08/02/2023 1:14 pm
By Sara Myers, Digital Media & Communications Specialist
Rockford University Alum and Rockford Artist Sarah Reed-McNamara has been the owner of art/print shop GEM (Gather, Engage, Make), located in downtown Rockford, since its inception in 2019.
Some may know her as the mayor’s wife, but Sarah wears multiple hats —wife, mother and owner of GEM, which was recently renamed to SRM (her initials) Prints. The soft opening was Tuesday, Aug. 1, but the grand opening is set for Saturday, this Aug. 5.
Reed-McNamara is now the only owner of GEM, and started a new chapter on Tuesday, she moves her shop location down the street and will change her shop name to her business name: “SRM Prints.”
Reed-McNamara said she fell in love with printmaking while studying at RU. That interest was sparked early in life, which led to an art career that started online, later becoming brick-and-mortar, she said.
When one walks inside the printmaking studio and storefront, you can see the variety of art, prints, gifts, stationery items and more from Reed-McNamara and other artists alike.
Some of the art is specifically made by Reed-McNamara who found her artistic voice and developed a love of printmaking during her time at Rockford College (now University).
Reed-McNamara first landed in the Rockford area during her high school years after growing up in Fox River Grove, Illinois, about 61 miles west of Rockford. After high school she moved around to Chicago, Madison, Wisconsin, and Montana before returning to Rockford in her mid-20s, she said. Reed-McNamara started attending Rockford College when she was around 27 years-old and decided on Art History as her major, she said.
“I never thought that’s what I would end up doing, but it’s what I loved,” she said. “I’ve always been pretty creative but never did studio art. But, I was determined.”
When she started studying art history, Reed-McNamara said she decided to take her printmaking as an elective course. She was influenced by her friend and then art mentor Dave Menard and his wife Molly who suggested she take the course. When she started studying printmaking she started to form favorite artists like German expressionists and learned linoleum block printing, she said.
“Which is kind of funny because so many people think printmaking is scary,” she said. “But it just seemed like such an enjoyable elective to take. I just loved the process and making the prints and carving.”
“Dave (Menard) in his classes talked a lot about preparing yourself as an artist for the outside work and don’t think you’re too good for anything when you first get going,” she said. “Which was huge for me just between humbleness and feeling secure in what you’re doing.”
Reed-McNamara also credits RU’s Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Jennifer Langworthy for preparing her for a career in arts.
After graduating in 2012, Reed-McNamara said she worked in the service industry full time at Rockford restaurant Octane, and did her art on the side at different pop-up events in town. She said she needed a name to put on her business cards so she called it “SRM Prints.”
It was during this time that she met her husband Tom McNamara, the mayor of Rockford, at the downtown Rockford art event Greenwich Village Market.
The couple married in 2011 and have two children together, who will often be present with Reed-McNamara at her store. Right after Reed-McNamara had her first child, her art career started to take off online, she said.
“I decided I wanted to keep moving forward with the storefront and go into this new space,” she said. “The layout works out much better for what I want to do long term, which is to have my studio inside of a storefront and have it blocked off by my checkout counter and have a really fun, happy, and inviting retail environment.”
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