Choosing Macon: Sara Tinsley Parker
By Rachelle Wilson
Photography by Angel Román
Part of a series featuring individuals from our community who, after some time away, have returned to share their skills and talents here.
Sarah Tinsley Parker is at once familiar and foreign. The young artist has an uncanny ability to connect with people in a way that feels as though you’re old friends. Simultaneously, her eyes contain depths that indicate a torrent of feeling and story untold – an enigma to discover.
Though at first glance her path may have seemed to be straightforward, Sarah Tinsley has opted to forge her own way to establish herself as a part of the Macon community.
A true Maconite, Sarah Tinsley’s earliest memories include spending the week with her grandmother in “the Southern tradition of mamaw camp to learn manners and etiquette.” But her Macon roots, which run as deep as the construction of the Hay House, came with their own kind of expectations.
“I come from a very Southern family,” she says. “Tradition and how things were supposed to be was ingrained into my head. But I always knew that I was going to do things a little differently than how my parents may have thought my life would go.”
Upon completing her bachelor’s degree at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Sarah Tinsley saw many of her peers returning to Macon to get married, settle down and start families, a path she was not ready to take. She knew that this was where her journey would deviate.
“For me, that meant being able to leave the expectations of others behind and do what I needed to do to grow up a little bit. I moved to Atlanta, and my time there really allowed me to grow because I was away from all the things I was familiar with,” she says.
While there, she began working as a caregiver for children with learning disabilities. Her interest in art, which she credits to her father, soon became more than a personal passion. It became a way to communicate with the children in her care. Art enabled Sarah Tinsley to connect with others, with her new environment and with herself.
“When I was in Atlanta, I was able to work with Steve Penley,” she says of the renowned Southern painter. “He taught me the importance of defining my style, really honing in on what it is – knowing what I want to do and what I don’t want to do.”
Her time in Atlanta gave her clarity and inspired her to take her art to the next level. She learned firsthand how art can be its own language and saw herself using it beyond the aesthetic. When Sarah Tinsley returned to Macon in 2015, it was to pursue a Masters of Art degree in Art Therapy at her alma mater.
She was ready to take her education and professional development to the next level and felt that Macon was the place to do it. And this time, her life in Macon was on her own terms.
“Coming back to Macon is just something that I knew would be different,” she says. “And I came back at a time when things were starting to develop downtown. Things were changing. People were becoming more involved and interested and participating in organizations. It was nice to see a shift in different parts of Macon – people venturing out and trying new things.”
Sarah Tinsley had changed, but so had Macon. This renewed perspective revealed people and places she had never encountered earlier in life. Macon expanded beyond the trek from home to school and back again to include those with different backgrounds, stories and paths.
“I found that my life growing up was very sheltered, and I didn’t have a full picture of the Macon community. My grandmother grew up in a different time and era where speaking out was not acceptable, spending time with certain crowds was frowned upon and letting your guard down was a no–no,” she says. “In turn, she influenced my mom and how I was raised. Of course, we were allowed to play sports and be involved in other activities, but it was always the same people.
“Maybe it was a comfort thing? I do know that has completely changed. I think a lot of it has to do with my influence and wanting to stand on my own. It’s not always the popular thing to do, but it has allowed our family to open up in a beautiful, more transparent way.”
Sarah Tinsley has used her independence and passion for vulnerability to challenge herself, her family and our community. Her family’s transition has paralleled the transition happening throughout Macon.
“Macon is continuing to grow to be more inclusive, but still has a long way to go bridging the gap between the older generations to the younger,” she says.
With the mission of building a more inclusive community, Sarah Tinsley began working in behavioral health for Coliseum Hospital. Using art therapy to give a voice to the silent, she works with individuals with schizophrenia, major depression and drug addiction.
Whether through art therapy, galleries downtown at places like Travis Jean Emporium or giant murals at the Society Garden in Ingleside Village, Sarah Tinsley gives of her education, experience and talent to the Macon community every day.
In her art, as well as her life, she is “focusing on vulnerability, transparency and learning to love yourself.” She sees all her art as “creating a sense of community and belonging no matter your background – allowing vulnerability to be a driving force for people to be themselves.”
Her new scope for a place so familiar has given her the hope that her art can push others to see Macon more comprehensively as well.
“I’ve always liked a challenge and to see if I can evoke some thoughts into other people’s minds that might make them see something in a different light,” she says. “If I can do that one painting at a time, I will.”
With a gallery opening on hold until physical proximity is no longer a health risk, Sarah Tinsley has been forced, like so many of us, to recalibrate her future plans. In addition to continuing her art therapy work via telecommunication creative therapy sessions, she has taken this time to return to some painting passions of her youth.
“I’ve had more time to really develop some of my current projects and to explore more, creatively, doing some things I haven’t done in a while,” she says.
Her gallery opening is still in the works, though, and she looks forward to sharing her latest series on vulnerability with the Macon community. To stay abreast of those dates, visit Sarah Tinsley Parker online at sarahtinsleyparker.com.