work she created sheets out of pectin with the flower material and then sewed the sheets together. Both quilts invoke a sense of wonder.
Lindsay’s intimate experiences with sacrifice and living on a tight budget are prevalent in every phase of her artwork. “You do what you know. Because we haven’t had a lot of money I’ve had to learn to glean and gather. That’s what I know.” Lindsay has been collecting flowers from a hibiscus tree on the BYU campus. The flowers fall in their perfect state to the earth and are often being eaten by little bugs when she goes to collect them. “This tree is sacrificing itself to nourish the environment. I think that is so beautiful. I love that it is giving its best parts to nurture the soil.” The flowers decay and decompose, sacrificing their lives for the earth, a theme that draws Lindsay to these materials because she sees this decay and sacrifice mirrored in her own life. “I know that I’m starting to decay and I know that a lot of that is because I’m giving my best to what’s around me. And I think that is beautiful.”
Because Lindsay’s material is organic her works have an intimate relationship with decay. “All my work won’t last, but in the moment it’s trying to become something wonderful and all that wonderfulness doesn’t have to be the start of that flower or when the colors are most vibrant, it can be when it fades too.” She recognizes that her works have a life expectancy but celebrates each phase of her works finding beauty in the changes that occur over time. A few of her works, like “So I Went Back,” have truly embraced decay as Lindsay has allowed them to mold. This work is a dress, kept on a hanger inside of a clear garment bag. The bottom of the bag has been filled with soil and the dress has been dyed a lovely pink hue. Creeping up the skirt of the dress is mold. While the dress is in decay, the mold is growing and adding new color and texture to the work.
Lindsay also uses dresses to convey the connections we have to our parents and our ancestors. These works reflect the way our families and the choices we make are interconnected. The works that focus on parent-child relationships often feature two dresses, one the size of a child and the other the size of an adult. The bottom edges of the skirts are sewn together, creating one long skirt. They are interconnected and reflect the way children and parents grow together and affect each other. “You can’t separate them. Whether it’s a good relationship or not, it shapes you. It can be messy but it can be a beautiful mess.” With six children of her own Lindsay understands the constant stare of children looking to their parents, watching what they do and say.
Lindsay sees her works “as narrative, they are me, I insert myself into the works.” Because of this, the materials she uses are all traditionally very feminine: flowers and flowing dresses. Even the most common flower she utilizes, the hibiscus, is a symbol for the perfect woman in some places. While her works may come from feminine strength and perseverance, the themes of her work are not gender-specific. “I’ve had men that will look at some of the dresses and say, ‘This is me,’ and I love when they do that. It’s something that they’re able to connect with and they will tell me why it’s important to them.”
Ultimately, Sara wants regular people to be able to have an emotional experience when viewing her work. “I just want to bring people to wonder and ponder upon the creation and relate it to themselves. I think that’s really important and I think how people will relate it to themselves will be different because we are all different. But I do think that there are laws and principles engrained in nature that we mimic as we are here and living. I think that when we’re able to see some of those things we feel a closeness to the divine and I think that’s powerful.”
Lindsay’s work is currently on display at Nox Contemporary. Resting On Her will be up until April 1st and will include some of her pressed flower dresses along with a recent performance piece she did in New York, “Taken Away.” For this work, Sara made a white flowing dress and wrote the names of people who died from the Spanish flu in Manhattan in 1918 in wax. Then she collected plants and weeds from the area, spread the dress out on the sidewalk, and rubbed the plant life into the dress, leaving a green color behind that reveals the wax written names. The show is sure to be a beautiful, thought-provoking experience that will have some of Lindsay’s most meaningful works.
Sara Lindsay uses the earth as her art. The themes and layers to be discovered in her work are personal yet broad enough that her work is easy to connect with and have a divine experience with. The themes of her work are a reflection of her life, built on sacrifice but made beautiful through the growth and nurturing of the earth and her family. “I’m not scared of getting old and I enjoy seeing the fruits of my labor,” she says. “There is something beautiful when you’re struggling, and the sacrifices that you give are beautiful. That is a gift.”
Sara Lynne Lindsay: Resting on Her, Nox Contemporary (440 S 400 W Suite H, SLC, UT 84101), Salt Lake City, through Apr. 1. Open for an artist reception, Friday, Feb. 18, 6-8 pm. Otherwise by appointment (contact: email@example.com).
You can view more of the artist’s work at saralynnelindsay.com.