Interview | Sarah Dark
The day was warm and grey. I walked up to a familiar house, through a familiar picket fence, and into an already opened door. There were shoes of all sizes piled on the porch and Sarah was folding towels on the dining room table. She greeted me with her smile and told me of the madness we would most likely experience and to make myself comfortable. She had two women coming to clean and a house full of children. I wouldn’t have it any other way, I assured her, and I made my way to the kitchen.
There was something special about her home. It wasn’t just the easy style of every room, it was a tangible welcoming that embodied everything I had come to know of the Darks. The open shelving of the kitchen held hand-formed dishes and the space had a constant buzzing of life.
Sarah came in from the dining room, her arms full of fresh linens, and asked if I wanted a drink. She poured a San Pelligrino into a dark clay mug and slid it across the kitchen table to me.
“Okay, don’t mind the noise,” she said with a smile full of comfort. She took a sip out of her mug and answered the first of my questions.
“I work with pottery a lot, making functional, highfire tableware. Which I think is important to mention. When potters are talking their work, it’s good to know I like working in a high fire, gas production process. Very simple forms. And very simple glazes. I’m into that. I also do music. I play music. I write music and record music.”
She stood and walked over to the open shelves above the counter.
“And a lot of, let’s see the bowls and the mugs and the little side dishes over here—those are all process pieces. Working for a woman named Caroline Cercone, who does tableware for several Nashville restaurants. I spent the summer learning some of her shapes, and I think there were probably two that I was okay to make.” She walked back over and sat, leaning in. “I keep having to go back. She’s a very honest person which is the only way to be in this field, if you’re going to have somebody make your ware it has to be right. And I really loved learning that process from her. So this is mine, but it’s all my process work of her shapes.”
The way in which she explained her work and the work of a potter came easily. She captured your attention and spun your mind. “My own stuff is similar in look. Mostly hand building. Hand building means not on the wheel. When I started throwing, about 6 years ago, I would repetitively take it off of the wheel and then mess it up a little bit to make it look hand built and then eventually I asked myself, ‘why am I not hand building?’. There’s something interesting in both of those processes so I go back and forth.”
As we started in on her definition of creativity, a vacuum started on the stairs. Sarah stood up to pace and spoke strongly over the noise.
“I think I’m at this place in my life where identity is blurrier than ever, but not in a disparaging way, the way it felt like it was in my 20s. I thought I needed a solid self or I’m not going to do anything that matters. And then I feel like I spent my 30s trying to give up the need to matter. It doesn’t mean that you give up mattering. Everyone is important. What you do with your life is important. And we know so many people that inspire us and we are so glad that they gave their life energy to what they loved or to what they felt like was important.”
Her two younger boys came down the stairs and opened the fridge. Sarah introduced us and told them about the conversation of art and creativity we were having. She put some leftover spaghetti in the microwave and turned back to me.
“What I was trying to say is it’s kind of fuzzy—identity is a little more fuzzy to me,” she paused to pull the food out of the oven and scooped it into a bowl for her son, Sam. “And what I have noticed about identity, at least for myself, is that I’m so many different people for whatever situation I’m in. I’m up for discovering that that’s some sort of psychological problem,” she closed her eyes and laughed for a quick moment, “I don’t think it is though, I think people are complicated in general. I could say from one perspective that there are so many things I love to do that I’m many different people according to where those loves call me out to. And at this particular time in our lives, it genuinely gives me joy to be doing something that’s a little bit more behind the scenes than what I was doing when I was in my 20’s.”
The Sarah Dark of her 20’s was a young mom, traveling musician, and art show curator (among many other things). She told me stories of her and her husband, David, planning art show after art show and at one point their children exclaiming, “there’s art on my pizza!” When she moved into her 30’s she began taking on different projects in order to protect her physical well being. She went to Montessori training and picked up pottery. Through each story her son and I were listening intently and moving through the memories alongside her. When Sam finished his food and went back upstairs, Sarah asked if I wanted to follow her to the studio.
We walked through the backyard and into a bright space. It was airy and refreshing and I could feel the creative energy moving throughout. I ran my fingers over a few pottery pieces she had on a shelf.
“I still think there’s more to the identity question,” Sarah started in. I turned and sat with her at the large work desk. “I’m almost on a vacation from asking myself who I am. Maybe that’s some sneaky way of trying to see what I’m like in the wild,” she laughed and took a deep breath. “I’m a woman who’s in the wild observing herself and I’m taking notes and I’m discovering that everybody’s more interesting than anything we can stage or present to somebody in an art show, in a website, in a stylized shoot, although all of these things I find beautiful as moments.” Her words sped up with the flow of her thoughts. “As I’m passing through the world wide web or passing over a magazine, I’m not saying it’s a waste of time. I’m saying I’m almost done moralizing—I’m sure I’m not—but there’s a part of me that feels so good, almost like a reborn person, like a charismatic feeling, to give up trying to moralize something, And that’s not an excuse to be an awful person, it’s more of a freedom to enjoy people at every stage of their lives. Or to sit with someone suffering even, on the other side of the scale, and to not feel like change has to happen immediately but that change will come with a fierce presence.” She finished the thought with a long silence and walked over to show me more of her pottery.
As she turned over a few small bowls she had designed, I asked her about femininity in her work, in her life, and in her childhood. She went into how her parents raised her and the example of strong female power she received from her mother. She pressed into the differences between her stereotypical gender roles as a caretaker for children, a job she took pride in doing alongside her mother, and how her mother portrayed her role as a powerful human being. She went further into the thought of the feminine identity with a deep breath. “I know that I’m a woman. Anatomically and biologically speaking, I have the parts, but I just think of myself as me. It’s way more than that. It’s full. It bends gender for sure. But sometimes when you say those things it throws off the conversation. What I mostly mean is that I’m much more, everyone is much more, than the role male or female.”
When she spoke those words I felt the presence of a word that kept arriving into our conversation. Identity and the many different forms of what it can mean. As she was preparing to go back outside to finish the chores she started before I arrived, she took a long pause and said, “I do know myself better. I keep coming back to identity and how I’m feeling right now about the ambiguity of it, but I know myself. I know what my process looks like. And that is something that I feel is very valuable to me. I know how I learn a new thing. And that can only come by submitting myself to learning a new thing. And I know that my process is different than other people’s processes. Knowing what that is, it gives me a tremendous amount of hope that the creative work is going to go on and on for the rest of my life. That it is going to keep happening. It’s almost like it doesn’t matter what the actual things I end up doing are, but that I keep going through this process, and submitting myself to the possibility of what the process brings—that’s what I’m interested in. I’ve experimented in a lot of different mediums. And they’ve all been very satisfying and they’ve all shown me what my process is. It’s the same process with different material. And it feels like the most important thing, right now. I don’t like ‘most’ and ‘best’ and ‘first’ but it seems like a real key.”
That key stayed in my mind long after I left her home and her yard and her street. Identity is a mystical thing, a hard thing to grasp, and an even more difficult thing to hold. The question, “who am I?” is daunting and causes a rollercoaster of emotions for all human beings—artists, students, women, men, parents—just human beings, all of us. But what Sarah gave to me was the idea that when we let go of the feeling that we must define ourselves so structurally, it gives us the freedom to actually be. We become alive because we are no longer bound by roles, by stereotypes, by jobs, by disabilities, or even by our skills. We can discover ourselves in all parts of life. We can free ourselves from the binding box of who we think we are supposed to be, into a freedom of who we actually are. It’s a process, it’s messy, but looking at Sarah, I can say that it’s beautiful.