Susan’s energy and enthusiasm is contagious. She builds and weaves with wood, wool and anything else she can get her hot hands on. Here at Searsport Shores we have two of her twig art sculptures… a tee pee in the garden and a long house under the apple trees…Suzy’s method of weaving community into artwork is talked about every day by the people who visit our gardens. Susan is a true multi media artist. We love having her around and look forward to her booth at Fiber College. In addition to teaching Stitched Greeting Cards on Friday, she’ll have a loom set up in her booth where people can weave by the foot…a chance to try your hand at weaving on a floor loom.
We asked her to answer the interview questions and this is what she shared:
What are you currently reading?
I am reading Understanding Hieroglyphs: A Quick and Simple Guide by Hillary Wilson. I picked it up at a yard sale. I like the drawings she provides and I am learning about the ancient quality of names. I googled translations and National Geographic has a site where you can type in your name. The letter S is shown as a folded cloth. I find this pretty interesting. I was at a Yoga retreat in the woods with no textile work available. One afternoon I folded all the felted wool blankets. I had a strong sense of being comforted. Folding freshly cleaned sheets brings back memories of my Mom and Grandmother. It was kind of a chore when I was little kid, but I got the sense that it was important, keeping things tidy and organized. Working with textiles makes me feel connected to women and men through the centuries who have folded clothing, and cared for others and their households.
I have been re-reading Women’s Work, The First 20,000 Years, Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times. The author, Elizabeth Wayland Barber, talks quite a lot about language and how our understanding of textiles can be gleaned from the words used to describe the processes used to create them.
What is the most surprising response to your work?
I was recently surprised by an image and description of remains found in a Danish bog, The Egtved Girl. This discovery offers a close look at Bronze Age clothing. She was wearing a twined skirt and hanging at her waist was circular brass object about 5” in diameter. She also had a small dagger. What surprises me is that the details are similar to an image I created about 10 years ago called ‘Cutting Cattails’. At the time I was baffled about why I would put a knife in the figure’s hand. It seemed it needed to be there. I related it to myself thinking well, she might be cutting cattails, something I had done as a kid. I tried to add a circular shape at the waist in my image and eventually moved it to the sky and it became the moon which made more sense at the time. It is a very light color compared to the rest of the piece. A shiny metal disc would have seemed very bright in its time. I added twined belt to the quilt. Egtved Girl wore a twined belt and it held her bronze circle near her waist.
How do you know when your work is done?
Often you only know when you’ve gone too far; you’ve over-worked a piece. Hopefully you can get it back to that lively, fresh spot depending on the materials. It is important to step back from a piece. I try to walk away for a while and sneak up on the piece hopefully trying to see it for the first time, again! I recently finished a piece. I knew it was done when I ripped the paper!
Venus de Milo’s skirt is plain white paper, draped around a cardboard framework. It is about 48” tall.
What do you listen to while you create?
I listen to MPBN mostly and feel pretty well informed. The morning classical is great for work. If I am trying to crank out some weaving, I’ll put on some rock and roll, Bobby McFerrin.
Where do you go to get the juices flowing?
I like to visit Bowdoin College’s Museum of Art. It’s close, it’s free and I am never disappointed. They exhibit fabulous work. Each exhibit is well thought and prepared with great care. Sometimes I go and just look at the art, try to soak in the colors and shapes and other times I’ll read the text panels. The videos they show have been very interesting. I like to go to Portland Museum of Art. One of my favorite pieces is the Alexander Calder mobile on the top floor. I try to get to First Friday Artwalks and see Space, Susan Maraash, MECA and June Fitzpatrick’s Galleries. I am inspired by the work of other artists I see.
I spend a lot of time outdoors and am rejuvenated by the experience. Some of my best ideas come while driving along Route 127 into Bath. There is one spot, near the old dump. There is something about that spot. I always get good ideas there.
I take art classes at University of Southern Maine and have produced a lot of work because of that. Being around other students who are compelled to work at their art is really inspiring and I feel I have learned so much from the instructors that the time has been very well spent.
How many projects do you generally have going at one time?
I have several projects going at once. I may be weaving textiles for handbags, working on a book, building a sculpture and washing and dying fiber all in the same week. If an idea comes it is best to jump on it.
We were building stairs and I saved the wood scraps. I could envision the small sculptures I was going to build with them. That night I dreamed about the squiggly lines and colors I would paint on them. I got to the project and am pleased with the results. This one is called Topography it is painted with gouache on wood.
Sometimes I begin working on a project when I am cleaning up, putting materials away or I am reorganizing and re-assessing materials. I see something that sparks my imagination. I started making stitched greeting cards when I noticed some scraps of paper that looked like clothing.
I weave together subtle combinations, mixing harvested, recycled or found objects using textile techniques to create images and structures. Paper, felt and fabric are stitched together and by hand or machine and a loom may be used to combine, twigs, yarns, paper, plastic or wire elements into sculpture or 2-D images. Many of my handwoven textiles contain fiber from Maine farms.
My father influenced me to experiment with materials. He had a sense that anything is possible. I learned to stitch from my mother, sisters and grandmother. Working with textiles brings a connection to those who harvest fibers from the flora and fauna of their immediate environment to create clothing and shelter out of necessity. I learned to weave as apprentice to Carol Schwartzott in Niagara Falls, NY and in Rhode Island wove on Jacquard and Dobby industrial looms.
As a kid, there was plenty of time to explore the fields and woods. I discovered the sense of rejuvenation that is accessible by being outdoors. Schoolmates from the Tuscarora Reservation reinforced my awareness of the importance of our connection to the environment and the sacredness to be found there. I hope my work will inspire other to see our natural environment in new light and pause to respect and honor it.
I advocate for the arts. I developed Banners Over Bath, an outdoor art exhibit with Main Street Bath. I am chair of Five Rivers Arts Alliance and was a founding board member of the Art Van.
I organize group art projects. Woven Twig Constructions are large huts built with harvested twigs and saplings. The process provides opportunities for individuals to collaborate in the planning and construction of a large structure.
Woven Hut Constructions have been built at:
Isaac Dyer Galleries at Dragonfly Farm, Gorham, ME 2010
Triplet Park, Unity, ME 2010
Fiber College, Searsport, ME 2009-10
Troy Howard Middle School, Belfast, ME May 2009
Convergence Sculpture Festival, Newport, RI, Sept 2001
Providence Waterfront Festival, Providence, RI, Sept.1998-2000
Nantucket Island School of Design, Nantucket, MA Aug. 2000