Artists on the Rise

A Spotlight on Five Arts & Culture Alliance Members

Sarah Pollock, oil painting

Prior to painting in her home-based studio, Wisconsin-native Sarah Pollock began her artistic career at Disney Animation (with screen credits on Tarzan and Mulan) as a color stylist. It was a demanding yet rewarding job, one that deepened her understanding of color and challenged her to use color to convey emotion.

Eventually, she decided that working those long, hard hours would be better served working for herself. Sarah met her husband, Tim, shortly after leaving Disney, and the pair settled in Knoxville two years ago in a 93-year-old home with room on the top floor for a studio. Sarah specializes in cityscapes and landscapes and grabs inspiration from wherever she is. She and Tim travel often, either to art shows for her or academic work for him. Whether for work or play, Sarah takes every moment to stop and look around for what might be her next canvas.

“I like to see things firsthand,” she says. “I can go hiking in the Smokies or walk around New York City. I need to see the color and light.”

Recently, Sarah has been doing fieldwork in the Smokies to better understand how the flora grows, a process that improves her brushwork and tells a deeper story.

“I’m taking the Tremont training for a naturalist certificate. It’s eight classes and teaches you about was grows and lives there. It helps my knowledge and has been really helpful to not blunder into something, like poison ivy,” she says, laughing.

Sarah accepts commission work but also sells original pieces online at She also has an upcoming exhibit later this month at Lipscomb.

“I still light up like a little child - it’s so gratifying when someone wants to take something of yours and put it in their home.”

Melissa Everette, textiles

In 2012, in her earliest days and weeks of motherhood, Melissa Everette knew she needed a hobby. She also wanted to make something for her newborn son, something special no one else had. So, Melissa taught herself how to quilt. She joined the Knox Modern Quilt Guild and learned some new, modern skills.

By 2016, Melissa decided to stop wasting time looking for the exact fabric she wanted and create her own. She met Coral Grace Turner, a fellow textile artist, who taught Melissa about screen printing. She built her own studio and screens in the basement, and soon Melissa was designing her own fabrics by hand.

“I love cut paper, collage, and color, which has been part of quilting,” she says. “The more I’ve worked, the more I’ve narrowed down my color palette. I see several artists who have a defined palette - the same seven colors - but mine is broader than that. There are a couple that are staples for me, such as peach and yellow. Green comes out in the spring, but I steer clear of purples.”

Creating her own textiles has been an organic process from the start. Short of growing the cotton herself, Melissa has a hand in every step.

“I get the blank cotton in, wash it, and put my shapes on it. Then I cut it up and make something,” she says.

Melissa’s handmade napkins and towels are on sale at MidMod in North Knoxville and at 214 Magnolia next to Public House. She plans to show at the Art Extravaganza at Webb School in March. Learn more at

I take pride in that - from start to finish - to be able to see something through.”

Wesley Miller, mixed media

It was Wesley Miller’s grandmother in Rockingham, North Carolina, who taught him how to hold a pencil and brush. She always had art supplies tucked away for him, always nurturing the natural talent he had.

“She taught me ‘proper art’, but the mixed media comes from wanting to see what happens when you take things and put them together,” he says. “I’m motivated by process more than anything. A lot of this current art is putting layers together and sanding them down to see what happens. Themes start to develop. The direction becomes clear. It’s never really finished.”

Wesley took art classes in high school and college, but 2019 brought his first juried exhibition. He took a “let’s see what happens” approach, but it ended up being an ideal experience.

“I try not to make a big thing about it, but it was validation that I’d been missing,” he said. “I needed the feedback.”

So far, Wesley has been creating imagery with found imagery, using what already exists by others. However, now he’s shifting into creating original imagery in keeping with arts and culture, the niche where he’s most passionate.

“While I’ve been doing this collage paper stuff, I’ve been painting too. I got to a point where I could be a lot better than I am had I shown the discipline earlier. So, I’ve been working on traditional, realistic painting and drawing, and I’ll keep moving in that direction,” says Wesley. “But I want to have it transitional. I want to maintain a certain level of consistency so it’s truthful to the way I’m working.”

Learn more at

“You’re always following a path. If it doesn’t look right now, take another direction and see what happens.”

Brian Horais, turned wood

Brian Horais and his wife, Kathy, moved to Knoxville from Virginia in 2008 after he retired from the Navy, and it was then that he took up woodturning, after his father-in-law gave him an old lathe that needed repair. He’d always been interested in woodworking and building things, but until then, Brian’s creations were the usual shelves or fix-it jobs. That lathe changed everything.

“Like any woodworker, you always look for the next great tool,” he says. “When I started, it was just another interesting tool. A lot of woodturners say that we like that we can make things quickly. Almost instant gratification. I started making things and found out that it was fun.”

Brian started taking classes at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg and was intrigued by a class called “Round is so Overrated”. It introduced him to multi-axis turning and using multiple centerlines to create new shapes. Working with wood in this way opened revealed new grain patterns. Brian was hooked.

“I was a pilot in the Navy, but I’ve always had this artistic side,” he says. “With an engineering degree, you’re already artistic, sketching things. Woodturning blends together my creativity with features of geometry. I’m combining artistic and engineering skills.”

Brian is the former President of the East Tennessee Woodworkers Guild and member of the Smoky Mountain Woodturners. His works have been jury-selected for the East Tennessee Master Woodworkers Show in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019. He plans to teach a class at the Appalachian Center for Craft in Cookeville in May. He sells his work online at

“A lot of times it’s the wood that’s the star. It’s the spiral shapes that highlight what’s beautiful.”

Michelle Barillaro, abstract painting

From her earliest years, Michelle Barillaro was drawing and coloring with pastels. She took art classes throughout school and graduated college with a degree in architecture, a career she still holds today.

“I work for a contractor and do estimating. That’s the organized part of my brain,” she says, laughing. “But these last few years, as my daughter was getting ready to go out on her own, I had more free time. I took a class at the Oak Ridge Art Center and it revitalized my interest in painting. I’ve got the time and space, and a day job that isn’t that stressful. It was the right time.”

Michelle is drawn to abstract art for its obscurity, its ability to be anything to anybody, moving and personal.

“I don’t know how old I was, maybe 12, and my mom had thrown out red Jello. It was just in the sink. For some reason, there were ice cubes in that stainless steel sink, and I took a picture of it,” she says. “I liked the composition. It’s something I’ve always appreciated.”

Over the last few years, Michelle decided to hone her skills in abstract painting instead of just admiring other people’s work. She took more classes and played with shapes and colors. She learned how to manipulate oil and wax, a technique she still uses. Then, Michelle opted for a three-day workshop in Arizona, an experience that set her course straight. Now she’s teaching her workshops and selling pieces at art shows and for commission.

Michelle’s work will be on display at the Art Extravaganza at Webb School in March. View more of her work at

“Abstracts allow the viewer to see something in them related to their own personal experiences and dreams.”

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