‘Everything is textural for me’

Sara G. Lee demonstrates punch-needle technique

St. George has a wonderful reputation for generously welcoming new artists who add to the creative diversity found on this peninsula. Sarah G. Lee, who with husband Jim recently moved to Schumaker Lane near Howard Head, fits right in with her unique works that interpret coastal Maine’s rugged beauty. Lee alternates working with two quite different mediums: acrylic painting on canvas and needle-punching fabric that she makes into pillows. But she finds that the two mediums inform each other.

Born in Connecticut, Lee spent childhood summers at her family’s home on Deer Isle. Later, after attending New England College in New Hampshire where she studied visual arts, she moved to Maine, settling in Blue Hill where she raised two daughters. Eventually she moved to the Portland area where she began a career in retail management that also involved interior design.

“I think where my paintings come from had to do with harnessing all those wonderful childhood memories. When I moved from Blue Hill to Portland, that was when I began craving this coastline, the pink granite, the spruce. So that’s when my painting really started evolving. I paint from memory, it’s an emotional response.”

Lee’s paintings reflect wonderful childhood memories.

The connection with her punch-needle work, she ways, is that both her painting and working with yarn and fabric are about texture. “Everything is textural for me. In my paintings I start with an underlayer and then I begin layering on top of that. I’ll even get out my sander to make some reveals.”

Punch needle is textural in a different way. It is a form of textile art where yarn is threaded through a specialized needle and then punched through fabric leaving a small mounded loop on the underside. When completed, the underside becomes the finished side of the textile. When Lee started the punch-needle work she used a tufting gun. “A tufting gun is kind of what a sewing machine is to hand sewing. You can push a lot of wool through fabric rapidly and I thought this is kind of like painting with yarn. But then I went from the tufting gun to hand tufting because I’m a knitter and I love a lap project.”

As with her paintings, her punch-needle designs also take their inspiration from the coastal environment. “The color play reminds me of a certain place or time. The colors of the fog laying on the ocean, the pink net floats against the worn wooden dock, the colors of kelp tossing in the waves, bright orange periwinkles, purple mussels, the hull of a boat. Stuffing the pillows with Maine pine needles enliven sensory memories I hold dear.”

Both Lee and her husband, whom she met in Portland, are pleased to have made the move to St. George, but not only because Lee’s two daughters and three grandsons live in the area. “We were in that stressful corporate thing. One day we said to each other what are we doing? So we just said ‘uncle’ and left.”

Hanging out at the Metal Shop

Now a full-time artist, Lee calls her professional enterprise Spruce Tree Studio. “I have felt so embraced by and welcomed to this art community, like I’ve never experienced before!” Lee remarks. Recently, she gained welcome visibility for her work when she opened a seasonal shop in the Metal Shop building that was part of the old Lilius Grace Institute on Main Street in Tenants Harbor (the shop is called “Spruce Tree Studio at the Metal Shop”). There, Lee is selling her punch-needle pillows, her acrylic paintings, specialty yarns, punch-needle supplies and the work and products of several friends, one of whom is local blacksmith Noah Bly. “You have to have metal in a Metal Shop!” Lee laughs. Already the shop has become a sort of hangout for knitters and yarn spinners and punch-needle students.

(Spruce Tree Studio at the Metal Shop is open Thursdays through Saturdays from 11am until 5pm. You may learn more about Lee at sprucetreestudio.com or contact her at sprucetreestudio@gmail.com/@yayamarm on Instagram.) ­­—Katharine Cartwright (Julie Wortman contributed to this column.)

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