Studio needs


Dear Artist,

Behind my Mum’s house, there’s a walking path that follows a river estuary that empties into the Pacific Ocean. Because we are but four kilometres upstream from the house in which we grew up, when we follow this path in the direction of the ocean, we pass our childhood’s familiar, shoreline landmarks. “Appealing workplaces are to be avoided,” wrote Annie Dillard. “One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.”

The Eagle Returns, 2005 Acrylic on canvas 30 x 34 inches by Robert Genn (1936- 2014) This painting was a permanent gift to the American Bald Eagle Foundation, Haines, Alaska.

The Eagle Returns, 2005
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 34 inches
by Robert Genn (1936- 2014)
This painting was a permanent gift to the American Bald Eagle Foundation, Haines, Alaska.

Along with imagination, memory, and the dark, our childhood was propagandized with birds. They were all around our 1959 post-and-beam, split-level ranch, which was perched upon a second-growth evergreen gully, overlooking the estuary and the sea, beyond. The house was decidedly in the trees; shady and moss-thick. For my Dad, it was the Western sandpipers, Ruddy turnstones, Dunlins, Whimbrels, Curlews and Willets that were simply too tempting to pass up. Out there, on a strip of sunlight, Glaucous-winged gulls, Mallards and Mergansers, a Great Blue Heron, plus a pair of Eagles and so many owls — Barred, Barn and Great-Horned — made honouring the environment at the easel even more real and worthy of care.

This morning, my brothers and I are walking the path. High summer has burnt the long grasses and plumped the blackberries, wild and wrestling the Scotch Broom and sweet pea blossoms for the title of top strangler. Their stamens gust a jammy perfume. Owls in the mini-barn, erected by the city of Surrey in penance for condo-ing their habitat, are silent after a night of vole-hunting. Instead, the bird-watchers stalk the warblers in the bulrushes.

Sara on the Far Shore, 1988 Acrylic on canvas 24 x 30 inches by Robert Genn

Sara on the Far Shore, 1988
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 30 inches
by Robert Genn

After moving in, in 1973, my Dad built his studio, just a few paces from the house. It had north-facing, floor to ceiling windows at the front and a slide table at the back. Later, he added stacks, a flat file and writing room. “The view is good, but not too good,” he would say. “Enough to understand conditions and to feel the connection, but not more engaging than what’s under the task lamp.” For us, the place was a wonderland of dirt and cedar bark. Out there at low tide, a strand of shiny mudflat dotted with wintering seabirds put us in our place, under the winks of the North Star and distant, Coast Mountain night skiers; under the eagle-heavy treetops. It was, and continues to be, a place for those who long to feel a part of a larger wilderness — with paths leading outward — and nudging inward — towards more places of imagination.

Sara in Brittany, 1984 Acrylic on canvas 24 x 30 inches by Robert Genn

Sara in Brittany, 1984
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 30 inches
by Robert Genn



PS: “Art is a path on which we honour our world. Art may not be the only path, but it is a good path, even though at times a difficult one. As bearers of this honour, we artists do not need to simply render our world as we see it but as we might ourselves redesign it. As artists, one of our privileges is to invent.” (Robert Genn)

Esoterica: I’ve spent my life dreaming of studios and finding studios and moving into studios and makeshifting studios. For each of us, there is a special set of needs — it never needs to be materially grand. “To have a sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today,” wrote Joseph Campbell in 1988. “You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so, where you do not know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody or what they owe you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.” Today, mine is just off the river path, under an eagle’s tree, in my mother’s chair, tucked at the back sliding door. Somewhere between a room with a view and a room with no view, there is a proverbial room; it is connected to a path, where art and life go on.

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” (Virginia Woolf)

Girl in Motion, 1986 Acrylic on canvas 30 x 34 inches by Robert Genn This painting was the official image for The 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication, Expo '86 held in Vancouver, B.C.

Girl in Motion, 1986
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 34 inches
by Robert Genn
This painting was the official image for The 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication, Expo ’86, held in Vancouver, B.C.

“A little hut, curtains drawn so I don’t see the squirrels up in the apple trees in the orchard. The light on, right away from the house, no vacuum cleaners, nothing.” (Roald Dahl)

It is with my sincerest gratitude that I thank each and every one of you for your words of condolence for the loss of my Mother, Carol Noriko Genn. My family is humbled and deeply comforted by your kindness. With gratitude and friendship, Sara. 

“On our path, design is everywhere and invites the soul. From my window, art is a worthwhile cause. Whether we choose to delineate the rare birds that come to our shore, to broadly honour the spirit of the sunset, the deep forest beyond or the tiny foreground mosses, this is our opportunity to connect. In a world that appears now to have more connectivity than ever, and yet also less, this is what art looks like from my window.” (Robert Genn)



  1. I am a humble Canadian painter and potter living and teaching in Vence, France. I first discovered your father’s words of wisdom while living in Toronto a year before his passing. I was touched by his sharing during such a difficult time and honoured to be allowed to have known of him. I have continued to reap the wisdom of your words Sarah and last week when I caught up with your missives and read about your endearing Mother, I felt so much from what you shared not only as an artist with supportive parents that are still in this world; but as an artist who struggles to be the best mom and wife while pursuing my artistic needs. Your letter of your Moms life and your loss were powerful. Thank you, You have been blessed.

