A Tale of Two Stories in Guilford, CT

It’s definitely BIGGER ON THE INSIDE, but you’ll have to see Sarah Zar’s solo exhibit Guilford Art Center for yourself. This awesome photo is just a hint at what you’ll find. (Photo by Ashley Seneco, GAC Programs Assistant and Visitor Services)
Jen Payne, friend Laura Noe, and Maureen Belden, Executive Director of Guilford Art Center. (Photo by SeaneenThorpe)

Guilford Art Center (Guilford, CT) is currently hosting a tale of two stories about connections made across the world wide web, and together they weave a story of lost histories and creative bravery.

On Valentine’s weekend, Guilford Art Center hosted a fun and electric book signing for local author Jen Payne’s new book Water Under the Bridge. Told through a series of emails, it’s about two former loves who reconnect after 15 years apart and work to reconcile their pasts and futures. It’s a conversation, a memoir, a love story…sort of.

And while premise itself is intriguing, it’s the stunning cover design that first captures your imagination. The image, called Hurricane Woman, was painted by Sarah Zar, a New York-based multi-disciplinary artist. Jen and Sarah connected through their Etsy shops back in 2019.

But the story doesn’t end there.

When the time came to launch the book, Jen saw a great opportunity to weave the common threads — cover art and artist, artist and art center. And so it was that the salon-style exhibit BIGGER ON THE INSIDE found a home in the Center’s lobby gallery.

Sarah’s paintings, often executed in low-lit, moody colors, are filled with bizarre figures, interacting or inhabiting solitary scenes with other unnatural presences, absences, and transpositions. She paints on old book pages and found remnants, preferring the polished texture of things with lost histories. In any medium — painted or three-dimensional — Sarah’s works are often figurative and a bit fabulist. She thinks of her objects as love letters to the unconscious minds of strangers.

On view through April 16, all of the work is for sale and outlined in a full-color price list available in The Shop at Guilford Art Center. Also for sale are copies of Water Under the Bridge: A Sort-of Love Story, signed artist prints of the Hurricane Woman cover art, joy bottles, lover’s eye necklaces, postcards, and signed copies of Sarah’s art book, Riddled With Spots, a popular item at the MoMA gift shop.

For more information, please visit

A steady stream of guests filled the Art Center with enthusiasm on Saturday, February 12, including Victoria Ferrell of the Guilford Courier who featured her photographs in this Meet the Author feature.


Sarah Zar’s solo exhibit BIGGER ON THE INSIDE, on view at Guilford Art Center through April 16.

Water Under the Bridge: A Sort-of Love Story is on sale at The Shop at Guilford Art Center.
The book signing event on February 12 was full of joy…so are Sarah Zar’s “Joy Bottles” on sale at The Shop.
Book Signing guests enjoyed gift bags filled with goodies including La Colombe coffee and donuts from Pastry Fusion in North Branford.
The Shop at Guilford Art Center has a wide selection of contemporary handcrafted work by American artisans…
…including books, zines, and postcards created by Jen Payne…
…and a featured selection of work by artist Sarah Zar.


This event could not have happened if it weren’t for the enthusiasm, good work, and warm welcome from the staff at Guilford Art Center: Elena Albergo, Maureen Belden, John Bohannan, Ashley Seneco, Suzanne Hens-Kaplan, DeeDee Hakun, Lisa Ste. Marie, and Lisa Wolkow.

With special thanks to Sue Singleton, GAC Programs Assistant and Visitor Services, who greeted and assisted the many visitors in The Shop during the event.
And to Shoreline Times editor Sue Braden for her excellent feature article about the book and the event! Click on the photo read it now.

WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE: A SORT-OF LOVE STORY ($16) is available at The Shop at Guilford Art Center (411 Church Street, Guilford, CT 06437) and from Three Chairs Publishing.

