As if winning first prize in the Genesis 2008 Art Contest wasn’t challenging enough for Sarah Williams ’10, she won it while adjusting to life at the College as a first-semester transfer student and working backstage on two College theater productions. Williams also found time to paint the winning piece, “Preservation.”
Williams was surprised to learn she won the contest, particularly because she entered on a bit of a whim.
“I’m taking one art class right now — 3-D foundations — and Professor Lanka mentioned it in class. Apparently it’s an annual thing they do, and being a transfer student I wasn’t familiar with it. I just thought it was a good idea,” she said.
The Genesis contest is in its 25th year and culminates in a show at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News — an important part of PFAC’s mission to promote the art community and foster artistic growth on the Peninsula. The contest is designed for all college students in Hampton Roads, but representation this year was somewhat skewed: “There were actually only three students from William and Mary; it was mostly Christopher Newport students since they live right there,” Williams said.
Williams’s background in art began long before she arrived on campus. She grew up drawing in her free time.
“We didn’t have television, so I used my time to draw and do art. I was never involved in any sports or extracurriculars so I just sort of drew all the time.”
In middle school, Williams began working with oils. She was accepted to the Florence Academy of Art in Italy and graduated from high school early to attend.
“It was a four year program, but I went for one semester because being in Florence is kind of extravagant,” she said.
Williams cites the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer as one of her inspirations. Drawn to his affinity for playing with light and color, she uses a similar style in her own painting. “Preservation” features a single girl standing in an interior, much like many of Vermeer’s most famous works. The girl is chained to a tree that grows out of a ceramic pitcher — a simple, domestic item common in Vermeer’s work.
“It’s about the importance of preserving the environment,” Williams said. “She’s attached to this piece of nature and she’s almost being supported by it. They’re kind of giving each other life.”
In her semester here, Williams has already accomplished a great deal. She is an artist not because she took a class that told her how to be one, but because she was interested in doing it. When asked how she learned to paint, she said, “I have all these art books in my basement and I just looked through them all the time and tried to figure out how they did it.”