Sarah Totherow Whitson, the daughter of a Methodist minister, spent her early years in various towns in northeast Alabama. In the late 1930s, while working for the State of Alabama in Montgomery, she met a young Talladegan and was soon his wife, absorbed into the prominent
Her days were filled with family life, church activities, and civic responsibilities, Nevertheless, Sarah blossomed. She had the soul of an artist which found expression wherever, whenever, however it could.
Her backyard cutting garden bloomed with flowers that became stunning arrangements for church or home, or were subjects for lovely paintings. Figs, herbs, garlic, asparagus made their way to her table as parts of her beautifully crafted meals - as beautiful to behold as to taste. At Christmas, evergreens from her yard - and those of her friends - became wreaths and garlands adorning the sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church, thanks to her team of devoted ladies.
But it is Sarah’s paintings that are her legacy. Her canvases ran the gamut from plein aire landscapes, to trees and flowers, to studio works of fruit, vegetables, and more flowers, often juxtaposed with manmade objects like glass bottles, painted china, and interesting brass, pewter, or silver pieces.
She taught painting to children and adults but became best known for her portraits, both oil and pastel, which were in high demand and still hold places of honor in many homes around the state. When once told that her portraits made their subjects prettier than they were in real life, Sarah smiled and said simply “I paint them as I see them.”
Sarah Whitson did indeed see beauty all around her, whether a sparkling stream, a bouquet of weeds, or a cherubic child. Fortunately, she captured that beauty for the rest of us whose vision is not quite so clear.