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Sara Pearce, Former Enquirer Food Writer And Tempo Editor, Dies

Courtesy Mercantile Library
Journalist-turned-artist Sara Pearce was the Mercantile Library's first artist-in-residence in 2018.

Sara Pearce, who supervised the Cincinnati Enquirer Tempo section in the 1990s, died Sunday at age 68.

Full disclosure: I hired Sara as food writer in the early 1980s, when I was the Enquirer's features editor supervising the Tempo, Sunday Arts & Entertainment and weekly Food sections. After I was named TV columnist in 1985 – and after Pearce returned from the Orlando Sentinel and other papers – she was my boss.

Pearce oversaw the daily Tempo features section, and weekly A&E and Food sections, until 2004, when she stepped down as assistant managing editor to cover the art beat. She took a Gannett buy-out in 2008, and started her Paper With A Past artwork. She was diagnosed with breast cancer a year later.

Credit Courtesy CityBeat
Sara Pearce in her Paper With A Past studio in 2011.

Pearce was in charge when the Enquirer features section enjoyed its biggest and best ride, with section-front display (and sometimes stories on the front page, too). Jim Knippenberg took test rides on amusement park roller coasters and water slides, and invited folks to toss a base on Fountain Square days after Reds manager Lou Piniella threw second base into the Riverfront Stadium outfield. We once collaborated on a full-page poster for The Simpsons.

It was a time when the features reporters – including me as TV critic – traveled to cover stories in Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Chicago, San Diego, Las Vegas and elsewhere. She hired writers Polly Campbell, Chuck Martin, Lauren Bishop and Jackie Demaline, and promoted classical music writer Janelle Gelfand from freelancer to staff writer. Under her leadership, thousands of dollars were raised for the Enquirer's holiday Wish List program, and thousands of children and adults dressed a cartoon turkey.

After returning to writing in 2004, she oversaw production of the paper's Union Terminal 75th anniversary section in addition to cover art galleries, museums, organizations and artists. I'll never forget her excitement after interviewing Doris Day biographer David Kaufman in 2008, and determining the Cincinnati native had been lying about her birth date (1922 not 1924) for years.

In 2009, she found a new passion as a collage artist, printer and graphic designer. She was named the Mercantile Library's first-ever artist-in-residence in 2018. The announcement explained her art and experiencethis way:

"Her passion is for finding antique images, and helping them tell a new story. She does this via snarky greeting cards and complex, layered fine-art collages in which she combines antique and vintage materials with hand-painted and hand-printed backgrounds, and handmade paper. Her work is generally narrative, with a feminist slant. She has recently been exploring paper cutting, 3-D paper projects, silkscreen printing, and book structures.

"She attended Rutgers University for her undergraduate and graduate degrees, and received chef training at The Restaurant School (Philadelphia). After an array of careers (public relations, libraries, restaurants, journalism) she became a full-time, professional artist."

Peace also co-authored Harper Ever After: The Early Work of Charley and Edie Harper with Charley, Edie and their son Brett Harper in 2015.

Due to her stage IV cancer diagnosis in 2009, "one and a half years were taken away" from creating art, Pearce told former colleague Kathy Schwartzin a 2011 CityBeat story. "I couldn't use my fingers; they were numb. I lost my nails," which later grew back. 

She continued chemo treatments while showing her collages at the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery, Art Academy of Cincinnati, Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati), KMAC Museum (Louisville), Loveland (Colorado) Museum of Art,  Mount Saint Joseph University, The Carnegie and the University of Cincinnati’s School of Medicine.

In one of her last Facebook posts, Pearce wrote on Nov. 29 about artist L.g. Shiels surprising her by delivering one of her paintings to her home.

"Never underestimate the generosity of people," Pearce wrote. "(I'm) grateful L.g. Shiels for your upbeat gift and for one more thing to be thankful for this holiday. And, yes, there is plenty more on that list as friends, family, acquaintances, people I don't even know, have surprised me over and over again by opening their hearts.

"Surprise someone. It's the best medicine."

She is survived by her husband Mark and daughter Laura.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.