*This story first appeared in The Budget’s May 24, 2017, Local Edition.
By Stacey Carmany
Working as a full-time artist is a constant hustle, whether you’re trying to sell your work locally or make a living in a large metropolitan area.
For Sarah Dugger, following her lifelong dream of a career as a professional artist hasn’t always been easy, but it has been extremely rewarding and a lot of fun.
“There’s a lot of rejection and a lot of failure, and you just have to keep going through that and just keep working and try to be authentic and find your truth,” she explained. “It’s the coolest job ever, but it is not easy, and it is a lot of hard work.”
The New Philadelphia native put her artistic talents to work for several nationally-known companies including Pottery Barn, Victoria’s Secret and Nicole Miller before returning to her roots in Tuscarawas County. She said those corporate gigs taught her the staunch work ethic she still practices today when working in her art studio at the Mr. McGillicutty Art Studios in downtown Dover, a building owned by Dugger and her husband, Howard Dugger.
“Every now and again, you’ ll go, ‘Well, I don’t know what to do,’” she said. “You have to do something. You have to work through that and get it done, and I think in large part I can do that, because in New York if you can’t do it there’s a whole huge line of people behind you who can.”
Dugger said she generally gets started early, arriving at the studio in the morning after dropping her three children off at school. She usually works on two or three projects at the same time, and rarely ever sticks with one painting until it’s complete.
While her background is in textile and surface design, Dugger said she’s been working recently with acrylic paint and gouache on large sheets of watercolor paper. The artist said she has done quite a few floral pieces, but lately, she has been focused on paintings that tell a story.
“These florals that I do are nice, and I love doing them. They’re really fun, but anybody can paint flowers,” she explained. “There’s no narrative. There’s no story, really, and I like stories.”
Dugger said many of her narrative pieces are inspired by the Amish and Mennonite cultures within the local area. Her mother, who owned a home decor shop in the Berlin area for 20 years, would often come home and tell her daughter the stories she heard from the Amish and Mennonite girls who worked in her shop. Dugger took those stories, along with others she heard from
friends, and incorporated them into her art, along with the bright colors and patterns of traditional Amish quilts.
The artist said she has also recently been studying the textiles of the ancient Wari, a South American culture that did a lot of weaving. Dugger explained that the Wari made some really elaborate tunics, and the basic shape of those tunics is something she’s been incorporating into a lot of her pieces. “They had a very cool kind of particular style, so I’ve kind of taken that old textile Wari style and mixed it with this Amish quilt and colors and then stories.”
Dugger said she is currently working on getting her art into a gallery and has been entering into a lot of national shows. She noted it is her regionally-inspired narrative pieces that always seem to be the ones that get the most attention.
Growing up, Dugger said creativity was something that was always encouraged in her home. Her mother was a seamstress and an elementary art teacher at Dover who never bought coloring books for Dugger and her siblings. “It was like too limiting to have to color in the lines,” Dugger recalled. “We always had blank paper and just big rolls of paper to color on and paint, do whatever we were going to do.”
Her grandmother was also a seamstress, and, as a child, Dugger said she spent a lot of time in her mother’s and grandmother’s sewing room watching them sew and digging through their fabric boxes. “I suppose that’s where it all came from,” she said.
Dugger noted her grandmother had belonged to a fabric club out of New York City, and every couple of months, she would get an envelope of fabric swatches in the mail. “I loved it when she would get that envelope,” Dugger explained. “We would get them out and go into her sewing room and lay ‘em all out and start mixing and matching. It was so much fun. I just loved doing that with her.”
For others considering a professional career in the arts, “Definitely do it,” Dugger said. “Follow your instinct, but know that it will be a lot of hard work. It is very hard, but it’s very rewarding, and you meet the coolest people and you get to do the coolest things.”
Dugger said she gets bummed out when she hears people saying that art is not a good career choice. “It’s an amazing career choice,” she said. “There’s so much opportunity out there, but you really have to dig for it and work and fight for it. It’s like anything. You get out of it what you put into it.”
To check out more of Sarah Dugger’s work, stop by the Mr. McGillicutty Art Studios at 123 North Walnut Street in Dover. Dugger’s work can also be viewed by appointment by calling 330-401-9629 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.