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Fond Farewell to SAAH Studio Professor

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Meagan Callahan

Professor Sarah Gjertson will leave the School of Art & Art History at the end of Spring Quarter

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Sarah Gjertson

Studio Professor Sarah Gjertson

After 21 years at the University of Denver, Professor Sarah Gjertson will be leaving the School of Art & Art History (SAAH) at the end of the 2022–2023 academic year. Please join the School of Art & Art History's Celebration of our Colleague Sarah Gjertson at Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary (3470 Co Rd 7, Erie, CO 80516) on Saturday, May 20, from Noon–3 p.m. Come and go at your leisure, enjoy some food, drink, and spend time with the animals! Please RSVP to Jeanie Tischler (

Sarah Gjertson with her Dogs at Furry Scurry 5k
Gjertson with her rescue menagerie

Gjertson, who earned an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BFA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, joined the school in 2002. In 2008, Gjertson was tenured to Associate Professor, from 2012–2015 she served as the Director of SAAH, and in 2020 she was promoted to Full Professor.

A former skydiver and beekeeper, Gjertson enjoys backcountry camping, is fond of growing food and feeding people, supports local and national animal welfare efforts, is a fan of most things analog, and is grateful for her animal rescue menagerie. 

Among her many accomplishments during her time at DU are being a recipient of multiple FRF, CAMF, CILCA, Clemens, and PROF grants and three solo shows at Colorado museums featuring work from Human Imprint, a project highlighting the history of women at mining camps around the state. She presented her work on ideas about "beauty” as part of a panel hosted by a Harvard professor at the American Philosophical Association. Her work has been profiled in Tema Celeste Contemporary Art, Frieze, Connecticut Public Television, 9News in Colorado, Colorado Public Radio, and numerous online and print media. 

Painting Professor Deborah Howard, who co-chaired the search committee that selected Gjertson, says at the time we needed “to find an artist to create a new Foundations program and it was clear Sarah was the perfect choice, because she could do anything! From clay, to steel, to electronics, to turn dresses hanging from the ceiling. If she did not have experience in a media, she would find a way to learn it. Sarah recognized that textile crafts is a valid form of communication and expression, and her students have worked with textiles and crochet.”

Howard continues, “There is no one like Sarah! She is a force of nature. Sarah is an ardent feminist and fearlessly creative and goes to great lengths to make her art. Like hunting unknown Colorado ghost towns searching for discarded artifacts. Her work can be humorous and poignant.... Sarah loves materials and chooses those appropriate to her ideas.... She can instill her art with radical beliefs that are subtle, poetic, and powerful, that demand the viewer to look and to contemplate.” 

Sarah Gjertson skydiving
Gjertson skydiving

Speaking about her studio practice, Gjertson says “As an artist without allegiance to any particular medium, my process begins with an initial research base that includes print sources, travel to relevant sites, accessing archives, and collecting ephemera to build a solid knowledge base and understanding of histories and contexts. This accumulated knowledge then informs material choices and processes.... I hope to make visible (and in some cases tangible) the histories, voices and stories of women traversing the complex and conflicting expectations they experience living in American culture.... Much of my work has explored American expectations of ‘womanhood,’ the complexities of nostalgia around some of those histories, and the utilization of objects/materials/processes that may elicit feelings of longing or familiarity.” To view her work visit Gjertson's website. 

Contributions to the School and University

Gjertson and the Guerrilla Girls
Gjertson with Annette Stott
and the Guerrilla Girls

Gjertson’s many contributions to the School and University include soliciting donor support to fund a half-time GTA position in Art History, helping build the Programs Director position at the Madden Museum, coordinating with facilities and the DU arborist to plant a tree outside Shwayder Art Building to honor Bob Yablans, serving as a GWST (Gender and Women’s Studies) affiliated faculty, and being awarded multiple tech fee grants to improve and upgrade studio classroom spaces.

She was also awarded a Women's Library Association Grant to increase the holdings of feminist performance artists in its collection. When Penrose Library was reconfigured to Anderson Academic Commons (AAC), Gjertson led resistance efforts to keep books on campus including a campus wide petition, letters to the chancellor, organizing protests outside the Penrose Library and a town hall with then Provost Kvistad, and a sticker and t-shirt campaign. Thanks to her efforts all the art books remained on campus in the AAC alongside other humanities books. Gjertson also brought many renowned artists and scholars to campus including Dana Schutz, Hung Liu, Linda Weintraub, Nigel Poor, and the Guerrilla Girls (to a packed house at the Cable Center!). As Director, Gjertson created the DU Art Travel Grant and the Senior Thesis Mini-Grant. 

Sarah Gjertson and Hung Liu
Gjertson and Hung Liu

Gjertson has served on countless committees in the School of Art & Art History, within the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and at the University level. Highlights include service on the Elected Faculty Committee, GWST Executive Committee, Vicki Myhren Gallery Committee, SAAH Studio Advising Days, Pre-Art Conservation Advisory Board Committee, DU ART Board of Directors, Annex Task Force, Design and Construction that became Nagel Art Studios, Marsico Visiting Scholars Committee, CAHSS Tenure and Promotion Committee, AHSS Dean's Advisory Board, search committees for several faculty and staff positions, and promotion committees for multiple faculty colleagues in and outside SAAH.

Support of Students

Students with Gjertson at Plus Gallery
Professional Practices class
visits Plus Gallery

Gjertson's dedication to her students is evidenced by the diversity of her coursework and its focus on developing both their artistic voice and their business savvy. Howard explains, “Sarah created a Foundations program that is solid and strengthened the Studio Program and SAAH, and that has brought in students from across the campus. After Foundations was well established, Sarah was free to develop new art courses that focused on concepts or a particular medium. In critiques, she could ask questions that would go to the heart of what a student was trying to communicate and then guide the student in a direction they needed and wanted.”

