Fiber College 2015 wouldn’t be complete without Santa! Steve Schreurs’ chain mail classes at all levels (beginner to intensive) and drop-in clinic/rolling classes are ever popular and this year he’ll focus on jewelry. If you’ve never met Steve, now is your chance to meet this amazing fiber artist and incredible humanitarian. His life story reads like an intriguing novel. Let’s meet Steve! And then drop in ANY time during Fiber College to learn from the master.
Who are you? Tell us about your fiber journey.
Who am I? My background is an unlikely hodgepodge of experiences. As a young man, I was a Boy Scout where I acquired my love of nature and knot tying. I then progressed on to being a farmer, cowboy, and professional canoe guide. In college, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical/Nuclear Engineering. Along the way, I taught myself about this new fangled thing called digital computers and was married and had two sons. For several years, I used my Chemical Engineering, Nuclear Engineering, and Computer Science knowledge to create computer simulations for nuclear power plants and became one of the world’s leading experts in that field. As time passed, the Computer Science skills become more important and I migrated to the field of Information Technology. Today I work for the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in the field of Information Technology. I am very evolved in many charitable activities (for which I am Santa Claus) and for them I teach macrame, cooking, cartooning, and chainmail. I am artist in residence at Searsport Shores the first week of August and teach chainmail, macrame, and cartooning. For Fiber College, I teach chainmail (armor and jewelry). I am ambidextrous which helps with some of my activities like making chainmail or paddling a canoe.
Santa Steve loves to teach students of all ages
What’s integral to your work as an artist?
Creativity is a central part of my projects. You can combine several aspects of design in a single chainmail project. The basic design elements are weave pattern, size(s) of rings, color of metal, and shape of the project. An ear ring design may be simple and use size of ring, weave pattern, and color(s) of metal. A more complex project may combine two or more weave patterns, colors of metal, and sizes of rings.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever given a student?
Since I have several fields of art, my advice to the students does not address any specific art form. Much of this advice is good for sports, work, art, or any endeavor you pursue. Whether you pick the field of art or the art picks you, make sure that you are pursuing something you love. To enjoy the activity and perform the best you are capable of in an activity, you must like what you are doing. Here is the advice I gave a young man as he was deciding what college major he would pursue. His father was pushing him to become a physics teacher because it was a safe bet and a steady job. The young man was not particularly interested in being a teacher but he loved cartography. The questions I posed to him were “Would you like to be taught by someone who was not enthusiastic about the subject? Will you enjoy going to work every day and feel that you have given your best?” I am happy to say that he is very successfully working in the field he loves, Geographic Information Systems.
The second piece of advice is to take you time and learn your art well. I have personally experienced and observed many students try to tackle too complex of a project too soon when learning a new skill. Break down the art into smaller components and learn the components first and then build them into more complex projects. I know this is hard to do because we are impatient to get to that “master piece,” but the patience pays off in many ways. Understanding the fundamentals will help you produce a better product and it will help you be more creative. A corollary to this advice is “perfect is the enemy of good enough.” Focusing on perfection often results in no improvement at all. Sometimes your art and your skills will have to evolve or you have to have a few failures to finally find what you are looking for. I have had some spectacular failures in my day, but I learn from them and improve with the next try.
What’s your favorite piece of work that you have created?
The chainmail project that has given me the most satisfaction is the first chainmail shirt that I made. I had to figure out how to join the chainmail into shapes to fit my son and to include sleeves. I also had to learn how to create an inlay (picture) of a castle on the back of the shirt. The castle is the logo of the company, Olney Armorers that my son and I started for him. The macrame project that is the most satisfying for me is a full length wall hanging that is a picture of a tree in my parents’ back yard. I used natural fiber and yarn to give it color, texture, and depth. The cartooning project that gives me great satisfaction every day is my Santa coins. I have published 5 Santa coins to commemorate several aspects of giving. The Santa coins in order of publication are: Santa, North Pole Princess, Mrs. Clause, North Pole Elf, and Rudolf the Reindeer. Watching the faces and the excitement of children and adults when they receive a Santa coin is amazing.
What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
Each of my arts has essential tools for creating a project. For chainmail, pliers for each hand (flat nose and needle nose) are a must. For macrame, scissors and a tape measure are basic tools. For cartooning, a pencil for sketching is essential. Probably the next most important tool is reference books. Reference books help with ideas and keep track of the many details that I have to look up for basic building elements.
What would your Fiber College students be surprised to know about you?
As you can see from the answers to some of the other questions, I have a bit of a list of surprising experiences. The top two are that I am a chemical/nuclear engineer and that I participate in long distance endurance athletic events. When people meet me outside of my normal work role, they do not associate an artist, cook, runner, or Santa with engineer. As a chemical/nuclear engineer I have had some very interesting assignment including working for three presidents of the United States (Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush).
When folks first meet me, they have no trouble recognizing me as Santa. After all, I look exactly as the “jolly fat man” should. What surprises them is that I run marathons (26.2 miles) and walk in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day (60 miles). I participate in over 200 miles of events every year and train approximately 1,000 miles each year. My longest running event is the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend (4 races in 4 days, 48.6 miles) and my longest walking event is the Komen 3-Day. All of the endurance events are used to raise money for charity and I raise between $3,000 and $15,000 every year.
How do you manage/balance your work self and your creative self?
Time is my biggest nemesis. My “day job” is 10-12 hours per day, my endurance training is many hours per week, my charity fundraising and volunteer activities also require a significant amount of time. And then of course I have multiple artistic interests. I have to prioritize my artistic activities according to what has to be completed by when. For me there is no such thing as “plenty of time to be an artist.” I have to achieve sufficient time to complete my commitments and have a little free form time. Mostly I get the free form time during my vacations or when I am traveling for an endurance event. I have been asked many times how I fit it all in. The answer is 6 hours of sleep, planning and perseverance. With all of that said, my creative self is evident in everything I do. My “work self” needs a much creativity as my “artist self.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Just do it!”
What inspired you to become a fiber artist?
I did not have a moment in my life where I decided to become an artist. I learned all of my skills for my creative activities because I needed them to accomplish something. I learned my basic knotting (macrame) skills as a Boy Scout and expanded upon that while I worked as a cowboy and a canoe guide. I learned how to make chainmail when my sons asked for chainmail shirts as props for their role playing games. At $800 each we could not afford to buy chainmail shirts. I thought myself cartooning when I needed to create my Santa Claus coins to give to children brave enough to talk to Santa. In addition, I expanded my cartooning when I needed to create sports team t-shirts and singlets for my North Pole Endurance Team (did I forget to mention that I am a long distance runner and walker?). Becoming an artist just snuck up on me.