Sara Bates is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation. She was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1944. Bates completed a bachelor's degree in studio art and women's studies at California State University in Bakersfield. She did graduate work in sculpture and painting at the University of California in Santa Barbara and earned a master of fine arts degree in 1989.
Bates is part of an influential group of Native American fine artists who have enveloped elements of their cultural background with European artistic traditions. This group of artists exhibit together based on philosophical ideals, rather than a common style or technique. Bates is important as an artist and curator of this movement. She was the director of exhibitions and programs/curator for American Indian Contemporary Arts in San Francisco from 1990 through 1995. During her tenure, she curated exhibitions such as "Indian Humor" and "Native America: Reflecting Contemporary Realities." Through her work there, Bates perpetuated the momentum of the Native American fine arts movement by developing and touring exhibitions that dealt with important social and philosophical issues faced by American Indians today.
Bates' recent artwork, a series of "Honoring Circles," evolved from the ancient Cherokee "Sun Circles" found on pottery made over a thousand years ago, although she stresses many ancient cultures used the circle with the equal-armed cross to express balance and prayer. She is a contemporary Cherokee artist, honoring ancient Cherokee symbols. However, she stresses the universal and shared elements of spiritual experience, and not merely any particular or ethnocentric expressions. At a time when minority artists are encouraged to focus on their differences, Bates celebrates their commonalities with humanity at large. The work is about mutual dependency, interconnectedness, and the sacred relationship we share with the Earth, as well as infused tribal symbols and personally developed forms. She has lectured and exhibited her work both nationally and internationally. Her current work is titled "Holding Patterns," 57 works on paper. She resides in Atwater, California.