Places #4: Sarah Owen


"Places" is a new feature where local artists show us the places around town that inspire them.

Guest post by Chelsea Hicks

Sarah Owen of JohnSarahJohn likes to get lost in the woods. If she has the time, that is. The Owen duo—the second half being Sarah’s father John—recently transformed a West Main transmission shop into a retail store/design studio/espresso bar/event space. Between running the shop itself, their creative design services and hosting movie screenings, community dinners and evening shows in the store’s backroom she is, she admits, a bit busy.

Her own art combines wall, floor and furniture treatment techniques with wood canvases and precise lines to create distinctly unique portraits. But with so much material swathed and stacked around her everyday world—local artists’ wares, warehouses of potential stock for the store—she likes to “gain some perspective,” in the evenings. For her that means walks on Observatory Hill with her dog, Madeline.

Photo by Anna Caritj.

Do you remember the first time you came here?

Right after I moved into town and I really had no idea where I was going and I just ended up here and I just kept going up. I just sort of discovered it on my own through walking around.

What do these trails have for you that other places lack?

Most people might say a museum or some place that’s full of inspiring works…There’s a lot of visual stimulation in my day to day life. I come up here and let that—not let it go—but to get some perspective on it…That’s another thing I sort of struggle with in my profession, is that it’s sort of material based and what I like most about what we do is the ability to inspire people who come in.

Has this place every appeared in your work?

It actually has. I was doing a drawing class and one of our assignments was to find branches and bits of nature and bring it back to the studio to work with. So I found little branches from here and brought them back.

Whether Owen comes to the empty trails with too many artistic visions in her head, or she takes a souvenir of the quiet woods back to the studio, she uses these walks to realize artistic possibility. "Being outside in the fresh air and stepping away from it all for a while grounds me and gives me an essential sense of clarity and perspective," she says.

JSJ’s interior bespeaks her conviction. They carry the candles, book collections, prints and art of the people they’ve met along the way. As Owen says, “Neither my father nor I pretend to be experts at everything and what we have found really works for JSJ is to collaborate with people…whether it’s a seamstress or a musician or a sculptor, performers.”