Meet the artist and art curator at La Posada de Santa Fe.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Sara Eyestone is an artist celebrated for her elegant floral oil paintings and sensitive family portraits created with unusual color combinations. She has painted exclusively on commission for private collectors around the world. She has had 50 one-woman exhibitions, including a national tour and a retrospective at The New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. Her oil paintings are reproduced on art posters and note cards featured in over 500 museum shops around the globe.
The native New Mexican launched her painting career with weekly trips to New York and was discovered by the art publishing industry. The global exposure of reproductions of her originals paved the way to licensing companies for signature lines of products, galleries, magazines, and television appearances.
Today the 72-year-old artist continues to paint on commission for private collectors. In addition, she has the coveted position as Art Curator at the historic La Posada de Santa Fe—the hotel where Georgia O’Keeffe showed and sold her work until 1957.
Eyestone also teaches painting and memoir writing. Soon her book, A Creative Approach to Marketing Art, will be published. Her autobiography and a documentary about her life and work are also underway.
We recently talked with her to learn more about her and the art program at La Posada.
What led you to pursue a career in art?
I was born an artist! I was always creative and artistic. When I was in the first grade, I was the youngest child in my class, I should have been in kindergarten. When I came in as a new student in November, my teacher introduced me to the children with, “This is Sara. She doesn’t know how to read, so when you’re all working in workbooks I will teach her how to read. Sara, in the meantime, you sit here.” She gave me a piece of graph paper and crayons while they did their reading. I’d never seen a piece of graph paper in my life and didn’t know what to do with it. I outlined each square and inside each drew a little flower. When they were done she picked up my paper and said, “Well, children, I have an announcement. Sara is an artist! This is beautiful!” It was so remarkable. In life as I’ve done inventive, creative things I’ve had the advantage of people who recognized it and thought it was positive. A local artist Pansy Stockton gave me incredible advice which I have shared with hundreds of other children throughout my life: The secret to making my childhood dreams materialize was simply to remember them! So many grown-ups don’t. What you like to do best is what you should be doing. Simple words of wisdom like that make a difference.
What does your role as art curator for La Posada de Santa Fe entail?
La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa is known as The Art Hotel of New Mexico, because it was the first place in the state that ever showed original art for sale in a public space. This was 20 years before the first gallery opened on Canyon Road. Until that time, artists sold their art out of their studio/homes. The most notable artist at the hotel was Georgia O’Keeffe. Her work was featured in La Posada’s library until 1957.
When I became Art Curator for La Posada’s Gallery Collection, I researched how it was done in the early days, and I have done my best to recapture the past. We are a hotel, not a gallery, so our art program can afford to be unique. We do not follow the norm, in that we sell world-class art from established, living, American Artists at their studio prices. The hotel does not mark-up the artist’s price—we’re in the hotel business not the art business. Every person who purchases original art from the hotel is welcome to return as a VIP Collector with a discounted room rate and waived daily resort fees. It is our pleasure and our way of thanking collectors for supporting our artists. It’s a win-win-win for the artist, collector and hotel.
As the Art Curator I am responsible for selecting, installing, and selling the art. I also schedule recurring special events. Each Friday afternoon at four o’clock I host a complimentary Art Curator’s Reception and Chef’s Tasting in the lobby, followed by a history talk at 4:30 and a brief art tour for anyone wanting to stay. Visitors from other hotels and local residents are welcome to join our guests for this popular social event, compliments of the hotel. Often one of La Posada’s artists is present to talk about his or her work, and once a month, on Saturday mornings, our artists demonstrate their painting techniques in our program called Breakfast with Painters.
Afternoons often find me painting in the lobby myself. I welcome collectors, artists, and art students to my painting sessions. I teach private oil painting lessons to our guests (for a fee) as well as at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum where I also teach groups how to write their memoirs.
Every Thursday morning I host our complimentary memoir writing group. We have at least 30 regulars from the community that participate weekly, year round. It is such fun! Parking is complimentary and so is the marvelous coffee and tea in the lobby.
How do you choose which art to exhibit at La Posada?
I only choose living artists who are accomplished, have a following, and their work is in demand. They are exclusive in Santa Fe to the hotel, have a particular style all their own, and are willing to work with me in a way that is different from any of their galleries in the past.
How many artists do you feature at any one time?
On display now are works by 27 painters and six sculptors. I also have two painters contracted but not yet on the walls, and I have 62 painters of the hundreds I have screened whose work I would love to rotate into the collection in years to come. My problem is not a lack of talent but a lack of walls.
How long is an artist exhibited?
My artists and I have a mutual understanding that if for any reason they want to leave the Gallery Collection, they are not bound by their two year contract. Our agreement must work for everyone: the artist, the collector, and the hotel. On the other hand, I move the art every few months so that returning guests have a fresh perspective. If something doesn’t sell after it has been here a year and it has been shown in various locations, it is to the artist’s benefit, as well as the hotel’s, for them to find a different venue, and I will replace their work with something else.
Is all the featured art in public spaces? What about guestrooms?
There are a few rooms that have original art from our artists, but for the most part we don’t have it in rooms for security reasons. We have some paintings purchased by the hotel over the years that are in guestrooms. All the public spaces including the lobby, dining rooms, spa, and conference center have about 600 paintings hanging—it’s huge! Every day I open my inbox to something else I’d love to hang, but where am I going to put it?
Does all the art have a Southwestern theme?
Not at all. We have everything.
You mentioned that you paint in the lobby most afternoons. What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a bouquet, a vertical 30-inch by 24-inch canvas—I try not to work on anything bigger than that because I draw a crowd and if I have a big canvas it takes up too much space. I paint on commission and a private collector in Texas requested that I do one of my bouquets with some white orchids in it in a Chinese vase with a peacock on it.
How long will you work on that piece? Is working in the lobby distracting?
I’m a slow painter, I do layers and layers of color, so it will take me about 100 hours by the time I’m done with one. I have had five children and for years I was painting with a playpen next to me or a toddler running circles around me, so for me to paint in public it’s social fun.
La Posada de Santa Fe
330 East Palace Avenue
Santa Fe, NM, 87501
Contact Sara Eyestone at La Posada De Santa Fe: 505-986-0000 extension 7668. See pictures of her oil paintings, posters, and prints at saraeystone.com.
– Photos courtesy La Posada de Santa Fe