  2. Jo Ann Hope-Smith on

    I enjoyed this beautiful, sensitive writing , Sara . Memories & connection to nature , spirit connections are so important.
    Thinking of you & your family.

  3. My condolences, Sara… your letter is beautiful, filled with painted word pictures… a tribute to your Mom and Dad.

  4. TeresaMaria Billitteri on

    Sincere condolences and fond thoughts. Thank you for sharing your parents with us. They raised a extraordinary children.

  5. Hi Sara
    I too have been touched by your words of your mother. Mothers are so important to the well being of the world. We are where are young children come when they are hurt or happy or over joyed. We are the listeners and the doers and the guardian angels (when we are apart of this world or ethereal beings overlooking from above). Your mother sounds like a very particular type of “Good Mom”. You and your Dad and your brothers were very fortunate to have her on your side and to have one another in your lives. Here’s to strong enduring loving bonds.

  6. Dear Sara,

    I’m a realist painter from Calgary. I used to watch for announcements of your Dad’s shows at Canada House Gallery in Banff. Once I took a friend who, while I was chatting with your Dad, went to find your Mom. She asked her,” So, you must do everything else?” to which your Mom just smiled and nodded. I so enjoyed Bob’s work and always looked forward to chatting with him. My friend bought a painting . Your parents left a beautiful legacy. Thankyou for continuing it.

  7. Dear Sara; I am a realist pastel artist in Auburn, California who thoroughly enjoyed the wisdom and the expressive writing of your very talented father, Robert Glenn. I had been reading his letters for some time before he was diagnosed, and was amazed at his strength, peace of mind and ability to write so beautifully about what he was feeling and what he was seeing. So many of us mourned with you when he was gone, we marveled at his strength, and courage. You have all had the benefit of amazing loving parents who encouraged you and gifted you with eyes to see the beauty around you. You inherited the wonderful qualities of both of your parents and you write expressively as did your father, so that the reader has a picture in one’s mind of what you are seeing. Like art, it is a gift to communicate like that. People who enjoy Painters Keys throughout the world are sorry and saddened by your loss. We send our love and pray you will find comfort in the rich memories of your childhood home, your growing up and exploring the forest and the shores and marveling at the beauty of the birds and their cry’s. May you be comforted with those fine memories and push on and enjoy life, your art and your writing. We look forward to continuing the journey with you. Breathe the fresh air, inhale the scents of the sea, the forest and the sounds of life around you. You are blessed and wished well.


  8. Have enjoyed your and your dad’s writing for some years now. You quote Joseph Campbell…here’s one: “Look, look long, and the world will come in.”

  9. Mina Battagin on

    I’m so sorry for your loss Sara. I lost my mother 56 years ago and I still miss her. I believe that you were gifted with two very special parents. Thank you for continuing your father’s legacy.

  10. Mina Battagin on

    I’m so sorry for your loss Sara. I lost my mother 56 years ago and I still miss her. I believe that you were gifted with two very special parents. Thank you for continuing your father’s legacy. This is not a duplicate message.

  11. Dear Sara, An especially poignant, beautiful and thoughtful post. Thankful to picture you walking with your brothers. Sending love, Joan and Mike

  12. Thank you, as always, for your beautiful words Sara. I am sorry for the loss of your Mother. You write so lovingly of both your Mom and Dad. I too was blessed with wonderful and kind parents. They always supported me in my interest in art and pursuing it as my career. Blessings to you and your family

  13. Sara thank you for sharing the gifts of your family with us. Your words are another way to paint pictures of your home and family. We send our love to you and your brothers. Thank you for continuing the Genn traditions.

  14. Gail McDougall on

    Good afternoon Sara. I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your mum. What a beautiful story you wrote today. It is such a pleasure to read how you felt about your parents. Thank you for sharing.

    I look forward to the newsletter from Painters Keys.

  15. Dear Sara, The loss of your mother resurrected feeling of loss of my own mother years ago. Hence, I know the sense of loss you and your brothers must be feeling. My deep condolences. I know the house you grew up in & I feel privileged to understand your description of the path that leads to direction of the ocean and its shoreline landmarks. As Treasurer of the local art society, I also had the privileged of walking up to your doorsteps to deliver the sales proceeds of one of your Dad’s books sold through the society for which he generously donated a portion of the sales. He had just gotten ill at that time. So, walking up to your door was memorable to me. You came to the door to accept the delivery. So, I also had the pleasure of briefly meeting you. Even so, it was like a visit to him in his chapel of art.

