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Sarah Woods of Westcliffe, the accidental artist

Article by Rayna Bailey

Local artist – October 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

WESTCLIFFE ARTIST Sarah Woods is an admitted conservative from a family of conventional teachers and lawyers. There may not be a “Bohemian” actor, musician, or artist in the entire clan. Except for Sarah.

Woods started out following in the family’s footsteps. She graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor of fine arts degree, and says that although the university’s fine art program was highly specialized and open only to a limited number of students, it failed to teach participating students “the business of art,” or how to make a career as a professional artist.

“It was assumed I would be a professor,” Woods says.


Preferring to work with young people rather than teaching at the college level after her graduation, Woods found a job as an art teacher at a junior high school in Scotts Bluff, Neb.

“I’d never thought about being a professional artist. I was too conservative. My goal was always to be a teacher. I had an excellent high school art teacher who could have been a professional artist, and I wanted to be like him.”

After two years teaching, she married her long-time sweetheart Randy Woods and the couple moved to Fort Collins. There, the “Bohemian” heart beating beneath her conservative exterior began to emerge. “There were no secondary art teaching positions open there, so I substitute taught,” Woods says. “It was the best thing for me. I started having more time to travel and visit galleries and Randy encouraged me to paint more, so I started painting while I was subbing.”

Woods says she was a landscape artist, but she always felt as if something were missing in her paintings. She discovered what that something was while reading a copy of Wildlife Art magazine

“My other big love besides art was wildlife. I considered being a wildlife biologist,” she says. “Then I saw a copy of Wildlife Art magazine and when I learned you could paint wildlife. It was like Christmas.”

Woods continued teaching and painting in her spare time until one day in 1980 when a friend offered to host a showing of Woods’s growing collection of art work. “There were 25 paintings in the show and they sold out,” Woods says.

That show helped launch her on a career she had never anticipated: being a professional artist. Woods became known regionally as an exceptional wildlife artist, but her talents leapt into the national spotlight in 1986.

“In 1986 I entered a national contest sponsored by Wildlife Art News,” she says. Woods explains that the work submitted had to be a remarque, a miniature painting done on the bottom of lithographs to increase their value.


“It was not a miniature painting, it was a super mini,” she says. “Nor,” she adds, “was it on the bottom of a lithograph. It was only in that style.”

Woods submitted a four-inch by six-inch black and white painting of mountain goats. “My painting was one of thirty finalists published in the magazine and the readers voted me the winner,” Woods says.

Shortly after having her work honored by Wildlife Art News, Woods entered a painting in the Arts for Parks competition sponsored by the National Park Foundation. Of 3,000 paintings entered, Woods’s was one of six selected to be reproduced and sold as a fund raiser to help support national parks.

During the time Woods’s career was growing, so too was Fort Collins, so the couple began looking for a quieter place to live. “Fort Collins was growing real fast, and we knew we wanted to buy some land for retirement,” Woods says. “We had some extra money from a good show and saved it to buy land.”

A land-for-sale advertisement in a Denver newspaper led the couple to the Wet Mountain Valley. “We bought the land and moved here ten years ago,” Woods says.

In 1999, the couple opened Raven Woods Gallery in Westcliffe, which offers a selection of fine art by local and regional artists that includes everything from photography and paintings to bronze sculptures, as well as unique furniture, antiques, and other home decorating items.

BESIDES RAVEN WOODS Gallery in Westcliffe, Woods’s paintings — her favored medium is acrylics — are on display at the Trailside Galleries in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Scottsdale, Ariz.; and at the Gallery West galleries in Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyo. Her art has also been reproduced on wildlife calendars, cards, decorative plates, and Christmas ornaments.

In addition, Woods has illustrated two children’s books: Beneath the Mask, a story of black-footed ferrets, and Rocky Mountain Rabbit, a story of cottontails. Her work is also featured in a coffee-table book Art of the American West, and on items produced by Ducks Unlimited.

During her ten years in the Valley, Woods has embraced the landscape and wildlife of the area, capturing it in paintings that hang in many Custer County homes.

“About 40 of my paintings belong to people who live here,” Woods says.

She adds that “people always request to see more of my paintings, but I don’t usually get to keep them around.” They sell almost as soon as they are available.

In response to requests to see her art, Woods is now hosting an exhibition at Raven Woods Gallery. The show runs through September — so Central readers will have to hurry to catch it. Entitled “A Portrait of the Wet Mountain Valley,” the show features nearly 30 of Woods’s paintings which are on loan from the current owners of the art. Woods art will also be at Art for the Sangres, a benefit art sale for land conservation that takes place at the historic Pines Ranch on Sept. 22.

Sarah and Randy Woods have been married for 21 years and they have two daughters, Lauren, who’s almost 12 years old, and four-year-old Madeleine. Sarah also has an adult stepson, David.

For additional information about Woods’s art call 719-783-9608, or while in Westcliffe, stop by Raven Woods Gallery, located at 59000 North Highway 69.

Rayna Bailey writes for the Wet Mountain Tribune in Westcliffe, and freelances for numerous publications.

Sarah Woods was also featured in Colorado Central in December, 1995, before Raven Woods Gallery opened.