Sarah Catherine Thomas, 65, an artist and small business owner in Fairfield, PA; a small town eight miles outside Gettysburg, was coping with two granddaughters and friends’ children, home chores and a small business that had lost its customer base due to the pandemic, so she was bored. Her shop, the McKesson House, had showcased and sold some beautifully decorated inside doors, so one day she thought, “I’m going to decorate my own red front door.” The result was a unique, delicate ocher design that so captivated her daughter that she wanted one as well. Now this “door-to-door” artist is busy making others happy, too.
She recently completed a law office door with art nouveau gold peacocks, a church’s heavily stenciled front door as well as that of a local restaurant, a historical inn and the town hall. Her patterns are colorful and filled with intricately stenciled patterns or free-hand designs. She received commissions from other in-town residents so Fairfield is becoming known as the “town of painted doors.” Now, nearby communities’ homeowners and businesses are on her to-do list as well.
Sarah calls door painting her “project of happiness” as it gives people something to look at, talk about and like. This simple act of decorating a door connects strangers, neighbors and visitors. During these sad days of confinement, Sarah’s doors add elegance, joy and smiles that say “Welcome!” in a space between six feet. She’s also brought that painted joy to furniture, fences, garden gates, sheds, shutters, mailboxes and courtyards. There’s no stopping her creativity and mission of making things pretty and making people happy to instill a sense of community and connectedness, so we asked Sarah to share a little of her new life with Lifestyles readers:
1. What, if any, formal art training did you receive that propelled you into this field? And how were you drawn to stenciling and folk art?
I’ve had no formal training at all, but I’ve always loved to experiment with colors and designs. While raising my children, I made friends with another mother who used her creativity to decorate her home, and we’d enjoy time together painting, crafting and just generally having fun as moms with shared interests.
I learned stenciling from her and made my first floor cloth, an old colonial art form wherein raw canvas is painted, decorated and turned into a functional object of beauty for the home.
2. If I commissioned you to paint my door, what preparation would the door need before you started and what type paint do you use? Would it need a special top coat to make it weather proof?
First, and most important, the door needs to be cleaned. If my customer wants the base color changed, I paint the door using a high-grade exterior latex. A top coat, like polycrylic, is not usually needed.
3. I know some of your customers tell you to “just do your thing”, and others are specific about what they want. If I just let you create my door the way you want, how would you decide specifically on the motif or stencil to use?
That depends entirely on the door itself. Is it all one smooth surface? Does it have panels, divided sections or a window? These features influence the decorating ideas I bring to the project.
4. Dots have become your signature- how did that come about?
When I use a stencil, I like to add my own touches to it, to make it my own. Dots are a good way to personalize a simple stencil design.
5. How would you determine the cost of doing my door?
I evaluate several requirements: does the door need to be base coated? How intricate a design does my customer want? How much additional freehand design painting will go into the project beyond the basic stenciling? My prices have ranged from $250 to $1,000.
6. Now that your number of commissions is growing, what do you see as your future and how might it affect your own small shop in Fairfield? In other words, where would you like to see these efforts of joy take you in the future?
This question is easy! I just love to paint and decorate! I will continue to do this as long as I can, whether it be in my shop or out of my home. Even my car is filled with supplies, kind of like a studio on wheels! It brings me happiness and the satisfaction of knowing that I turned something ordinary into something beautiful. I hope I never need to stop creating and making people smile!
7. Lastly, what words of advice would you give to other crafters or artists during these times when we so desperately need their talent, creativity and joy?
Just get up in the morning, put your feet on the floor and do what you love best. Do it for yourself and do it to spread a little cheer. This world needs it right now and always!