Mark Golden: Let me start by asking about your first interest in art — was there some time during childhood that you had an avid interest in drawing or any kind of visual arts?
Sarah Sands: Nothing passionate.By the time I got to high school I had copied some album covers meticulously, but that’s it.
Mark Golden: So your interests were in other studies or activities?
Sarah Sands: Yeah, mostly writers. I wanted to be a novelist and later a poet. If you want to know the dirty truth of it, and this is embarrassing, I mainly took art because I figured you couldn’t fail it. I remember taking what we affectionately called ‘Rocks for Jocks’, which was a really easy Geology course, along with Intro to Drawing. I just needed to stay in college. As it turned out I really liked drawing and went on to take Beginning Painting the next quarter. But it wasn’t planned. It wasn’t me saying, “I’ve always wanted to learn how to draw.”
Mark Golden: Did you continue with the painting full time?
Sarah Sands: Yes, I did. I got my Bachelor’s in ’84, then did a fifth-year certificate program at my college, which gave students more experience so they could compete against BFAs. At this point I was 25. I then set up my studio and had a job as a baker. So I baked and painted and baked and painted. I did eventually apply to grad schools, but didn’t get into any of the ones I wanted.
Mark Golden: So how did you continue with the career in painting?
Sarah Sands: I showed locally mostly in cafes and coffee shops. Santa Cruz is very much a college town in that sense. Eventually I thought I should go to New York so I saved up $3,000 but quickly found out that $3,000 wouldn’t buy me anything in New York City. Then a friend of mine just came back from Spain and said, “It’s great there. You can probably live for six months on $3,000.” I didn’t know Spanish at the time but she gave me the address of a painter there and I hooked up with him.
Mark Golden: Did you paint while you were there or just explore?
Sarah Sands: I painted — fanatically. That was a tremendous time. I went to the Prado. I went to Toledo. I gobbled up anything and everything I could. It was my first time living near great art.
Later I came back to the States and sublet a friend’s apartment who was going to Yale as a graduate student in painting. I painted in New Haven, Connecticut and had my first show there at the John Slade Eli House. So that was very encouraging.
I then traveled back to California. I kept painting and approached some galleries in San Francisco. I eventually connected with the Hackett-Freedman Gallery and they offered me a one-person show. Of course I was baking full time.
Mark Golden: Still?
Sarah Sands: Yes. So, in my naivety, I applied for a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. I didn’t have a graduate degree or anything, but– well, the folks there actually gave me a $10,000 grant.
Mark Golden: Wow. What an incredible affirmation for what you were doing.
Sarah Sands: Yeah. It was fortuitous. It could have gone the other way and I would have needed to figure out something else to do. But it went that way, so I quit baking. I painted. Then, with the portfolio I created for the show, I applied to Yale
So, I was 30 years old, and I knew I could either own a bakery or try going to graduate school. And it was not so much about learning how to paint, because I thought I knew that part and was already getting enough recognition…. But it was to get a degree that could allow me to make a living teaching. I never had an illusion and always assumed it would be too difficult to make a living solely off of my painting. And so that got me to grad school.
Mark Golden: During grad school, you obviously had exposure to some valuable teachers and mentors.
Sarah Sands: I did. There were some really bright painters there — solid and very, very challenging. It was also like boot camp in some ways, and not all rosy and helpful.
Mark Golden: While you were studying, you assisted in a conservation studio?
Sarah Sands: The Yale Art Gallery.
The Conservation Department had a part time job for an art student to work as a studio assistant, which meant you helped around with odd jobs and acquiring materials.
I worked there for about a year while I was a student and I loved it. Once I graduated, I continued in a position there as an assistant.
Mark Golden: So did this start an interest in materials or did you always have that?
Sarah Sands: Yale was home to the Ralph Mayer Learning Center and had this very well-known emphasis in materials. Every undergraduate art student there was really well schooled in materials. That really descends, I think, from Albers. It made me very conscious of how little I knew. Yale was very formal and rigorous in its approach to art, and that went all the way down to the materials.
Mark Golden: So it was part of the graduate requirements?
Sarah Sands: Well, not for the grad students — for the undergrads. The grad students were free to be ignorant.
Mark Golden: Interesting… so from Yale, you continued painting and actually got teaching positions?
Sarah Sands: I did. I started down that road and did well. I had some good positions.
Mark Golden: Did you do the typical CAA conventions and that sort of thing?
