INIMITABLE, PRIMARY, BEAUTIFLORAL, AND UNLIKE ANYTHING YOU’VE EVER SEEN:
A DAY IN SARAH CARNES’ IMAGINARIUM
“The doctor who delivered me, at home of course since that’s how they did it back then, told my mother that he could tell that I would do something special.”
“I like it when you see a dandelion or some clover in the cracks of cement…nature insisting on coming through.”
Unlike say, accounting or construction work, whose utility and job description are straight-forward and obvious, creative artistry has always teetered on a giant philosophical see-saw. On one end seat is divinely-inspired perfection. On the other side sits insanity. The see-saw balances precariously on the wooden block that is society. Sometimes the teeter tots to the left, sometimes to the right, but it’s always in motion. The world needs art. We need art as much, if not more, than we need cup holders, war machines, blueberry muffins, electrical tape, and jumbo jets. Though our need for art is often subconscious, we all crave the ability to be transported to a higher plane of existence. Some people get there via meditation, others by separating themselves from humanity on mountaintops or deserted beaches, still others find their path in religion. But we all find ourselves on a lofty plane when we come in contact with true artistry.
The left-brained, tunnel-visioned business crowd has often, throughout history, questioned the utility of art. You can’t eat a Picasso. You can’t wear a Rodin. You could use a Warhol as shelter, but I wouldn’t if I were you. Art has always been as much of a calling as the ministry, but sadly, even less understood. Therefore, in every society, in every time, in order to be able to continue to make their art and still afford rent and food, artists have been forced to come up with uses for their works. That’s why statues of city founders can be seen in public parks. That’s why we have such cool bus stops in Athens. Most artists have to strain to figure out how to market their work to the public as useful additions to everyday life…but there are those who are born with the dual gifts of creative artistry and clear utility. Sarah “Mrs. Creatinomics” Carnes is one such artist. Luckily for us, she lives right here in Athens.
At first glance, Sarah Carnes is stoic, subdued, and relatively small, a petite Southern lady with a knack for Home Economics and beautifying her world. Keep glancing a few more times at this little Southern lady and you’ll soon come to realize how much energy, zest, and intrigue lies just below the surface of the inventor of Creatinomics. Sarah has always found ways to turn trash into treasure, to transform the left-overs of the world into masterfully-crafted lampshades or butterfly jewelry, to lift us all up just a tad with the contradictory large-scale simplicity of her inventive, but practical, creations.
This world and the next may be Sarah’s inspirational workshop, but Mrs. Creatinomics’ home is her museum.
I sat down last week with Sarah, on chairs of her own creation, at the World Creatinomics Center at Talmage Terrace, as she explained her art, related her life story, and tried to impart her wisdom, while wearing a giant, homemade corsage made out of silver bells, paintbrushes, roses, and ribbons (It was mesmerizing. I had to force myself to look away from it.). Sarah lives in the World Creatinomics Center, and like any true artist, devotes the vast majority of her time and space to her work.
I’d say only about 10% of her home looks like yours. I’m sure she owns a refrigerator, but I didn’t see it. If I had, it would probably have had a handle made from old conch shells and a freezer constructed out of an extinct species of laminated daisies. Half of the interior would be devoted to preserving flowers, a recurring theme in Sarah’s art and her life. Maybe she’d leave some space for a few Coca-Colas and some condiments, but it wouldn’t be much space.
I didn’t see a fridge. I did, however, see flowers of all colors, shapes, and sizes, adorning painted wicker furniture, weaving in and out of a spot-on hand-crafted replica of The Arch, and lining her windows, walls and her clothing. I did see poems, ideology, coat hangers twisted to resemble butterflies, and book shelves made from material whose origin I won’t even hazard a guess. It would take a few more trips into Creatinomics Land to notice everything, and a few more to come close to understanding how truly profound her seemingly simple ideas and creations really are.
As I understand it, Sarah Carnes’ idea of Creatinomics is difficult to pin down because it’s so all-encompassing. It’s not an explicable art form, like sculpture or music, rather a deeper way of looking at the world and living in it, existing with it, not merely within it. It’s as much science as it is art. Yes, the combination of “create” and “economics” was the original concept, and those two ideas still shine through in her work, but as Sarah has lived, the idea of Creatinomics has blossomed like one of her floral creations, into something bigger, something brighter, something that feeds the soul.
On March 25, 2009, the Georgia General Assembly honored Sarah with a Resolution by Decree, describing Creatinomics as “the creative use of everything, beginning with the use and choice of words.” That definition is in the right ballpark, but is more of a line drive than a home run. The ground-rule-double definition of Creatinomics may be, “Life, turned into something better, inspired by God, and enhanced by the thousand daily tiny actions that result from living creatively.” The home run definition is, like artistic perfection, like love, humanly impossible to put into words.
Sarah’s contradictions are everywhere. She makes representations of life out of lifeless material. She holds multiple degrees, but came from a country Georgia town too small to have a name. She rarely smiles, but spreads joy to the world around her.
“Creatinomics” is Sarah’s most important word/ideology, but it’s not the only one. The word “Primary” is plastered all over her apartment, life, and workshop.
