Vibrant oil paintings decorate the interior of the Lemley House Art Guild, one of the many art studios in the historic downtown district of Russellville. The musty scent of fresh oil paint stains the air. Shelves overflow with tubes and brushes. There is little surface that hasn’t been graced with paint. Within these canvas covered walls Sara Cole Daily found her “safe haven.”
For Sara, a local artist originally from Little Rock, being surrounded by the arts is simply a part of life. Stained glass, basket weaving, painting, and sewing are just a few of the artistic crafts that Sara was introduced to at a young age. “I have a lot of artists in my family,” Sara said. “At our kitchen table growing up, there was always some sort of art project going on.”
Sara grew up with her parents, Betty and Marshal Cole, supporting and encouraging the arts. “My mother was an artist, took classes, and still dabbles in it today,” Sara said. “She can do anything. She can look at something, design it and make it.” By the age of six, Sara began training as a dancer under well-known choreography, Joel Ruminer, at Joel’s House of Dance in Little Rock. She traveled with Ruminer as a child and through high school as he taught all over the country. During this time she and her sisters were also taking painting lessons from her aunt who directed an art school in her backyard. Sara and her sisters attended seamstress school as well. “We learned how to sew at an early age,” said Sara.
After graduating from Little Rock Central in 1981, Sara enrolled at the University of Arkansas Little Rock and majored in dance and theatre. Sara said she went from dancing four to five nights a week to dancing roughly 12 hours a day. “We started dancing from 8 o’clock in the morning, we’d take class then go to college class, go back to dance and totally submerge in it.” Sara said. “Then, I would go and teach dance until about 9 o’clock at night, and then 8 o’clock or 9 o’clock I would rehearse for some sort of concert, show, you name it.”
During this time, Sara struggled to support herself with what little income she did receive, and often relied on her parents to assist her. “I would always say that I was on scholarship from Betty and Marshal Cole arts funding,” Sara said, laughing.
After working for a while in Little Rock at Murry’s Dinner Playhouse and other theaters in the area, Sara transferred to Oklahoma City University for a short time to study dance with American Spirit Dance under Jo Rowan. “Jo Rowan was my mentor. I had studied with her for short periods of time over the years of me traveling and being able to take from teachers all around the country,” Sara said. “So I knew I wanted to go there.”
By 1984 the rights for A Chorus Line, one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history, came off of Broadway, and Sara auditioned and was cast in the University of Arkansas Little Rock’s production of the musical. After dancing in A Chorus Line, Sara focused on making an income by working at two different FOX stations. She became the assistant to the general manager while still teaching dance at night. During her time in broadcast, she was involved in many commercials and also produced a show for FOX 16 called Arkansas in Action.
In 1991, Sara made her way back to Russellville, and by 2002 she opened up her dance studio, All That Dance with the help of her parents and her daughter, Lara Wells Brinker. “I opened up All That Dance here in Russellville, and we just made it kind of like a safe haven.” Sara said. “We had a little van that we would go around in and pick children up after school. We would feed them a snack and then we would have dance class.”
All That Dance allowed Sara to focus her teaching on basic ballet techniques as well as introducing her students to other art forms. “I had children from all walks of life, and we would just start at the beginning, and we tried to teach good basic dance,” Sara said. “We also did musical theatre, we did art, we painted our own backdrops for the school, and we all participated. So we incorporated all of the arts we could.”
Soon after she had the studio up and running, Sara’s health began to take a toll on her ability to perform and teach. Sara says that all of the years of strain and pressure from dance caused her joints to become overworked and more susceptible to fractures or breaks. “I thought I was invincible when I was young. Really I’m like an old pro football player, but we played without pads.” Sara said, jokingly.
“I kept breaking my right foot. I was in a cast for five years. I saw a lot of specialists, and they said it was just from overuse. They compared it to someone who jumps out of airplanes, a parachute jumper.” Doctors told Sara that she would no longer be able to dance. “It was like taking a part of me, my heart, and I lost it,” Sara said.
Sara sold the dance school to one of the teachers at All That Dance so it could continue in her absence. During her time of healing, she began to get back to her artistic roots with the encouragement and support of her husband, Dr. Richard Daily.
“That’s when painting came into play again,” Sara said, smiling. “I dabbled, and I always had an easel set up and drawing. But I sat down and said ‘what do I need to do to mentally and physically bring myself back to where I am happy.’ So, painting was that. Painting was that art that I was missing from dance.”
Sara’s inspiration and desire to get back into art was intensified by the Russellville area, a place that she claims is one of the most beautiful locations in the state to live, and by surrounding herself with a community of artists. “There are so many artists concentrated in the area, and a lot of people don’t realize that, but there are tons of artists who are here working every day on their art,” Sara explained. “I hang out with all of these people that are just like me. We’re all doing something. We’re creating something physical with our own hands, and that’s satisfying in many ways.”
Creativity is a matter of survival for artists like Sara. She says it is a process where she can let her mind flow freely without thoughts of criticism or restraint. Although a difficult skill to master, it is a technique that she credits with helping her improve as an artist. “You have to be fearless,” Sara said. “The more fearless you are, the better artist you are. You have to let go of all of those things that are holding you back, and you have to not worry about it.”
Her time at Lemley House Art Guild under mentor Sarah Keathley has given Sara the skills and confidence to keep creating and growing as an artist. “She has created this place, this environment. It’s another safe haven for all of us to come to,” Sara said. “I’m evolving, but I’m kind of turning a corner now where it’s finally clicking.”
Although she considers herself lucky when she sells a painting, Sara still loves to share her work. Her primary concentration is her happiness, creativity and positivity. “I’m to the point where I’m painting for myself for the most part,” Sara said. “I want to celebrate who I am as a woman through art. I feel like art and painting help me to be me, and I want to share that with everyone.”
Sara focuses on refining her craft and learning everything there is to know about art, specifically color theory and how to properly apply it. She is also taking classes from other local artists like Daniel Freeman and attending art classes at the University of Little Rock. “I think everyone can be an artist,” Sara said. “Take as many classes as you can, take as many workshops, and just produce every day. Just practice your craft every day. You’ll get better, you just do.”
More information on how to commission or purchase a painting by Sara Daily can be found online at lemleyhouseartguild.blogspot.com or on Facebook at Sara Cole Daily Art.