What Few Have Seen

The Work of Idaho Artist Sara Joyce Uncovered

By Sheila Petticord

Photos by Mark LaMoreaux

In the spring of 1990, I was newly divorced, searching for a fresh direction in life and taking art classes at the University of Idaho in Moscow. I had always been considered the artist of the family, but a basic drawing class had me feeling stuck. I remember an especially exasperating exercise in which I was paired with another student and, with little instruction, told to render an image of her. I had no idea how to begin, and felt paralyzed by the thought that my drawing would do nothing but insult her.

I suppose I was ready for an epiphany when, several days later, I saw a painting of a friend that absolutely captured her essence in just a few inspired strokes. I was in the nearby town of Genesee, visiting Ellen Vieth at her flower shop. Behind Ellen, next to the cash register, hung a seemingly dashed-off painting, a mere sketch of her. Who did this? Ellen told me the artist’s name was Sara Joyce. I will always remember this first impression of Sara’s work, because it’s been reinforced so many times since then, especially in the past few months as many other art-lovers in the Inland Northwest have become more familiar with an artist who rarely showed her work, but who I believe Idaho will come to treasure.

Ellen agreed to arrange an introduction, and Sara invited me to her home in Genesee. A slender woman in her late sixties, wearing handmade clothes, she was a wonderfully quiet presence with a hint of mischief in her eyes. Her entire living space seemed to be a working art studio. Everywhere, tables were laden with books, art materials, piles of fabric, and artworks still in progress. I saw stacks and stacks of paintings on paper—a series on Genesee women.

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