February 6, 2011

Bob Keyes: A career takes off at a gallop

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BRISTOL - A stunning winter day reveals itself outside Sarah Lynn Richards' loft studio.

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Sarah Lynn Richards, who specializes in equestrian art, in her Bristol studio. Richards was selected as the official artist of the Kentucky Derby.

Gordon Chibroski

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The original art by Sarah Lynn Richards that was chosen as the poster for this year’s Derby Festival.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

The mid-morning sun masks the biting cold and coats the white landscape in a sheet of light. Richards peers out across a snow-covered field that is smoothed into a slight arc by the wind but otherwise unblemished. A stand of trees frames her view on one side, and a well-proportioned horse barn anchors her view on the other.

It is a tranquil setting, and classically idyllic. It's also the reason Richards gave up a career in psychotherapy -- not so much for this view (although that certainly is part of it), but so she could stay home, tend to her horse and do what she feels called to do, which is create equestrian art in watercolors.

Richards, 42, painted the image on the poster for this year's Derby Festival, which is part of the annual celebration of the Kentucky Derby.

Richards has experienced great success as an artist, and her work is sold in galleries across the country. But being named the official artist of the Kentucky Derby is something else. She hopes the exposure she receives will help her become as well-known in Maine as she is across horse country, where autograph seekers stand in line for her signature, journalists wait their turn for an interview and collectors compete to buy an original painting.

"It's actually overwhelming," Richards said last week as she prepared for a busy few months leading up to the Derby in May. "I'm hoping this brings some recognition. I expect that it will. My work is out there quite a bit, but not so much in Maine. I feel like now it's starting to come home a little bit."

Richards went to Kentucky in January for the official Derby Festival Poster Premiere, at which her artwork was unveiled. She signed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of posters. Makers Mark, a Kentucky bourbon distillery, even named a drink in her honor, the Richards Cherry Ale, which the artist described as "pretty boozy."

Richards is the daughter of watercolorist Lyn Snow, who paints flowers and operates a successful gallery in Rockland. She has loved horses since she was a young girl, and loved painting nearly as long, thanks to the influence of her mom.

She remembers riding a horse at age 5, and began drawing them in fifth grade. "Fifth-grade math class was all about drawing horses," Richards said. "Sorry, Mr. Allen."

She went to school to help others, and earned a master's degree in psychotherapy. She had a good counseling career going in the 1990s when her art career beckoned.

It was 1997, and Richards was chosen to paint the poster for Equitana, an equestrian trade show and fair, which happened to be in Kentucky that year. It was produced by the same folks who now produce the Derby Festival.

Richards entered and won a contest to create the show poster. "That was the start of a lot of things," she said. "I got a lot of exposure, and things really started rolling."

People attending the show not only bought the poster but Richards' original paintings. She and her then-fiance, now-husband Todd sold every painting they brought from Maine to the show.

Stunned by the response, they came home to Maine and seriously re-evaluated their lives. Many things happened fast after that. They got married, for starters. Soon after, Richards quit her job as a counselor to concentrate on her painting.

It was a wrenching decision. "Do I stay home and push aside this career that I have worked hard at and earned a master's degree in?" she asked.

(Continued on page 2)

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