Gjertson established important, permanent courses like Open Media Studio and Professional Practice and built what would become the school’s Studio Foundations program. She co-taught two travel courses to New York City, one with artist Lawrence Argent and the other with art historian Marisa Lerer, and took student art organization members (ISMs) to Santa Fe for a weekend art trip. 

From foundational classes like 3D Approaches, Drawing, Sculpture, Thinking & Making in Visual Art, to special topics like Integrated Practice, Unconventional Portrait, Soft Sculpture, and Bad Girls, Riot Grrls, and Misbehaving Women, Gjertson encouraged students to connect with art and artists while developing their own practice.

She was an advisor for numerous independent studies, eMAD/EDP graduate students, as well as Distinction projects for Blake Ballard (BA '19, MFA ‘24 Glasgow School of Art) and Clare Link-Oberstar (BA ‘21). Both artists are currently on view until May 7 at the new Davis Gallery, Shwayder Art Building, in the exhibition Defining Our Voices: Evolving into the Artists We Want to Be, a show which Link-Oberstar co-curated with fellow alum Linneya Gardner (BA ‘21). 

Sarah Gjertson and baby goat at Broken Shovels Farm Sanctuary
Gjertson and baby goat,
Broken Shovels Farm Sanctuary

Current and former students speak of Gjertson with warmth and enthusiasm. Ballard says “Sarah was a professor who not only fostered critical thinking and hard work within the art classroom, but also became a professional mentor for me after graduation. Without her support, my art practice would not have progressed to its current stage. She was an opportunity-maker for students and alumni and will surely be missed at DU.”

Link-Oberstar shares that Sarah was my BA Distinction advisor and is one of the most dedicated professors I have worked with. She always advocates for her students and sets them up for success in the art world beyond their time at DU. One of my favorite things about working with Sarah, especially on my distinction project, is that she always challenged me to improve my work by finding the most effective ways to convey my concepts. She helped me grow into visualizing an artistic practice for myself beyond class assignments by providing well thought out and helpful critiques while still allowing me to retain agency over my work. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to work so closely with her while I was at DU. She helped me positively change how I view myself as an artist and has encouraged me to keep pursuing art beyond my education. She is such a passionate professor and artist and will be dearly missed at DU.”

Sarah Gjertson, Mark Mothersbaugh, Jason Kellermeyer
Gjertson, Mark Mothersbaugh,
Jason Kellermeyer

Undergraduate student Alex Blom (BA ‘23) says, “Although my time with Sarah has been shorter than I would have liked, her lasting impact on both me and my studio practice is undeniable. Especially throughout the duration of my distinction project, Sarah has been awesome about sharing new materials and artists with me. When I’ve had doubts about my artwork, Sarah is always there to validate my concepts and push me to the next level. The topics and subjects that I tackle in my studio practice are not for the faint of heart and often include explicit material. Sarah has embraced my work and has pushed me to pursue it unapologetically. I can faithfully and whole-heartedly say that I would not be in the mental and physical creative space I am today without her. Thank you, Sarah, for being an awesome professor, mentor, and role model.” 

Kinship with Colleagues

Sarah Gjertson and Roddy MacInnes
Gjertson and Roddy MacInnes,
CAA Conference, Los Angeles, 2018
Photo credit: Roddy MacInnes

Gjertson’s faculty and staff colleagues are deeply grateful for the time and energy she devoted to the School, as well as her kindness and biting sense of humor.

Jason Kellermeyer, the Coordinator of the Academic Program, describes Gjertson as “determined, compassionate, steadfast, and resolute in her beliefs.”

Roddy MacInnes, Photography Professor, says “Sarah, you have been a dear friend and colleague for over twenty years. During that time, you’ve become one of my most important mentors. I aspire to be as knowledgeable, articulate, and compassionate as you. Your departure from the School of Art and Art History will leave a big hole, impossible to fill. I will miss you, my friend. Good luck and much love. See you in the next exciting chapter.

Howard shares that “Sarah has helped transform the Studio Program and SAAH. Sarah has been such a strong presence in SAAH, I can’t imagine her not being here. Can’t imagine her not at meetings, not at critiques, not at receptions and not passing her in the hall. Sarah has a particularly strong laugh that will continue to echo in the SAAH hallways and classrooms that will last a long time. Brave Sarah, we wish you good luck on your next journey, we will miss you!

And Chinn Wang, Teaching Associate Professor of Foundations says, "Sarah's friendship and mentorship have been a huge gift to me during our shared time in SAAH. Both on and off campus, I look to her always, for her wise and warm conversation, guidance, support, and love. Her dedication to our students and program is a true legacy to follow, and her creative vision will always be an inspiration. I will miss her terribly!" 

Sarah Gjertson in a gorilla suit
Gjertson all dressed up for the Guerilla Girls

When asked what she is most proud of accomplishing during her tenure at DU, Gjertson says, “There's so many, so that's tough.... I'm definitely proud of starting the DU Art Travel Grant, the Senior Thesis Mini-grants, and taking students to NYC. I'm also proud of so many smaller things, like a million field trips to directly connect students to art and artists around Denver. I'm also proud to be an ally to our LGBTQ and BIPOC communities.”

The School of Art & Art History will miss Sarah Gjertson and we wish her all the best in the next phase of her career and life!


Photos courtesy of Sarah Gjertson except where noted.