Golden light and classical choral music welcomes you upon entering Studio 11 at the Foundry Art Centre. The walls are lined with portraits of all sizes; the likenesses have luminous complexions and gentle, relaxed stances. With the Missouri River moving swiftly outside the windows, it's a peaceful corner of the art center, one that Sallie Day-Mogerman has occupied since the very beginning.
In 2002, Sallie had a solo exhibition of portraits at the Saint Louis Artists' Guild and her work caught the eye of Foundry Art Centre visionary and first Executive Director, Joyce Rosen. Sallie was offered the opportunity to have a studio at the FAC and the rest is history. Since July 2004, she and her oil paints have occupied Studio 11.
"I like having my own space, away from distractions. I can just sit and paint. I block everything else out - it's delicious," she smiles.
"I had always drawn, but, my sister was the family artist," Sallie recounts. "We couldn't both be doing the same thing - but in the end, we both did." Her sister, Dortha, was studying portraiture from Harry Fredman, a illustrious portrait artist whose methods for learning to draw and paint people were being taught to around 900 pupils a year. Once Sallie saw what Dortha was learning, she knew she wanted to pursue art. She abandoned her path in pursuing a master's degree at UMSL for literature, and commuted to Kansas City each week from Saint Charles County for private art lessons from Freeman. "For every seven hours of driving, I had nine hours of class time," remembers Sallie. "I've had a couple more teachers since Harry, but I really found the best one first."
Since then, Sallie has developed her own tried and true method for painting her portraits. "A lot of portrait artists I like are very painterly," she notes, "But I prefer exact likenesses. Harry was very picky about tone, value, and hue. You kind of follow your teacher's [style]." Sallie's oil portraits are very smooth and detailed, with very few visible brushstrokes.
Such a smooth painting style requires a lot of time and concentration from the artist. "I like to take my time and clients want you to take your time," Sallie insists. "My longest portrait was, oh... it took me around eight months, of a couple of children. A boy and a girl - they were beautiful children. And beautiful children are very hard to paint."
Her palette is marked with flesh tones she's been mixing for her current commission, a portrait of a local retired doctor. Before she puts brush to canvas, Sallie has a particular process for preparing a portrait.
"If a sitter has time to sit, I prefer it, of course," she says, "but if you see the sitter in person, a live sitting isn't always necessary." Sallie mixes the hair, skin, and eye colors of the sitter while they are with her. She takes high-quality reference photos to work from over the months that she is painting. "Unless it's posthumous," she adds, "I will always paint from my own photographs."
Sallie then chooses the photograph she wants to work from. "I don't think it's wise to show the customer what you've chosen," she advises. "Clients want to know what looks best about them. What I'm looking for is the right road map to paint from." To find the correct values, she paints from black and white photographs. "Color gets in the way," insists Sallie.
She then selects her canvas. Her favorite tools are Belgian linen canvases - "they last the longest" - and Rembrandt oil paints. She lightly sketches the outline of her portrait and then she begins to paint.
"I start right in the middle of the face. I paint the nostrils first, then the nose. I paint the closest eye next, then the further one, then the mouth and cheeks. I always paint the ear last." She continually returns to the already painted areas, correcting hues as she goes. Sallie knows a portrait is finished once she has put it aside for a couple of weeks and returns to it with fresh eyes.
She has met a lot of the Foundry Art Centre's visitors over the past twelve years, and several of those visitors have become her clients. "It's always nice to meet with the public from all over. And everyone's always saying, 'I never knew this was here! It's wonderful.'"
"Painting is the happiness in my life, aside from faith and family," says Sallie. "I think everyone wants to leave something of themselves behind. I will be leaving my family all their portraits." Now that's a beautiful legacy.
Visit Sallie in Studio 11 at the Foundry Art Centre to view her oil portraits and speak with her about commissions.
Article & Photographs by Jillian Schoettle.