Culture // 6 min Read

Hope for the Flowers

Written by Palmetto Bluff

May 16, 2019

Katherine Sandoz takes a step back to admire her site-specific painting at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center in downtown Savannah, paintbrush still in hand. For a moment, she blends into the afternoon crowd of spectators. There’s a softness about her as she listens to onlookers describe the depth she has offered to this blank canvas. She listens intently, nodding and taking in their thoughts, but offers no further explanation.

It’s symbolic of her general approach to art. Her work is the jumping-off point for conversations about our environment, both natural and man-made.
It’s meant to be personal. The muted strokes of blue, green, and yellow on the wall shift the scale relationship between the viewer and the art presented. And Sandoz is inspired by it all.

Cultivating Growth

Sandoz (pronounced SAHN-doe) is a prolific painter. Her collaboration with Telfair Museums is a culmination of a yearlong study of botanicals. Flora, paint, and artifice intermingle on the canvases she creates. There’s a similar approach to all of her work. Whether it’s fibers, illustrations, or large-scale painting, Sandoz presents her world with active colors and adds an element of surprise. She presses into each portion of her paintings, adding layers and textures to what appears to be a thoroughly finished panel. In turn, she awakens her subject and adds to its story.

In the end, though, she simply wants it to be visually pleasing.

“Before I even have a blank canvas, I have a source of information,” Sandoz says. “There is someone or something in my mind, in my drawings and sketches. I plan for a series in a pretty formal way.”

Sandoz draws inspiration from the world around her. The botanicals often come from long walks in her Vernonburg neighborhood on Savannah’s Southside. This particular painting titled Sagittaria (the formal Latin genus of the katniss plant) explores the relationship between the aquatic plant and its habitation buried in swamps, bogs, and ditches.

Sandoz creates cohesion with each series, embracing the formalism that comes with her techniques—something she has learned to appreciate about herself.

“It’s okay to be a formalist,” she reassures. “Even those who are naïve or untrained have empirical evidence for why they create. They’re not working in a void. We’re all working with what we are given; the lives that have happened before.”

Sandoz’s peppered past has led her to this moment. Her parents met in art school, and she was born in New Hampshire a short time later. “Many children and many stories ensued,” she says, glossing over her early years. Sandoz prefers to live in the present, but her past is represented in the lines of her work. There’s a historical imprint in everything she creates, she says.

She moved often with her mother in her youth, helping families set up homeschools across the US. She herself was homeschooled until eighth grade, and art was always in the background.

“I always made art, just like all kids do,” she says. “People are meant to make things. And if you make things, you are an artist.”

Her implied status seems simple, but art remained a part of her life as she explored other opportunities. After college, she spent a decade in the Army Reserves—she thought it was a good job. In the late ’80s, she caught the advertising bug and embraced office life. She worked as an account planner, collected data for focus groups, and illustrated advertorials.

“Working there, I really became excited by and enamored by the strategies that advertising used to make messages,” she says.

For Sandoz, her scope of work is bound by similar language. Making qualitative and quantitative studies was something that she could build off of artistically. The tools are the same, she says, but the conclusion is often different.

She left the advertising business to pursue a degree in art. Her intention was to go art school and come back, perhaps become an art director. But like art often does, the outcome shifted during the process.

Blooming Onto The Scene

A small breeze wakes the leaves on a large oak tree outside her home. There used to be more, she says, but in 2016, Hurricane Matthew left a path of destruction. They lost eight trees, one of which fell onto her home. Sandoz, her husband, Dan, and their two sons were displaced for more than a year.

They are finally settling back in, reclaiming their lives and the 1.6 acres they call home. For Sandoz, this remains her sanctuary. The dichotomy of being close to a city and still maintaining the solace of the country has been the perfect compromise for her family. Her husband, an environmental scientist, often goes fishing in the Vernon River, and Sandoz walks through the neighborhood to breathe in the scenery.

A large barn behind the property acts as a makeshift studio. She wakes each morning with a thoughtful intention to paint. The openness of the structure allows her to work on numerous large-scale paintings at once. Sandoz makes a conscious choice to be an artist. It’s a job that needs to be fulfilled, she says.

“Most people are artists naturally, but the art world complicates being an artist. It fetishizes it and puts it on a pedestal,” she says. “The day-to-day is not always simple, but if you have a need to create, you will do it.”

Sandoz drew on this comparison as she reminisced about being both a student and educator at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). While studying for her master of fine arts in illustration, she never felt obligated to finish a project; it was something she simply did. Likewise, in her years as a professor of illustration, she steered students to develop their own voice and work within their own parameters and self-imposed constraints.

“They were going to create with or without me,” she says. “When you’re an artist, you have to.”

Sandoz is at home in Savannah. It’s where her philanthropic efforts are centered. It’s where her sons attend school and where she offers an intern program for SCAD and Georgia Southern University students. Savannah is where Rachel Reese, Telfair Museums’ curator of modern and contemporary art, first reached out with the possibility of a creative pursuit.

