Photographer and artist Sabine Schmidt is in residence this summer at FPL

Photographer and artist Sabine Schmidt is in residence this summer at FPL

“I’m a bit of a hermit,” Sabine Schmidt admits. “I’m used to working in solitude and want to believe that this is the best way to create the writing and photography I have in mind.”

But a residency at the Fayetteville Public Library has expanded her thinking.

“As it turns out, sharing work and ideas with visitors, event participants, and library staff is inspiring,” Schmidt says. “I’m learning a lot: It’s OK to ask for help. I don’t have to do everything by myself. People are generous with their time and skills.

“I also like setting a goal for every studio day,” she adds. “It is easier to stay focused in a temporary space.”

Schmidt first came to Fayetteville from her home in Germany in 1991 to study in the University of Arkansas creative writing program.

“I was about to finish a master’s degree in American Studies at Hamburg University and was interested in literary translation,” she explains. She had read Ellen Gilchrist’s novel “The Annunciation,” in which the protagonist is a literary translator in the creative writing program at the University of Arkansas, and Gilchrist’s “storytelling made Fayetteville, the university, and Northwest Arkansas feel charming and exotic to me. It seemed like a good place to study translation.”

MFA completed, Schmidt went back to Germany and then lived for awhile in Memphis, Tenn., but “it was a sense of community that made me come back and stay in Fayetteville. It was easy to feel at home and among like-minded people.”

Always drawn to the arts, the question for Schmidt was “whether I wanted to focus on writing or on visual art. I went back and forth for years, until I finally figured out that it’s possible to do both in one project.” Many of those projects have involved photographer Don House, including the one Schmidt points to as most significant, “Remote Access: Small Public Libraries in Arkansas,” which she calls “the library book.”

“Don and I spent three years writing and photographing for this project,” she says. “We wanted to show life and culture in rural Arkansas. It quickly grew to include issues of politics, history, race, and gender. We visited about 50 public libraries; 21 are in the book. Their hardworking staff and volunteers stretch their limited resources with astounding results.

“Don took 500 portraits of librarians and patrons. I took about the same number of photos of libraries and small towns. We each wrote 22 essays,” she explains. “Author and professor Bob Cochran made the book part of his ‘Arkansas Character’ series for the University of Arkansas Press and wrote an insightful introduction. The book weighs 4.5 pounds, and I’m immensely proud of it.

“Combining photography with writing for ‘Remote Access’ felt natural and necessary.”

The project Schmidt is focused on during her residency at FPL is called “Rememorials,” intended, she says, to “document places of racial injustice in Arkansas.”

“My goal is to create temporary memorials that honor people who were enslaved, displaced, or subjected to other forms of injustice,” she says. “I build paper models of vanished homes, schools, and other buildings. Based on extensive historical research, the models give physical shape to the fading knowledge of what happened in those places. I photograph them at the original locations, using color film, and write their stories.

“I’ve been working on 18 so far, but there are thousands of places in Arkansas whose stories need to be told,” she adds. “I show photos in exhibitions — sometimes with, sometimes without, text panels — and am working on a book. ‘Rememorials’ feels like my most important work.”

“I love how this program connects local artists with community and library spaces,” Willow Fitzgibbon, director of Library Services at FPL, says of the visiting artist concept. “Artists work on personal projects in library areas like the Center for Innovation, study rooms, or the Art & Movement room. Additionally, they conduct community art or music classes that library patrons can attend to explore various crafts. This initiative offers a wonderful chance to bolster local artists’ creative endeavors while enhancing the community with new artistic experiences.”

During her time at FPL — she’s in the fourth floor studio every Wednesday — Schmidt sets out supplies for visitors who might want to make one of her paper structures, then continues her work on “Rememorials,” often taking advantage of the library resources at her fingertips.

“I try to end the day with one finished piece. In between, people stop by,” she says. “A young writer recently wrote a short story while I worked on a model. People share information about places of racial injustice they’re familiar with. Some want to know more about a site I’m researching, or they sit and build a paper house of their own.

“Many people don’t get the chance to visit art exhibitions or artist studios, but they use their public library,” Schmidt concludes. “As an artist in the library, I can show people what I do. We talk about how and why I do it. We share ideas. I invite them to make art in my studio. I’m trying to be one of the many resources the library offers its community.”



Visiting Artist:

Sabine Schmidt

WHEN — Through Aug. 31; Schmidt is in the studio 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays

WHERE — Fayetteville Public Library’s fourth floor studio

COST — Free


BONUS — Schmidt will present a drop-in program for ages 6 & older to make a tiny paper house from 1-3 p.m. July 22 and a program on creating “memory houses” for adults at 10 a.m. Aug. 10. Register for the adult program at beginning July 20.



FPL Visiting Artists

The visiting artist program at FPL started in 2022 and so far has included artists Matt Magerkurth, Erin Lorenzen, Amanda Arafat, Allison Blevins, Aaron Szabo, Laura Washburn, Shannon Green and Acadia Kandora. Also visiting through August along with Schmidt will be Fayetteville artist and designer Laura Ramirez. Vinita Hampton Wright, recently retired after three decades as a book editor, will be in residence September-December.

More information about the artists and program can be found at

Categories: Galleries