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Obituary: Sarah Linquist ’73

Sarah Linquist: 'Lindy Squared' muralist, Muny scenic artist

By Gloria S. Ross, Special to the St. Louis Beacon

Who knew that a dashing aviator could be such a great hit as a square? Sarah Linquist did. In 1977, she and her partner and husband-to-be Robert Fishbone created "Lindy Squared," a computer-generated portrait of Charles Lindbergh painted in six dozen shades of gray on the exterior wall of the old Lion Gas Building at Ninth and Chestnut streets downtown.

The abstract mural was one of Ms. Linquist's best known works, but it was just one of many in her voluminous portfolio. The prolific artist died Tuesday (June 22) of complications from ovarian cancer at St. Mary's Hospital. Ms. Linquist was 58 and had lived in Olivette.

"Her work, her vast and creative output, lives after her," said Ms. Linquist's friend, Jean Ponzi. "Sarah's murals, which often included neighborhood people, became public art landmarks around St. Louis."

Ms. Linquist and Fishbone were the longtime co-owners On the Wall Productions through which they produced 200 large-scale exterior and interior murals in Missouri, New York, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Alaska. Her specialty, she wrote, was "creatively tuning a visual composition to a specific environment, audience, traffic pattern and mood."

Beyond Lindy

Walls were not her only artistic medium: Ms. Linquist viewed every surface as a possible canvas for her spirited and often whimsical artwork: a retaining wall, the French doors of an armoire, a seat cushion or vans and buses (one of her most recent projects was painting a St. Louis Metro bus).

On the Wall was also her outlet for more than 150 works of art that were sold to art museum gift shops and other eclectic gift stores around the world. Nearly life-sized inflatable art parodies were a staple, including Edvard Munch's "The Scream," Fishbone's brainchild, which has sold more than 500,000 figures worldwide and has been featured in films, national magazines and on national radio shows. She also designed games like Pin the Ear on Van Gogh and Pin the Fig Leaf on David. "Ours was a complete partnership," said Fishbone, who was the product idea man for the business. "She was the driving force behind the artwork. Not only did she have the fine arts skills to draw and paint (she taught him to paint), she had a tremendous vision of how to make things really interesting, fun and surprising. "It wasn't always a smooth process but the results were always amazing," Fishbone said. "Sarah wanted to empower people's imagination, to combine something familiar with something to expand the mind. She wanted her work to change people's lives."

At The Muny

Since 1989, Ms. Linquist's summers have been filled with transforming the stage of the largest outdoor theater in North America into the "South Pacific" or "The Little Shop of Horrors" or the latest larger-than-life musical set. Since 2000, she had been The Muny's master scenic artist, directing the hand-drawn or computer-generated handiwork of 17 artists who create all of the Muny's backdrops and set pieces.

"We were fortunate that she chose to share her many talents with us," said Dennis Reagan, president and chief executive officer of The Muny. "She was meticulous about everything, cared about her fellow employees and never hesitated to make time for aspiring artists, whether it was during the season or off-season." Christine Ivcich, development director at The Muny, often watched the scenery taking shape outside her window. "I watched the challenges that came Sarah's way as she directed the artists in interpreting and turning small drawings - in just 10 days - into mammoth-sized scenery," Ivcich said. "It was pretty incredible." Icvich was also familiar with Ms. Linquist's own creations, like the mural that formerly graced the wall of old Southwest High School at Kingshighway and Arsenal. The painting represented one of Ms. Linquist's favorite styles and her dedication to community. "It was a takeoff on (American painter Alexander) Russo's style of animals," Icvich said. "She developed the concept and the students helped paint it."

Much of her work was given to vivid lighthearted, historically accurate images born of her extensive art studies and travels. Ms. Linquist graduated from Antioch College in 1973. During the 1980s, she studied painting in Bali, Indonesia, mosaic mural design at Danzig Studio in Montclaire, N.J., and painted surface treatments at Finishing School in Great Neck, N.Y. In 1989, she was accepted into the United Scenic Artists Union.

Honoring Traditions

Ms. Linquist was hard at work on the current Muny season until shortly before her death. She was also completing a unique Christmas story, a children's book about the journey of a wooden doll named "Dolly" and her creature companions as they travel through many lands, adventures and perils after they leave the North Pole. The book is illustrated with six "lands" that were crafted of paper, metal, wood, popcorn, teddy bears and natural materials. The story, Ponzi said, was a metaphor for Ms. Linquist's life.

"The last land that Dolly goes through is dead and menacing, but she returns to the North Pole and gets to be the toy of a child," Ponzi said. "It's Sarah's story of coming through her health challenges." It was not surprising that Ms. Linquist would write a Christmas book. She was by all accounts the keeper of ceremonies and holiday traditions with Christmas being her "ultra-favorite." "She really loved to celebrate things and had an old-fashioned way of making fun," said Ponzi. "She was the ringleader in our circle of friends. She created an environment where timeless, boundless friendships could flourish."

Sarah Jean Linquist was born during the Christmas season, Dec. 18, 1951, in Park Ridge, Ill. She was preceded in death by her parents, Alan and Jean Linquist. In addition to her husband of 28 years, Robert Fishbone, Ms. Linquist is survived by her children, Tyler Fishbone, a student at George Washington University, and Liza Fishbone, a student at Syracuse University. She is also survived by her sisters, Suzanne Linquist of Portland, Ore., Ann Linquist of Door County, Wis., and Kate Adams of Austin Texas; nine nieces and nephews and many interlocking circles of friends and colleagues.

A celebration of Ms. Linquist's life is being planned for early July. Memorial contributions may be made to The Muny, #1 Theater Drive, St. Louis MO 63112, www.muny.org.