Sarah Edwards and other artists take over Chambers Hotel for Sonder
During a difficult year and a bruising divorce, marketer and fashionista Sarah Edwards silenced her phone and picked up a paintbrush.
The resulting artworks — and a fashion line that features them — debut this weekend at an event she dreamed up called Sonder.
But the event doesn’t spotlight her paintings alone. Edwards is too good at pulling people in, too skilled at boosting others’ brands. So on Saturday, about two dozen artists will be showing their work, taking over the Chambers Hotel in downtown Minneapolis.
“Originally, I was like, I’m going to be selfish,” Edwards said. “I want to put my art out there. I want to try on the label of ‘artist’ for a minute, because I’m so terrified of it.”
But she couldn’t help herself: “Then, as I was doing this, I started thinking it would be cool if I highlighted other artists, as well …
“It took on a life of its own.”
She gave each artist a piece of the hotel — in the gallery, the speakeasy, the penthouse — and a prompt to respond to the word “sonder,” coined by John Koenig, author of “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.”
His definition: “The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”
That word grabbed photographer Brandon Werth, reminding him of a poem he loves, a concept he’d been toying with, a childlike way of paying attention to the world.
“There are unexplored worlds in literally every person you pass,” he said. “To have an event where that is the purpose? I have goosebumps just thinking about it. It’s soul-inspiring.”
Werth, who is Black, has witnessed how the years since George Floyd’s murder have shed a light on his self-identity, his artistic identity. Until recently, he said, most lauded artworks were depictions of white people, done by white people, hung in places that were predominantly reserved for white people.
But in those museum wings, he always eyed the Black figures not named in the artwork descriptions. “That person had a human soul,” he said.
For Sonder, Werth is stretching himself — making mixed-media, Renaissance-style portraits on large canvases that invite you to get close.
Creating them has sparked something: “I feel like a kid again.”
Jewelry designer Stephanie Lake toured the private dining room she’d take over for Sonder with Odette, her 9-year-old daughter and collaborator. Odette looked up at her and said, “Mama, I can see it.”
Lake is a historian and a traditionalist, with a studio that functions like an 18th-century salon, where people gather and linger. Her dinner parties, too, feel imagined, extravagant. So her room at Sonder will be no simple trunk show or pop-up.
“It’s a reflection of all that we love within our household, within our lives, within our design practice,” Lake said, “in a space that celebrates splendor.”
Imagine mannequins dripping in jewels and ball gowns plucked from Lake’s closet. Topiaries and mirrors and velvet ribbons.
Because of the night’s theme, Lake is sharing more about her personal history than ever before. At age 13 she was found to have Type 1 diabetes, beginning “a surreal existence” in which she was in charge of managing regular injections to keep her from collapse.
“I’ve always looked at the pursuit of beauty as an act of rebellion and an act of strength,” Lake said.
She sees her friend Edwards, too, as following “a long line of women whose immersion in art and adornment is to counter more challenging aspects of their lives.”
A dream since age 6
Edwards loves a launch. In 2015, she co-founded Fashion Week Minnesota. She created the I Am Mpls! and I Am St. Paul! events. She started the marketing agency Some Great People.
But this event arose from someplace more personal.
Edwards, 37, was showing up to meetings and on social media with a big smile despite going through one of her hardest years, personally. After seven years together and a courthouse wedding and Instagram-ready reception in 2021, she and her husband were splintering.
“I could be standing next to you in Whole Foods, girl looks like she’s having a good day, and really I’m, like, falling apart,” she said.
Painting helped. “So much of my world and my work involves being on and being connected to screens, computers, phones,” she said. It might be cliché, she said, but “this is something that lets my mind be free.”
(Of course, she’d sometimes record herself painting, posting the time lapses to Instagram. Influencer habits die hard.)
Growing up with a single mom in Grand Rapids, Minn., Edwards dreamed of being an artist. But they struggled financially.
“As much as I loved art, I always associated it with being a starving artist,” she said.
So she studied mechanical engineering.
But she collected art, befriended artists. Finally, she ignored her worries about whether she was good or bad at painting and just painted.
Edwards turned the drips of her canvases into another dream, now realized — a fashion line. She’s still struggling to say that out loud. Her painted patterns adorn a dozen looks she’ll be debuting during Sonder.
“I’m trying to face my fears,” she said. “I’ve wanted to do this since I was 6 years old.”
An artist takeover of the Chambers Hotel
When: Feb. 4
Where: Chambers Hotel, 901 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.