Artists are driven and competitive; after all, there isn’t an infinite amount of fame to go around. If we imagine two recent MFA grads settling down for a life together, we might also imagine the stress (and possible bitterness) that might result: What if one partner’s career skyrocketed, while the other’s fizzled?
Peter and Sally managed to sidestep this dilemma due to circumstance. When they married, in 1975, Sally had earned a master’s degree in American literature. She had yet to embark on a career as a ceramicist; it was Peter’s social circle in San Francisco, the hotbed of the
movement, that turned her onto the medium’s possibilities.
“I gradually became interested in it—I felt that it was something I could do,” she said. The couple hung out with sculptors like
and his wife, Sandra Shannonhouse, as well as
. “I just had never seen art like that.”
Peter, meanwhile, was showing with Allan Frumkin Gallery in New York (his debut solo exhibition was at the gallery’s Chicago location back in 1961). It wasn’t until the early 1980s, when the Sauls relocated to Austin, Texas, that Sally would start taking ceramics classes at the University of Texas and making her own work. Even then, she didn’t seem overly driven to make a name for herself or to exhibit widely.
“Modesty had to be overcome in Sally’s case,” Peter surmised. “As she realizes now, you have to prize the work itself; you have to think it’s good before other people think it’s good. Sally had a rather low opinion.”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with being self-critical—when you’re learning,” she countered. The fact that the pair wasn’t actively dueling for art world recognition certainly took some of the pressure off. “I could feel competitive with other people,” Sally added, “but I don’t think I ever felt competitive with Peter. Not at all, really.”
“That would be kind of self-defeating, if you’re married,” he agreed. “It would be sort of a problem.”
Gallerist Gwenolee Zürcher concurred. In 2014, Peter curated a massive group show at her New York space entitled “If You’re Accidentally Not Included, Don’t Worry About It.” He included some of Sally’s ceramics in the mix; it was one of the first times she showed her work in the city.
“Peter and Sally’s relationship is pretty unique, based on mutual love, sharing the same ideas and wishes,” Zürcher said. “I’ve known several artist-couples. I was close to
, who lived with
for 25 years. Their relationship was extremely intense; it was based on competition. They were fighting all the time.…Any durable relationship should be based on mutual respect and admiration.”
“Sally and Peter’s support of each other doesn’t feel forced or strategic at all,” said Rachel Uffner, the New York gallerist who currently represents Sally. “They’re not promoting each other’s work, they just enjoy each other’s work—and they obviously enjoy each other.”