  16. Even during times of deep grief you are able to write such a lovely and poignant letter to us. Love this one, thank you, Sara. And thank you Carol and Robert, for leaving us with Sara.

  17. Sara, your Esoterica pulled at my heart, and I happened to read your Dad’s letter, A Last Look, on the same day, so the ideas blended, and I’ll offer my first attempt at haiku to you with blessings of hope, rest, and peace:

    Life, art, love so rare
    Viewed from your mother’s chair
    Your path leads from there 

  18. Dear Sara,

    My sincere condolences to you and your family on the loss of your mother.

    I live in a rural setting and identify with your reminiscenses.



  19. Dear Sara.
    My sincere condolences to you & your family.
    Thank you for sharing your mother with us you painted a wonderful picture of her & your family which I can see in colour.
    Thank you for your letters & being yourself.

  20. Dear Sirs, I am so very sorry for your loss. I believe that your mother and your father are in the hands of God. Their spirits are in our world and are with you always. I followed your father’s letters beginning in 2002, and have enjoyed yours so much following his.

  21. All who know you and your family past and present are gifted with finding you and sharing. I really appreciate your continuing this site and communication between humble artists. Thank you

  22. I love coming here, reading these posts. I discovered the Painter’s Keys a few years before your Dad’s illness and loved his words even more at times than his paintings – he had a gift with both but at the time I really wasn’t painting, just wanting to. His “letters” made me pick up the brush and splash some paint around, his words helped me to define and understand what I was thinking about painting and about light.
    When you took up the baton and mixed your words with his I felt grateful that this gem of inspiration would continue,; your influence has been as great as his. (One of my favourite things with each letter is to guess whose it is – I can’t seem to keep track of whose week it is and I like it that way, puzzling it out as I read, waiting for that “Aha” moment when I know – the mention of Scotch is always the best indicator… most of the time I can tell if it’s you or him, but there a few times when you have fooled me – I bet he would have liked that.)
    When I read your post about your mother I felt wordless for a long time but this post made me want to write and tell how how sorry I am for the loss of your mother, and also for your father too – your parents. I think it’s a different world when your parents are no longer in it but I also think their memories are firmly grounded in your soul…

  23. My sincerest condolences to you and your brothers Sara. Your family is so unique. Thank you for sharing such heartfelt memories of your life with your extraordinary parents during this time of grief. The letters from you and your Dad’s are truly inspirational and I have enjoyed them for many years. They provide hope and encouragement to all of us.

  24. Bindu badshah on

    Sara so very sorry for your loss…somehow I feel it personally.
    Your sharing is so precious.
    Much love..
    Bindu from New Delhi, India

  25. Mary Catharine McDonnell on

    Such a beautiful piece of writing Sara.

    I am so sorry to hear of your Mom’s death. What an amazing woman! Thank you for sharing her with us.

  26. Sara ,
    There is such a strong current of generosity that runs through your letters, as it did your father’s. You both share so fearlessly your art, your passions, your hearts. Reading about your mother I experience this aha – she was, perhaps, the earth to your skies. Thank you for all of this and I wish you peaceful healing in this transition.

    • Sara,
      As many have already said, deepest condolences for the loss of your mom – I think we can all relate esp at my age of 76 when I have lost all close friends and family, and now I made new friends and have reconnected with my son so I am blessed again. I sure would love to see the wilds of BC.

  27. As always a fascinating read. Thank you Sara for so much. Your generosity does a lot to create heaven on earth. I found it interesting that artists avoid have a wonderful view or splendid accommodations for their studio life. Just a sacred space away from the humdrum. Yes. My space masquerades as a garage, a nice double garage with a display area, my gallery. The rest is work space. So lovely. I’ve lost control of it lately. Slowly reestablishing the sacred part as I get things put away or sent away. It needs a good purge. I accommodate too much from those around me and the attic can only hold a little. Time to say ‘no’ and begin again.

  28. So sorry for your family’s loss Sara. It must be a very emotional time being home and I hope that your memories bring you greatl comfort. On a side note I had the pleasure of golfing with your Mom in a Squamish tournament once… she was such a lovely person, and a very gracious winner!

    Your words this week capture your family home and your Dad’s studio description very well, such a special place. And your words tie together themes of family, home , nature , place and inspiration beautifully. I enjoyed visits to your home on multiple occasions, your dad was very generous with his student and studio time. Thanks again for continuing this newsletter gift of wisdom and insights… greatly appreciated.

  29. Terry Zoeller on

    So sorry Sarah for your loss of your beloved mother.
    Your writing and insights are just beautiful and poignant.
    Thank you.

  30. Praying you will feel the peace of God and His comfort as you grieve the loss of your Mom. It is amazing how remembering can bring tears now, but smiles over time. God bless you and your family.

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  the Wall
oil on canvas
24 x 30 inches, 2017

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My aim as a painter is to bring to life a slice of the world as I experience it. Light, color and form are my vocabulary.


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