By: Vivian Duncan
Chris Swanson, AP Microeconomics teacher at Newnan High School, has a particularly talented wife, Sarah Swanson, who not only works as a nurse but also as an artist in her free time.
In 2001 she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Augusta State University, where her studies helped her to find new perspectives and techniques for her artistic expression. She got married and moved to the western side of Georgia in 2003.
Today her biggest fan and supporter is her best friend and husband, Chris.
She credits him with helping push her art in new directions while also playing to her strengths.
The love of drawing that began as a child has intensified and evolved into an insatiable passion for art in all its forms.
Sarah and Chris Swanson opened their art gallery, The Suffering Artist Studio and Gallery, in February of 2016 in historic Hogansville, and at first Sarah was the only featured artist. “It was her grand opening after all,” Chris explained.
Her gallery is dedicated to that passion. It features her work as well of that of other passionate artists and is a place where aspiring artists can explore their creativity. Anyone with a love of art can come to view, collect or contemplate the work the different artists have created.
Since expanding the gallery to other artists, they have hosted an additional five showings, all with different artists, running roughly every other month. Most shows feature more than one artist, but the gallery will also host solo shows.
Explaining how they choose a name for each show, Chris said “We usually let the artist decide on what to call his or her show. We find that helps them create a series of art pieces that fit a theme the artist is passionate about.”
So far, the gallery has portrayed mostly drawings and paintings. Chris explained how within the next year, “We have a photography show in the works and a 3-D show as well, plus a show for Sarah’s pencil art. At least one show that will be all acrylic paintings and one that spotlights adoption.”
Since each show’s theme is chosen by the featured artist, the pieces on display often reflect more than just a word but rather explore a single idea with creative depth.
“Though that is not the case every time, the show in September had no theme. The only thing that tied all the pieces together is that they were either lithographs or monoprints,” Chris added.
When asked about their biggest challenge in opening the gallery, the duo replied that learning how to market creatively has been an adventure.
“We work out with the artist how to handle the food and marketing. We’ve found that artists really work hard to promote their shows, so we’ve learned how to target artsy minded people, build a gallery mailing list and then rely on the artist to self-promote. So far, it’s worked pretty well,” Sarah explained.
Opening the gallery has been very rewarding for the couple, especially Sarah, since it had been a goal of hers for a long time. Chris commented on how the gallery had been a dream for Sarah.
“When we found that run-down building for such a cheap price, and since I know how to do the remodeling work, it was too good to pass up,” he elaborated.
From a business standpoint, art shows make sense in a town like Hogansville. It does not get a lot of day to day foot traffic, so in order to make a profit, the couple must host larger events that draw crowds.
The Swansons’ art shows feature refreshments as well as a guest book at the front which is used to build their mailing list. Either Sarah or Chris does a welcome, and the rest of the time consists of simply mingling and discussing the art.
The art shows are also an opportunity for Newnan High Students to earn volunteer hours for clubs. Chris’s students sign up to help with the event in exchange for three to four service hours depending on what time they show up and how long they stay to help clean up.
This year is the first year that they have decided to do a special November gallery showing dedicated to the Veterans of the United States.
“We thought it up by accident, really. A woman had a ton of photos her father took in WWII of paintings soldiers put on the noses of planes. It is called nose art. She wondered if we would like to enlarge the photos and make a photography display. That gave us the idea of doing a military themed art show,” Sarah said.
Once the idea was planted, they decided to run in a slightly different directions and figured that art shows that are dedicated to Veterans are uncommon, so it would be a really unique way to pay tribute.
The pieces featured in this show did an excellent job of portraying different scenes and themes from war eras.
Ashley Bloodworth, a NHS senior who helped with the show, said “Since I had already taken the Vietnam War Class, it was really interesting to see a lot of the things we learned about and studied portrayed in artwork, since there are so many differing perspectives on war.”
The show consisted of artwork depicting veterans in honor of Veterans day, as well as some pieces that a soldier had saved from his time in the service, such as a guitar from a base in Vietnam that was signed by all of the members of the owner’s platoon.
“Art can evoke strong emotions that would be fitting for some of their experiences,” Chris explained, talking about the veterans.
Next year, the couple hopes to extend and develop this idea by featuring art done by veterans. They also want to host a barbecue fundraiser for the Veterans of Foreign Wars along with the art show.
Bloodworth shared how her favorite part of the show was Sarah’s artwork. She crafted a mosaic piece which was based on a photo that a Vietnam pilot took of himself shortly before his helicopter crashed.
The mayor of Hogansville even showed up to say something about the show and to honor the veterans for Veteran’s day.
Bloodworth added, “I think all of the guests really loved the show, and naturally there were several vets there. I think they just appreciate anyone who takes the time to appreciate them and the risks they took for the greater good.”
Chris mused, “It really turned out well, and we were very proud to have been involved.”