For a long time now Sarah has had a pretty strong case of agoraphobia, a disorder characterized by the fear of wide-open spaces, etymologically from the Greek, a “fear of the marketplace.” Her lack of interest in capitalism or earning money from the sale of her pieces — something she easily could do — seems to back up her diagnosis. Although Sarah has, in times past, made a living with her creations, making money was never her primary purpose. According to local writer Brenda Romine, Sarah’s friend and a speaker at her event, “In a situation that might have proven overwhelming to some, she created a new life for herself and her daughter, Kay. Using her innate skills and talents, along with her educational background…at the age of 30, she opened an original floral design shop in a small three-room apartment in Jefferson, Georgia.” (Romine, Brenda, October 4, 2015 speech) The Beautiflora shop was one of Sarah’s many dreams seen realized. Her creations added color to a frequently drab world. There is no telling how many lives she touched with Beautiflora.
Sarah Carnes was born Sarah Robertson in a tiny, rural, north Georgia community so small and off-the-map that it didn’t even have its own name. Her family referred to the community six miles outside of Gainesville as White Sulfur Springs, due to its proximity to an actual sulfur spring within walking distance of Sarah’s childhood home. Though she claims to have had a normal country upbringing, with her love of God, crafts, and family, she concedes that the early inspiration she derived from her creative uncle J.W. Ramsey, a professional photographer who installed a skylight in his house, creating Sarah’s favorite girlhood memory and giving her a living example of how creativity can be both a divine and a professional calling, may have been the primary motivator for her future creatinomic endeavors. Her family doctor’s birth prediction began to come true after her parents saw the clothes she began to piece together from discarded materials, like chicken feed sacks, and they started entering her designs into county fairs and 4-H shows. “You wouldn’t find dresses like I made on uptown ladies, but around my hometown and in the fairs the people loved them. They even wore them in church.” Sarah kept winning contests and soon began earning money for the family.
“The material would cost around 15-20 cents, if that, and I’d win 2 or 3 dollars.” It started to add up. When you consider that most of her base material was going to be thrown away anyway, Sarah Robertson’s first creatinomic creations made some real money. She would go on to win many more contests, including one sponsored by Rich’s department store. And so on, and so on.
When asked about why she turned her apartment into this one-of-a-kind museum for creatonomics, honestly, she didn’t even come close to directly answering the question, but I loved her deflection, “They don’t care, as long as you pay the rent.”
Mrs. Creatinomics continues to give her unique floral arrangements, hand bouquets, and corsages to her many friends. We don’t have enough space to cover all of Sarah Robertson Carnes’ achievements or philosophies, so we’ll simply end with a representative anecdote of how even the least likely people can recognize her genius. While attending college at North Georgia University, Sarah’s mother cautiously asked the dean if she could pull her daughter out of class for a week to compete in yet another creative contest, one which she would later, predictably, win. Sarah’s mother was sure that the stuffy intellectual would object, refuse her request, or, at the very least, lecture them both about the importance of attendance. Instead, he enthusiastically agreed, saying, “By all means. She should do it. She’ll learn more there than she could every learn in a week here.”
A SMALL SAMPLING OF SARAH’S WORDS OF WISDOM:
Inimitable–impossible to imitate, one of a kind (describes her art and herself) [She analogizes this word to herself, but also to every individual who has ever walked on God’s green Earth.]
Fluidity–flexibility, everything easily done [Sarah’s definition is closer to the idea of fluency in the language of the soul than Bartlett’s.]
Primary–the foundation of our limitless human potential [We’ve all got it, and, before we can get to the pinks, purples, and greens, it all starts with the reds, yellows, and blues, the primary colors.]
Embellishment–less exaggeration than enhancement of the mundane
Creatinomics–(I’m not even going to try to wrap it up.) [utterly indefinable, practically dares you to try and wrap it up into a bow of adjectives.]
SPEAKERS AND GUESTS AT THE WORLD CREATINOMICS DAY EVENT:
Doris Aldrich (President of Women to the World)–“A few weeks ago, talking with Sarah, she was going through all of the things she’s done in life. She said that she accomplished everything she set out to accomplish. How rare is that?”
Gail Crecelius, one of Sarah’s many mentees, (described by Sarah to me as ‘The one who made the good poundcake.’)–“Even when the Dawgs lose, creativity wins.”
Charlotte Baklar, Sarah’s cousin, who spoke at length of their genetic, spiritual, and creative kinship.
The Georgia State Senate–“A Resolution: recognizing and commending Mrs. Sarah Robertson Carnes; and for other purposes. WHEREAS, this distinguished gentlewoman is talented in poetry composition, language arts, fashion, wicker weaving, gourmet cooking, music, and photography. WHEREAS, Mrs. Carnes has received numerous awards and honors for her creatinomics, which has been recognized as a tool for enhancing education, and she works tirelessly to educate others on the concept…”
Dr. Paul Broun, former Congressman, upon entering Sarah’s Creatinarium, (only slightly paraphrased)–“I’ve never seen anything like this.”