Interview with Local Artist Susan Saas for The Pelham Post
A Creative Alternative to Commercial Holiday Shopping
Craft Marketplace: An Exhibition & Sale of the Handmade
at Pelham Art Center
We thoroughly enjoyed attending & photographing the opening of Craft Marketplace: An Exhibition & Sale of The Handmade at Pelham Art Center on the evening of Friday, November 18th. If you are looking for a creative alternative to commercial holiday shopping, run don't walk to Pelham Art Center to shop the Craft Marketplace exhibition! Thru Dec. 30th 2016.
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The whole interview was too long to print, so we decided to share the original extended Susan Saas interview exclusively below.
at Pelham Art Center
Q&A with Local Artist Susan Saas
by Dominique Claire Shuminova
Looking for a creative alternative to commercial holiday shopping? Craft Marketplace: An Exhibition & Sale of The Handmade kicked off on the evening of Friday November 18th, curated by Kate Amato, the Center's Gallery and Special Events Manager. The reception included a free all-ages hands-on workshop. Shop the dynamic collection of one-of-a-kind works for sale through Saturday, December 30th at Pelham Art Center.
The exhibition features 15 artists and artisans, many of them local, who represent a range of traditional and skilled artisan techniques such as textile printing, silversmithing, and glass blowing. A quirky illustration print, reclaimed wood lighting fixture, or a pair of finely crafted metal earrings make unique and thoughtful gifts.
It was thrilling to discover that local artist Susan Saas' whimsical creations were available for purchase as part of the exhibition – from $3.50 greeting cards to a $600 chair – and unsurprising to see her playful pieces sell like hot cakes on opening night.
Susan hails from Hartford CT, and lived in Providence, Dublin, and Harlem before moving to Pelham six years ago. She received her BFA in Illustration from RISD and her millinery certificate from F.I.T. Her illustration work has appeared in an array of publications from The New Yorker to The Irish Times. While working as head design assistant to Rod Keenan, an award winning member of the CFDA, Susan concentrated on haute couture men’s hats, some of her creations ending up perched atop the heads of celebrities like Michael Jackson and Brad Pitt. Working for the millinery and theatrical costume shop of Arnold S. Levine Inc, she helped create hats and props for the Rockettes and a variety of other Broadway shows.
Susan is far from the self-promoting type but agreed to answer some of my Qs.
What do you do?
I make things. It is something I have always done for as long as I can remember. I think I am coming around to the term “artist”. It is easier to call myself that now. I feel like it is such a special thing to be. I would love to be an artist. I have always wanted to be one. I have always referred to myself as a craftsperson, that seems limitless.
How old were you when you first started making things?
Like most children, I loved my crayons and drawing. My mom was a single mom who worked a lot and my grandmother more or less raised me. She had come over from Germany and made her living as a seamstress so her room had lots of fun things for me to play with: fabric scraps and buttons and a sewing machine.
What are you preferred materials for making things?
I find that I love working with wood and I go back and forth between painting on wood and sewing. I love felt too, it's durable and forgiving & shaping and forming it on hat blocks is so fun. I feel balanced when I can use my jigsaw and sewing machine. Even flat pieces have dimension.
How would you describe your relationship with the Pelham Art Center?
I have been working with the Art Center for about 4 years. I have taught a variety of classes and workshops there over the years and I can’t say nice enough things about everyone that works there: Lynn, Kate, Mira, Becky, Carolyn and everyone I've met there, they are so supportive and encouraging. The Art Center is a great resource here in Pelham.
What jobs have you done other than be an artist, milliner & illustrator?
I have spent a lot of time behind coffeeshop counters so I will say anthropologist.
What themes do you pursue in your work?
I tend to do a lot of self portraits. A lot of my work is personal, even a painting of a clothes peg is sort of a personal inventory of moments/memories.
What inspires you?
I love 1920s fashion, music and style. I love Edward Gorey, jazz music. I need a time machine and a pick up truck to go shopping. I am also inspired by friends and family.
What's your favorite art work?
That is a tough one. I love so many pieces by a variety of artists but I think I come back to Marisol's The Party. On a class trip long ago I think I had a religious moment when I was able to see some of her work.
Which artists would you like to be compared to?
Wow. Good lord. Marisol, Andy Warhol, Florine Stettheimer, Louise Nevelson, Ben Shahn, Frida Kahlo, Alice Neel. I love so many!
What role do you believe the artist has in society?
I think art and artists are vital to society. Artists are freer to express themselves and it is important to have a dialogue, be it visual or dance or music, to use humor and subversiveness to hold up a mirror to society. Working quietly on pieces is doing good, exorcizing demons personal and otherwise.
Should art be publicly funded?
I think artists should be nurtured and encouraged and supported including financially. Art is vital to society – all parts of society – but I wouldn’t want art to be controlled or censored by a government entity either.
What superpower would you have and why?
The ability to right the wrongs and injustices in The World. Maybe to be able to punch the bullies in the nose with a super fist that knocks them out for days and when they come to they're nice.
How has motherhood affected your outlook/output?
I think I get more work done now than before I had Elinore. I am much more focused and much better at managing my time and working at strange hours to get my work done.
What is your dream project?
To create my own empire of things I make and people love.
What does having an artistic outlook on life consist of?
Not having a roadmap, being true to what feels good and right and not comparing myself to other people.
You have incredible style. Do you have any style tips for our readers this holiday season?
Thank you! I wear what I am attracted to. I never pay attention to trends really. I love a vintage shop, I love a second hand store, and I am drawn to old fabric and old sweaters, and I like to alter things. I actually think I have a uniform. I love my aprons because I can keep things in the pockets. If I had any tips for anyone it would be to always be yourself, do not let the clothing wear you, hats and/or shoes especially. You need to wear what makes you feel good.
Susan is accepting commissions for paintings and couture hats. “I sell my hats at the Hat Shop on Thompson Street in the city every now and then but I am always happy to work with people for one-of-a-kind hats and head pieces,” she says. “I have done bridal headpieces and theatrical things,” she adds. “I make things that I would wear.”
Susan is teaching a workshop on crafting little Christmas tree ornaments at Pelham Art Center on Saturday December 17th. Sign up now at Pelham Art Center. Spaces are limited.
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