Jen Payne has published two books of poetry as well as a collection of essays and original photographs. Her work has been featured in numerous publications including the international anthology Coffee Poems: Reflections on Life with Coffee; the Guilford Poets Guild 20th Anniversary Anthology; Waking Up to the Earth: Connecticut Poets in a Time of Global Climate Crisis, edited by Connecticut’s Poet Laureate Margaret Gibson; and The Perch, a publication by the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health.  Payne is the owner of Words by Jen, a graphic design and creative services company founded in 1993. You can read more of her work on her blog Random Acts of Writing,, and in MANIFEST (zine) which creatively explores concepts of change and transition, solitude, time, storytelling, and finding refuge in these turbulent times.

Sarah Zar is a book-obsessed, multi-disciplinary artist who has exhibited in the U.S. and abroad. Whether drawing, painting, collaging, or sculpting, Zar uses images in a literary, psychological and symbolic way. While finishing her Master’s degree, she played the saw in a gypsy chamber ensemble, taught contemporary art & aesthetics, quantum theory, literary theory, NLP, nonsense cryptology, psychology, and the art of microexpressions. Zar is currently working on community-based artwork in which anyone in the world can be painted into an epic narrative scene about the War on Imagination.

The Guilford Art Center is a non-profit school, shop, and gallery established to nurture and support excellence in the arts.  Through classes for adults and children, gallery programs, a shop of contemporary crafts, and special events, the Center provides opportunities for the public to participate in the arts, to experience their cultural and historical diversity, and to appreciate the process and product of creative work.  Founded in 1967, the Center currently serves over 2,000 students, presents juried and invitational exhibits of art in the Center’s gallery and operates a shop of fine, handmade American crafts year-round.  The Center also presents the Craft Expo, held on the Guilford Green each year in July, that features works by more than 180 of the country’s most distinguished artisans.

Creativity Storytelling

Sudden Death


In sports, sudden death is a tiebreaker — two teams of equal measure play until one scores. In my family, sudden death was a torpedo in the East China Sea and a kamikaze’s final score. It was a flu pandemic in 1957 that meant game over for my 19-year-old aunt…and my grandmother, who never quite recovered her self. Sudden death was an 18-wheeler on a mountainous interstate in southwest Virginia — a certain game changer for my father, and for me who wakes more often than not with an adrenaline rush of grab the ball and run before it’s too late.


©2022, Jen Payne. Note: this showed up in exactly 100 words, first take, no editing.

Creativity Storytelling

Truth Bears Out


It was Valentine’s Day, but we’d already broken up. I ended it days earlier because he never listened to me — not about extravagant gifts, not when I asked him to drive with both hands on the wheel, not when I said I was allergic to dogs. He also didn’t pay attention when I told him not to deliver the postscript Valentine’s gift furtively left at my door. It, a $75 teddy bear, was dressed in what he assumed was my regular working-from-home attire: suit, skirt, briefcase.

But removed of her conformity? I say: who couldn’t love a bear named Naked Betty?


©2022, Jen Payne.

Creativity Storytelling

Rest Stop, Mile Marker 173


The Garden State Parkway Rest Stop was half-way to my grandmother’s. We’d pull off the exit and shuffle into the rose-colored stalls of the Ladies Room.

Inside, near the pink-vinyl couch, a pull-knob vending machine sold hairnets, bobby pins, and rainhats neatly folded into pastel plastic boxes.

The Rest Stop burned down in ’91, years after we’d stop traveling as a family. But in my mind, it’s all still there — the soft golden light and tiled floors, the vending machine, my sister sleeping, Dad singing I Got You Babe to Mom in the front seat, his hand on her knee.


©2022, Jen Payne.


Donut Girl


For sure there is a story to tell, of late-night clichés and coffee-stained romances there behind the counter of the midnight doughnut shop. She had written them in situ, on journal pages stained with raspberry-pink jelly: the dashing pirate, the rookie cop, the old war vet with a “crack in his cookie jar.” No doubt she learned more there than in any class at the university — or any day since. But could she find them again? Stir them up, let them proof and rise into something more than naïve schoolgirl impressions of the world and her life not yet begun?

©2015/2022, Jen Payne. If you like this story, stay tuned. We’ve got some exciting news coming!