Seeing campus through painterly eyes

Missing Yale’s campus in 2020, when she was studying remotely due to COVID-19, Sarah Tang began painting scenes of campus and other New Haven architecture.
Sarah Tang

Sarah Tang (Photo by Andrew Hurley)

There’s an intersection on the Yale campus that always fills senior Sarah Tang with delight.

It’s where College, Grove, and Prospect streets meet on Science Hill. She particularly loves the view of Sterling-Sheffield-Strathcona (SSS) Hall, a Neo-Gothic structure with an 11-story tower and limestone veneer located on the northeast corner of the intersection, as seen from its opposite side. It’s especially lovely, she says, during the wintertime.

The building is shadowed by trees along College Street, which change dramatically with the seasons,” Tang says. “And I just love seeing it from that angle.”

The beauty of that scene, and other landscapes and architecture she found so moving during walks on and around campus as a first-year student, inspired Tang to begin snapping photos with her cell phone.

It was during that same year that COVID-19 halted in-person learning for Yale’s students. And Tang, who found herself doing remote learning from her Long Island hometown that spring, started to paint pictures of those campus scenes she was suddenly missing. As a guide, she used those photos from her phone.

Art by Sarah Tang

In the three years since, the art history major has continued to paint some of her favorite views of Yale and New Haven. Working in acrylic paint, usually in a small format (her largest painting is 9 inches by 12 inches), she has captured, in addition to her favorite intersection, the building housing retail shops at the corner of York Street near Broadway; the view down Wall Street from College Street; and several homes that caught her eye in the East Rock neighborhood.

In many of those paintings, it is snowing.

Fall and winter are my favorite seasons,” said Tang, who fell in love with drawing and painting as a child, and later had basic artistic training with Chinese artist Xu Jin. “And I really like to do snowscapes.”

Last summer, she started posting photos of her paintings on Instagram for friends and family members to enjoy. Thinking that Yale alumni might also enjoy painted scenes of their alma mater, she decided to tag the Yale Alumni Association (YAA). Then, in late December, her painting of Sterling-Sheffield-Strathcona after a snowfall, which was shared by YAA, received hundreds of Instagram “likes.” A few weeks later, the YAA shared her painting of a view down Wall Street from College St. with the caption “Back by popular demand.”

Tang, who once considered majoring in studio art at Yale, eventually decided she was more drawn to art history. She’s now working on her senior thesis about a Chinese Buddhist painting owned by the Yale University Art Gallery, where she began working in the conservation department last year. She is particularly interested in Chinese art, inspired in part by the art history classes she’s taken with Quincy Ngan, a member of Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, who is also the adviser for her senior thesis.

I prefer reading and writing about art as a course of study and then painting solely for enjoyment,” she says.

But Tang is thrilled to know that others enjoy her work. And she continues her walks around the campus and New Haven, ready with her cell phone to take pictures from which she can create new paintings.

She hopes fervently for some snow before she graduates so she can see the Yale campus while it is, at least to her eyes, at its most beautiful.

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