Sarah Jane Blakeslee was born in 1912 in Evanston, Illinois. During her teenaged years, she took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. She also attended a private art school in Washington opened by Catherine Crticher, an accomplished painter and prominent member of the Taos art colony. Encouraged by Critcher, Blakeslee enrolled at the the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts branch at Chester Springs following high school. While at the academy, she was awarded two Cresson scholarships which allowed her to travel to Europe and encounter the work of European masters. Shortly after graduation, Blakeslee married one of her former professors from the Academy, Francis Speight, in 1936. The couple moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania and settled in the rural community of Castle Valley where they lived until 1961.
Rural life suited both Blakeslee and Speight and gave them ample time to paint the surrounding Pennsylvania countryside. In 1937, Blakeslee showed paintings at the annual exhibitions of both the Corcoran Gallery and the Art Institute of Chicago. She also exhibited regularly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1938 through 1964. However, her exhibition activities slowed somewhat in the forties and fifties as she raised their two children.
In 1961, Francis Speight accepted the position of artist-in-residence at Eastern Carolina University in his home state of North Carolina. Blakeslee adapted well to her new home and continued to paint and teach art throughout the sixties and seventies. Her subjects were primarily landscapes of the surrounding area and portraits of local citizens. Following Speight’s death in 1989, Blakeslee continued to paint and show her work. She rented out rooms to international students for additional income and companionship until 1998 when she retired and moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to her daughter. Blakeslee’s paintings are now part of the permanent collections of the Greenville Museum of Art (NC), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the National Academy of Design in New York, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.