Reese asked Sandoz to consider making a site-specific painting and further explore the layers, translucency, and transparency to transcribe it into an additional installation piece.

Sandoz found her interests all came together while creating Sagittaria and its complementary sculptured installation piece Katniss, but she had reservations early on. She had never before made a sculpture. Even still, the sculpture evolved in the same manner as the native vegetation that inspired its arrangement. It grew slowly from an idea—a seedling—into something more tangible. She soon partnered with fellow SCAD alum Julio Garcia of Price Street Projects out of Miami who fabricated the pieces, and she displayed them in the Jepson Center’s atrium with the help of museum staff. The process took more than a year to develop and resulted in the museum’s largest commission to date for any living artist.

The petal-like shapes are suspended as unique, layered, and translucently colorful acrylic elements, an auspicious 108 pieces in all, and hung from
19 points in the ceiling. The installation transforms as visitors shift location below. Once inside, the building acts as a pond: the sculptures, the leaves, and the viewers become a small but active part of the ecosystem—as a frog, a water bug, or a single-celled organism.

With her latest work, Sandoz asks the audience to ponder how plants and humans are alike and different. She winds viewers along a thoughtfully laid-out path that highlights artistic beginnings and the nature that surrounds us. She places those observing inside the piece, its reflections changing with the times. And once you’re there, all you can do is look up.


Photography by: Molly Hayden

palmetto bluff

Real Estate / Behind the Bluff with Broker-in-Charge W. Bryan Byrne

Bryan’s Journey to Palmetto Bluff Real Estate In this edition of Behind the Bluff, W. Bryan Byrne, the Broker-in-Charge at Palmetto Bluff Real Estate Company, discusses his two-decade journey in the community. His experience has intricately molded the authent...

Jan 2024
real estate in bluffton sc

Real Estate / Lowcountry Housing Trends & Market Updates

Real Estate in Bluffton, SC: Trends, Updates, and Insights Bluffton, South Carolina, nestled within the scenic Lowcountry, is not just a picturesque haven but also a thriving real estate market. As the demand for homes in this charming town continues to grow,...

Jan 2024

Food & Wine / Mocktails from the Palmetto Bluff Club

Rosemary Spice Mocktail Recipe Introducing Buffalos' exquisite Rosemary Spice Mocktail—a meticulously crafted blend that awakens the taste buds with a perfect harmony of bold flavors. Fresh jalapenos are muddled for a subtle spicy kick, while luscious cra...

Jan 2024

Artist in Residence / Painting Wild

Story by Sandy Lang and Photographs by Lawson Builder In early May, The Arts Initiative hosted renowned Lowcountry painter West Fraser as our esteemed Artist In Residence. Throughout his stay, residents were treated to an array of events, including a painting...

Jan 2024
palmetto buff golf course

Sporting Life / Behind the Bluff with the Palmetto Bluff 9-Hole Golf Course Team

All About the New Palmetto Bluff Golf Course Nestled in the picturesque landscape of Palmetto Bluff, a new golfing adventure is taking shape—the Crossroads 9-Hole Golf Course. To delve into the intricacies of this project, we had the opportunity to sit down w...

Dec 2023

Conservation / Palmetto Bluff Buffalo Run 2023: A Celebration of Endurance, Nature, and Community

A Recap of the 2034 Buffalo Run The Palmetto Bluff Buffalo Run celebrated its 10th anniversary on Sunday, December 11, 2023, drawing in a record-breaking crowd of over 500 runners. The event, nestled in the heart of Palmetto Bluff's 20,000 acres of natural sp...

Dec 2023
places to eat near hilton head

Food & Wine / Ask the Locals: Our Favorite Restaurants Near Hilton Head

The 10 Best Places to Eat Near Hilton Head Island Nestled on the southernmost tip of South Carolina, Hilton Head Island beckons not only with its pristine beaches but also with a culinary scene that rivals its natural beauty. The Lowcountry, known for breatht...

Dec 2023

Artist in Residence / Journey through Creativity: Palmetto Bluff's 2023 Artist in Residence Highlights

As the sun sets over the picturesque landscape of Palmetto Bluff, we are grateful for the creativity that took center stage throughout the year. The 2023 Artist in Residence program has ended, leaving behind a trail of artistic marvels and inspiring stories. F...

Dec 2023

Real Estate / The Builders Behind the Bluff

Meet the Palmetto Bluff Builders Team A home is more than just bricks and mortar; it's where cherished memories are made, and dreams come to life. At Palmetto Bluff, the Palmetto Bluff Builders team designs homes based on your vision.  Allow us to introduc...

Dec 2023

Well Living at Montage Palmetto Bluff

Story by Meghan Lamb A life well lived is a life full of connection and rich experiences. It is about embracing the present moment, exploring new horizons, and nurturing the mind, body, and spirit. One such lifestyle can be found at Montage Palmetto Bluff, a ...

Dec 2023
Community Villages
Palmetto Bluff Club
On The Water
The Arts Initiative
About Us