Last month, National Poetry Month San Antonio invited the community to write ekphrastic poems in response to artwork in local museum collections. South Texas poets submitted over 125 entries inspired by works on view at the McNay, San Antonio Museum of Art, the Briscoe Western Art Museum, and the Witte Museum. We congratulate these winners for their outstanding poems written in response to Sarah #9 by Heidi McFall.
Judges—Jim LaVilla-Havelin, National Poetry Month Coordinator; Octavio Quintanilla, 2018–2020 San Antonio Poet Laureate; and Linda Simone; poet, artist, and educator—selected three adult winners and three youth winners.
Many thanks to the participants, winners, and judges for sharing your talent!
Sarah #9 is a large-scale pastel portrait by Iowa-based artist Heidi Draley McFall. Most visitors mistake this drawing for a black and white photograph in the galleries because of its incredible detail, the white space that resembles overexposure, and its huge size. The drawing, which measures 60 by 40 inches, was made in San Antonio where the artist was living at the time.
McFall considers herself a self-taught artist because she didn’t have any formal art training beyond high school. She photographs her subjects on 35mm film, whose graininess, she says, relates well to chalky texture of the pastel. Over the years, she has compiled a personal archive of photos that she continues to revisit (You’ll notice that the McNay’s Sarah is #9).
According to McFall, the success of the portrait is highly dependent on starting with a good picture. “I’ve been thinking about the process from front to back. How do I want it to look, how bright, how dark? What kind of emotion, mood do I want to create?”
Beginning the drawing, McFall works upright on an archival paperboard, using the absolute minimum of pastel. For Sarah #9 and Gabby (another work in the McNay’s collection), she used only black and white pastel. Because McFall is working so large, she treats the pastel like an abstract painting. There are hardly any lines, instead gradients and perfectly blended, pure pigment. She not drawing facial features; she’s depicting light and shadow. She talks about how working big allowed her to be more adventurous, more experimental in her mark making.
The end result for the viewer is an intimate experience where you closely inspect someone else’s face, imagine their story, and as McFall says, connect with your soul.