REpurposing Text and Textile

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 Sarah Simmons

Sarah Simmons is a text based conceptual artist and literacy educator. Her artwork realizes and releases the untapped potential of objects, materials, and women by challenging their traditionally assigned purposes and roles.  Rather than accept an object for its assumed purpose and discarding it when it is no longer useful, she challenges the viewer to see materials and people as more.

Sarah holds an Associate of Arts in studio art from Montgomery College in Maryland and a BFA with a concentration in metalsmithing and art education from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

Sarah is a member of Pittsburgh Society of Sculptors and Associated Artists of Pittsburgh.  She has participated in exhibits with both organizations and also in exhibitions at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, The Brewhouse, Minnesota Center for Book Arts, Annemarie Sculpture Center, as well as a part of the Anthropology of Motherhood.  Her first solo exhibit was fittingly at Sewickley Public Library in 2014. 

Sarah currently lives in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, where since 2016 she has grown her Bookgarden, a place where discarded books go to celebrate aging and experience unexpected self-transformation.  Sarah is a certified Orton Gillingham tutor who teaches dyslexic children to read and hopefully love books.  She believes that words matter, how we communicate matters, and that literacy is a basic human right.  


​Through my artwork I realize and release the untapped potential of objects, materials, and women by challenging their traditionally assigned purposes and roles.  Rather than accept an object for its assumed function and discarding it when it is no longer useful, I challenge the viewer to see these materials as more than they expected.

Our use and throwaway society has boxed our goods and people into anticipated roles with limited lifespans of usefulness.  We do not fix or repurpose the items that no longer work the way they were originally intended.  We trivialize people who fill undervalued traditional societal functions as well as people who do not fit into accepted roles.   My work claims these objects and people, elevating their perceived value through new narratives. 

I adopt traditional tales, myths and expectations of women and the materials they frequently use, in unexpected ways flipping their stories and reclaiming their importance while altering their relevance.  My work shows the value that exists past the point of expected use, where most people would discard or disregard the usefulness of the object or person. 

I collect and reuse materials that are abandoned and allow them to tell their stories in a new way, setting free unrealized potential and disrupting stereotypical expectations relating to    value and purpose.  As a text based conceptual artist, books, text, and personal writings form the physical and philosophical foundation for most of my work. Materials may sit in my studio for years waiting for their perfect companion, another discarded item, to join with them and begin releasing their untapped potential together.  Because words have power, they can increase perceived worth and alter expected storylines. Using the transformative power of language allows me to reassign roles and to ask the viewer to examine objects and people differently. 

I utilize materials and methods traditionally assigned to women or caregivers.  Clothing, kitchen items, food, children’s toys, and sewing feature prominently in my work.  My altered dresses reclaim and shift the importance of women as traditionally seen by society. Many of these garments give voice to the language of women directly through diaries and writing. Words can be worn as protective armor.  When we claim words that are used as weapons against us, it diminishes the power of those words to inflict pain. My mixed media sculptures often take the form of books but use alternative materials like wood and fabric. Some sculptures manifest as objects like cake, each piece telling a bit of the story, emphasizing how something unsavory is often misrepresented as something palatable or even desirable.  When I cut paper, I deliberately place and remove words and people from traditional environments in order to reframe their stories, experiences, and importance.

In 2016, I began my Bookgarden Project.  The Bookgarden offers a home to books that are no longer desired or relevant and gives them a chance to physically transform and interact in new ways with their surroundings.  I document these books as they transition, celebrating the value of aging, self-reinvention, and unexpected physical transformation.