Sarah L. Fairman, 95, needlework artist

November 03, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF WRITER

Sarah Lawrence Fairman, an internationally known needlework artist who grew up in Annapolis, died Oct. 27 of heart failure at her home in Annandale, Va. She was 95.

Born Sarah L. Cooper on July 14, 1901, on Prince George Street in Annapolis, she was the daughter of architect Philip Benson Cooper, who helped design the Naval Academy's Bancroft Hall.

She was known as Sallie and was educated at home. During World War I, she enlisted in the Army and served for a month before the Armistice. She was discharged with the rank of private.

In 1921, she married Francis E. Fairman Jr., an inventor who became a vice president of General Electric Co. He died in 1957.

Mrs. Fairman's love of fine needlework began in her youth. Her interest grew as she designed and made many of her children's clothes.

After settling in Wynnewood, Pa., in 1961, Mrs. Fairman turned her attention to embroidery and became adept. She was known for ecclesiastical embroidery and larger decorative designs.

She worked in a variety of media, which often employed crewel work and bobbin lace, two forms of intricate stitchery; goldwork, in which gold thread is used; and weaving.

Her work was recognized as more than humble domestic art and coincided with a renewed interest in embroidery two decades ago.

She was the subject of exhibitions in Washington, New York and Wilmington, Del., and her work was featured in 1984 at the Goldie Paley Design Center, part of the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science.

"Sallie Fairman epitomizes the new thrust in this ancient medium. Each of her works is a new synthesis, brought together by her own genius," said a guide to the exhibition at the Paley Design Center.

vTC "She did all of this with failing eyesight and arthritic fingers under a magnifying glass," said her daughter, Sarah L. Engel of Annandale. "She was meticulous, and the textures of her designs affect you without touching. Despite her blindness, she still was able to see with her mind. It was similar to Beethoven composing despite his deafness."

The guide to the Philadelphia show said: "You would be impressed with her quiet intensity and with the careful, sure movement of her fingers. Her hair is a halo, and she bends to her work as a writer would bend to a manuscript, to get just the right turn of phrase or to correct the slightest error. Such painstaking care -- and yet her vision and her work are forever vigorous, always new."

Anne R. Fabbi, director of the Paley Design Center, said last week: "We are just beginning to recognize the artistic values inherent in fine embroidery and other hand work employing needles and thread. This individual creator matters, and names like Mrs. Fairman, previously known to a small coterie, are emerging from the mist of obscurity."

In summing up Mrs. Fairman's career and her artwork, the Paley Design Center said, "Yet in each work she dared to go farther, to explore new imagery, new textures, new ideas."

Her daughter said that though Mrs. Fairman no longer could create original designs, she did embroidery until she was 95.

Private services are planned for today at St. James Episcopal Church in Monkton.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by two sons, Francis E. Fairman III of Pittsburgh and Philip B. Fairman of Miami; 10 grandchildren; and 20 great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 11/03/96

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