Sarah Sands: Yeah, I did that whole bit every year. I got a job teaching in the Graduate School at New York Academy of Art, which was a hoot. That was really fun because it was like teaching in the 19th century French Academy. And then Indiana University, which was my major position. I was 37 when I finished my three-year appointment there, and I had some additional bites but none of them were tenure track.
At that point I was a very passionate customer of Williamsburg Artist Colors and, with my background in baking, I thought I knew enough to be a paintmaker. I figured, well, making dough is mixing liquids and dry stuff. I’m serious! I figured it couldn’t be that different. You have mixers and dry stuff and wet stuff and —
Mark Golden: Absolutely. You have a formula. You have preparation time. You have rest time. You have all those things that are required.
Sarah Sands: So I called them up and I said, “Look. You know me. You know how much I love your stuff. Any chance you need a paintmaker?” And they didn’t. But they needed a business manager.
Mark Golden: And of course you had business experience.
Sarah Sands: Yes, I had managed a bakery. I knew about cash flow so I came out and I met Carl Plansky and Karl Kelley. And we got along, connected. And so I decided I would go for it. I also remember Carl Plansky saying, “Look, I have to be honest. We don’t have any money. I can pay you $250 a week and no benefits.” But it turned out to be an incredible period. That’s probably where I learned more about pigments and materials and the needs of artists and talking to painters.
Mark Golden: Folks would call in and they would leave the questions to you.
Sarah Sands: Yeah. I was the tech support, the web person and the business person all rolled into one. I wore four or five hats, and even worked in shipping.
Mark Golden: Yeah. I was the tech support, the web person and the business person all rolled into one. I wore four or five hats, and even worked in shipping.
Sarah Sands: Yes, four years — ’96 to 2000. I even learned about GOLDEN while I was there. I remember calling here and talking to some folks, although I don’t remember who they were, but you guys were very gracious.
Mark Golden: I know around that time our need for additional technical support staff was growing — more phone calls and emails to respond to. Nancy (HR Director) said she had been in contact with an incredibly talented candidate who had been speaking to us for a while. When we saw your resume of all the skills you brought it seemed like a wonderful fit.
Sarah Sands: What interested me about coming here was the fact that GOLDEN had a sterling reputation. And so I was tremendously interested in being part of that culture. But it was definitely a learning curve. At that point I had never painted — I mean, literally never painted with acrylic. But I also remember saying I would only ‘not know’ an answer once, right? That if someone asked me and I didn’t know, I would learn it and then that would be taken care of. It was just so complex, but eventually I just figured it out. When I came here, I never wanted to be in tech support. Let’s be honest. I always thought of myself as a professor, as a painter in a gallery. I mean, tech support?
But what I eventually learned to love was that there was a perfect fit here. Because at heart I am a generalist. I love a ton of stuff, and my mind can go anywhere from Web site design to systems of information to art materials to teaching to tech support.
Mark Golden: Really for you, tech support was a launching pad to be able to express all of those desires.
Sarah Sands: Absolutely.
Mark Golden: And also something I have to mention here, as you won’t, is your leadership ability, you’ve been a teacher and mentor for all of us, Sarah. You’ve led this program and moved it beyond what we thought it could be. Creating an even greater place of support for us and artists around the world.
Sarah Sands: I remember being told you can make your own position here. And so at some point I remember writing up a proposal, and saying, “This is where I want to go. This is what I want to do.”
And one thing that I learned is true about being here is that we encourage people. We all, I think, encourage each other to reach and to grow. So I never felt boxed in. I was never told, “Look, this is what you do and this is the only thing you’ll do for the rest of the time you’re here.”
Mark Golden:Sarah , what gets you the most excited about leading Technical Support Services here?
Sarah Sands: That we’re inventing — we’re inventing this. And there is no model for us to look out and say, “Okay, that’s what Tech Support at an art company looks like. That’s our model to grow towards.” We are our own model. And we’re inventing this. We’re setting the standard.
And what I love is that we don’t lower that standard. We challenge ourselves to be better. I love the fact that every time we get a call and we tell someone, “I don’t know,” that we take that as an incentive to learn.
That tells us the borders of what we know. And that also tells us where we can stretch those borders so that the next time that person calls — or someone else calls — well, we do know. And there’s just something — I mean, I don’t want to sound corny — but there is something about driving into work and realizing that your job is to delight people.
That’s my job today. My job is to delight as many people as I can. And to leave each one of those people thinking, “Wow. That was special.” And when you have those days, they’re enough to carry you. And you know how gratifying that is.
Mark Golden: Well, you do that for all the folks — all the customers who call and all the people here who interact with you, Sarah. So, thank you. Thank you for that. What a good note to end on for now.