By Barbara Allen for Episcopal Life
SARA CLAIRE CHAMBLESS is well on her way to a career as a professional artist, but first there’s college. With numerous paintings already hanging in private collections and galleries, she says she knows that full-time work as an artist awaits her. “I could never do art on the side because it consumes me,” says Chambless. “If I had a regular job, I’d start painting and forget to go to work.”
As a child, Chambless was always creating art, but not necessarily drawing. “I made shoes out of paper,” she recalls. In her teen years she read a lot of philosophy, existentialism and world religions and combined that with her own Christianity to merge faith and creativity.
“God directs my work,” says Chambless, who along with her parents is a member of All Saints’, Atlanta. Having worked hard in Riverwood High School’s International Baccalaureate program, she chose Davidson College in North Carolina earlier this year to continue studying a range of academic subjects. It was a perfect fit, she says, because Davidson professors have the same idea she does of the “universal resonance of art.”
While at school, Chambless volunteers Fridays at a Charlotte, N.C., homeless shelter that has an art room. She sees her role as being a facilitator, not a counselor, helping people plan pieces, execute and finish them, sometimes even selling at art shows.
Art as healer
“Doing art helps you face issues you may not be able to directly,” she says. In this setting, Chambless has learned just “how important a sense of success is — pride in producing something concrete, when you have little to show for present circumstances. Drawing is calming and gives a sense of ownership and accomplishment,” she says, and art can be a healing experience that allows the artist to have what he or she may not have in reality.
Chambless says she approaches each project with a question. To start an abstract painting, one needs to have a completely blank mind and channel the subconscious, she says.
She cites a piece she did this past summer. Her initial inspiration was the story of the Prodigal Son, so she read scriptures and other writings, even songs and poetry, and her question became “Did Jesus die in vain or is the legacy of second chances still alive today?”
Her volunteer experience with the homeless and refugees gave her an empathy with the son who had lost all. “What’s left when you strip away all your [external] identities?” she asks. Her image for the work became that of a vein, “still so alive, blood still so a part of us.”
For an artist still in her teens, Chambless is quite clear about the connection between faith and art. “God would not have given me this passion if I were not intended to put his gift to [use in] the service of humanity. If I can remain solidly grounded in my direct experience of God, I will continue to create images that have meaning for others, for I am convinced these works have their genesis in a higher source.”
Reprinted with permission. This article, from the February issue of Episcopal Life, originated in Pathways, the quarterly journal of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. The writer, Barbara Allen, is a member of St. Patrick's Episcopal Church, Atlanta, and the author of Still Christian After All These Years (Church Publishing, 2003, $8.)
The Art Blog at Episcopal cafe expresses its gratitude to the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, and editor of Pathways, Nan Ross.