Artist Reflects on Blair County Influences in Acclaimed Career | News, Sports, Jobs


03/30/22 Mirror Photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Artist Rachel Sager sits in front of pieces from her Breakthrough series in the lobby of Comfort Suites off Pinecroft off of I-99.

At age 12, former Hollidaysburg resident and entertainer Rachel Sager learned about perseverance, the value of hard work and high standards while serving as a marketing intern at Hoss’s Steak and Sea House headquarters. .

It was an opportunity offered by his father’s uncle, Hoss founder Bill Campbell. Her father, Dane Sager, was working in the marketing office at the time.

“Working at Hoss was incredibly wonderful,” Sager said in a phone interview while visiting family in the area. “It was quite encouraging to do the work and get paid. It was quite difficult and having money associated with this work and my art led me to consider pursuing a career in art.

Sager recently returned to the area – where she spent vacations and summers growing up – after an exhibition of her paintings at the Metropolitan Art Fair in New York. Now 44, Sager has made a name for herself on the West Coast, but the New York show has helped her introduce her work to new clients and East Coast dealers, including a dealer who plans to visit his studio in Petaluma, located in the North Bay area. San Francisco Bay Area of ​​Sonoma County California. Sager has lived in California for 15 years.

Sager was first acclaimed as one of two American painters selected for a PBS documentary, which won an Emmy in 2007. In “Sketch of the Silk Road” Sager and another American artist traveled an ancient silk trade route through China and were the first to film inside the caves known as the Thousand Buddha Caves.

The directors, Sager said, approached her while she was attending an art workshop and she beat “Many other artists” for experience — “I’m pretty proud of it.”

Sager’s confidence to embark on such a journey began with her internship at Hoss and the mentorship provided by Betsy Lehman of Hollidaysburg, who later worked in marketing and communications at Hoss with her father.

“Her father knew she was an artist, and he brought her,” Lehman explained. “You don’t expect such great artistic abilities in a 12-year-old girl, but she was brilliant. At the time, we didn’t have computers to draw, so the ability to draw was highly coveted. There wasn’t even computer clip art back then.

At Hoss, Sager has created drawing sheets that customers’ children can color in while eating. They featured the Hoss mascot in different poses in billboards and on drawing sheets. Two of Sager’s designs were turned into billboards.

Lehman, who is director of special projects at Lehman Engineers of Hollidaysburg, a company run by her husband, Joe Lehman Jr.

“I felt like I mattered. At 12, I was treated like an adult and like a valuable artist,” Sager said. “They criticized my designs and told me to go back and do it again…and again. I would do it over and over and over again until it was good.

The experience taught her not to take criticism personally and helped her develop discipline in her art. She also wore the Hoss mascot costume at events like the Keystone Country Fair.

“I learned a work ethic that I don’t think I learned anywhere else” Sager said.

Lehman became Sager’s first mentor and, after attending the prestigious Temple University Tyler School of Art, became his godmother, purchasing one of his works from his college graduation exhibit. Twenty years later, Lehman said, the room contains “lots of movement in beautiful colors.”

“There’s a lot going on in there, and I always find something different to watch,” Lehman said, noting that his earlier works included many portraits — skills Sager developed while studying and working in Florence, Italy. Today, Sager’s works are figurative and use mixed media to create “explosions” which represent transformation.

The homes and businesses of Blair County – the place Sager identifies as his home – contain the highest concentration of his artistic talent. In addition to Lehman’s home and business, Sager’s works adorn the homes of family and friends as well as his parents, Dane and Kim Sager, hotel businesses, The Comfort Inns in Altoona, Pinecroft and Huntingdon.

Sager remembers being put in charge of other students while painting a mural in second grade.

“I remember having the opportunity to draw the jungle-themed mural with tigers and leopards and being placed as a leader and supervising the other students,” she says.

His family supported his early talents with gifts of sketchbooks and art supplies. The large, multi-generational Campbell family attended her recent solo exhibition in New York, just as they have supported her with private commissions throughout her career.

“For me to reach this high level at this point – New York was a necessary step to push me into a bigger market. I have dealers coming to visit me in California now. It’s incredible. she said, and more exciting than the $15,000 worth of paintings she sold.

But more important than selling to him is to be “relevant,” she says, as she portrays the human spirit in transition through her recent works. While painting primarily in oil, Sager turned to charcoal during her pregnancies, a safer medium. After the birth of her two children, she continued to use charcoal and oil together in collage-based mixed-media pieces on large canvases.

“In my explosive pieces, I use charcoal as an underpainting technique, then add layers of oil paint. These are interesting because they are not often used together. Charcoal is a natural expression of the subject I focus on: the transformation of matter. They explore how matter changes from one stage to the next. I focus on the moment of change,” she says. “I see the change as a positive element. It is evolution and progression as opposed to destruction.

His subjects are partly inspired by the fires of recent years in California – wildfires and intentional burnings aimed at controlling them.

“Wildfires are scary and evil, but controlled fires are used to create new growth. That’s the version I try to represent – ​​maybe because I’m an optimist and a very positive thinker.

Positive images of resurrection and reconstruction are also themes in his college-based figurative pieces, which have also found resonance with New York art patrons. “I reconstruct images from old magazine scraps to build a new narrative. I like to explore the big questions in life and the passages of life such as childbirth and the passage from life to death – things that are difficult to express in a simple way but which can be expressed when composed of words. a million pictures.

She compares her figurative pieces as slices of memory that pass through smells, images and feelings.

Sager credits her success to the lessons she learned in Blair County and the support of her family and Lehman.

“They treated me like a talented artist, and I hold that value to this day,” Sager said. “I learned to be disciplined and to be serious about the art and to work to get there.”

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