Sandee Hazelbaker
Dedicated Art Teacher

by Rachel Perry
photo by George Bredewater

Sandee Hazelbaker and her husband, Allen, began implementing their dream retirement in Brown County about eight years ago. The transition was gradual, as Allen continued his involvement with his Cincinnati firm while Sandee oversaw the building of their house on Wallow Hollow Road. They are now officially retired. But for the Hazelbakers, country living is not the slow-paced reverie they anticipated.

“I had this misconception about retirement,” Sandee admitted. “I thought that when people retired, they sat in rocking chairs, and on Friday nights they got together with friends and played cards. Well, in Brown County, that is certainly not the case. We got out here and it was like a kid in a candy store. We love being part of everything so we joined a lot of things and have met many wonderful people. Then some of my friends approached me about teaching painting.

“So I started teaching again (Sandee had given painting classes since 1980 in Cincinnati). I ended up having two classes at that time, and didn’t like the fact that they (students) had to come in the house. Allen is full of energy and needed something to transition to (after retiring), so he really wanted to build a studio. At first I was hesitant because it meant that I couldn’t fail. I wasn’t sure how involved I wanted to get. Allen said not to worry about it. He included a bath and shower, and said if we ever sell the house, it will be another little place.”

So the Cabin Ridge Studio was born in 2004. Sandee Hazelbaker expanded her classes and workshops in acrylic, oil and watercolor painting. Sometimes people stay in the Hazelbaker’s two secluded rental cabins (called The Chimney and The Snoozing Moose) and take advantage of her 2-3 day painting retreats, complete with lodging and opportunities to shop or to attend cultural events in Nashville.

Sandee’s serendipitous introduction to teaching art came after her marriage to Allen. She spent her formative years in Michigan and attended Michigan State University. When she was 19 she visited her parents who had relocated to Cincinnati. There she met Allen and “that was it,”

she laughed.

“I had painted off and on when I first got married and I was terrible,” she declared. “Then, in 1980, we went to Gatlinburg with some friends. And my friend noticed a bread box that was painted with an old fashioned scene. ‘You could do that,’ she said. ‘If I buy a bread box, would you take it home and paint it for me?’ It took me seventeen and a half hours to paint the breadbox and I thought, ‘There’s no money to be made in this!’ But I eventually got it down so I could do a box in two hours. So we would go to Gatlinburg, buy a truckload of wood (products) and bring it home. That was before Allen began making the things for me. I would spend three months painting them (potato bins, bread boxes, etc.) and then have a show.

“I don’t know what possessed me, but I decided I’d like to teach. I didn’t want to buy any supplies until I knew I had students so I ran an ad in the newspaper.

Four students ended up enrolling, and I had no supplies and no place to teach them. So on the weekend Allen and I set up a place in the basement and I went out and bought supplies and lights. Then I brought them in for orientation to see what they wanted to paint, and they found an item that they thought they would like. So Allen cut the wood and that week I would paint that item and then teach it to them. I was always just one project ahead of them, which they never knew.”

“I discovered that I really love teaching,” Sandee said. “I love teaching so much that I turned down an invitation to join the Brown County Art Gallery. I love seeing the faces of the people when they get so excited about what they are creating. I honestly believe that I’m a better teacher than artist and probably always will be because I love teaching more. I fly by the seat of my pants. I can’t possibly know all there is to know about this stuff, but I feel like I can encourage people to keep going no matter what. And that’s the biggest thing I can do, is just keep encouraging them.”

Students of Sandee Hazelbaker sing her praises, and continue under her instruction for years. Apparently, her group of devotees is not limited to humans. A smoky-gray cat, who greets visitors by rolling ecstatically in the driveway, has been removed twice to another home fifteen miles away, but always returns. Sandee’s severe allergies prevent allowing animals indoors and she thought the cat would be happier elsewhere, after it initially showed up at her door. But the determined kitty braves miles of wilderness, crossing highways and creeks, to get back to Wallow Hollow Road. “We decided to let him stay,” Sandee sighed. “Nothing’s ever loved us so much. So now I take allergy shots.”

Between creating her own art and products for sale, classes, private lessons, cabin rentals, four grandchildren and other activities, Sandee Hazelbaker stays occupied. To keep her sanity, she takes three months off in the winter, and a month in August.

Her teaching style, based on “no pressure” classes in a remote setting, has proven to be very popular. In fact, there is a waiting list for her private lessons. “I always just approach teaching by putting myself in the position of the person wanting to learn. I don’t hold a thing back—if I know it, you’ll know it,” she said. “And the weirdest part is, I can tell everything that’s wrong with my students’ work, but I can’t see what’s wrong with my own. That’s my biggest drawback.”

To find out more about Sandee Hazelbaker’s studio or Cabin Ridge cabin rentals, visit their website at <> or call 912-988-1059.