A Passion for Painting

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Fairfield artist Sally Thomas loves experimenting with colors and designs

By Tessa Walter  |  Photography by Casey Martin

Celebrated local artist Sarah “Sally” Thomas is no stranger to our community. Born and raised in Adams County, Thomas has lived in the Fairfield area her entire life, graduating from Fairfield High School in 1973 and raising three children in her beloved hometown. “My roots are most definitely right here, in this wonderful little town of Fairfield,” she says with a smile. 

Thomas owned McKesson House, the beautiful Polish pottery shop in Fairfield that sadly had to close its doors in April after 19 years of service to the community.

While it is possible you may not know her name off the top of your head or recognize her face, you have undoubtedly seen Thomas’ artwork. The idea for her well-known painted doorways began like many genius plans do—out of sheer boredom. “The idea for door painting came from a few winters ago during the post-Christmas season in my shop, when business was very slow,” she says. “As a way to stay busy, my daughter Heather, our friend Bridget, and I each painted a door for fun and to brighten the shop. Our customers loved them, and we do too!” 

To keep busy during the pandemic, Thomas decided to paint her own front door and posted the photo to Facebook. “It attracted attention and led to others asking me to decorate their doors. I was happy to have the opportunity. It kept me busy, brought in a little money to keep the closed shop bills paid, and, I like to think, it made folks happy. I’ve painted a total of 15 doors so far, mostly in the Fairfield and Carroll Valley area, but also in the Gettysburg, Hanover, and Chambersburg areas as well,” Thomas says.

Thomas always has had an appreciation and a desire to create things. “Never thought I had any real talent, though. I even had an art teacher tell me as much,” she remembers. Thankfully for Fairfield and nearby communities, however, she didn’t listen to that teacher and now is an appreciated local decorator.

Thomas has painted a plethora of designs on a variety of canvases, such as stair runners, fireplace mantels,
a courtyard garden gate, and shutters. She’s excited for her plans to paint an old smokehouse door soon, and she would love to paint a fence, mailbox, or even a she-shed project. “It’s just fun for me,” she says. 

But, hands down, her personal favorite projects are floor cloths. “I had an artistic friend who, probably 40 years ago, taught me how to stencil and make a floor cloth,” she says. “I was hooked, and I’ve been doing it ever since.” 

Floor cloths, Thomas says, have been around since early Colonial times. “Thomas Jefferson had them in Monticello. They went out of fashion with the introduction of linoleum, but the art form was never lost completely,” she says. “Many that are found today are reproductions of those early patterns and designs.”

While the multi-step process to create a floor cloth is time consuming, Thomas thoroughly enjoys it. She makes the cloths from raw sailcloth-weight canvas, which lasts for many years.

“The process involves multiple layers of primer, paint, and sealer, so they are incredibly durable,” she explains. 

Thomas likes to make floor cloths out of her own designs, using her style and preferences for colors and patterns, and her creations have been purchased by individuals across the country.

Each creation Thomas creates is unique. “No two designs are ever the same, because they tend to evolve as I go,” she explains. “I am not a fine artist;
I am more of a decorator, and I love to play with color and designs.”

About the Artist 

Sally Thomas offers free estimates for her projects. For more information or to obtain an estimate, call 717-629-1885 or email [email protected].

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About Author

Tessa Walter

Tessa Walter has been a freelance writer for well over a decade writing for local magazines and newspapers in New York, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Italy. An educator turned social worker turned full-time entrepreneur, Tessa also enjoys her many business endeavors. Her latest venture is a luxury pop-up picnic business, Gettysburg Picnics. She lives in Gettysburg with her husband and son.

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