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   Suzanne Thompson

 Who I Am


I am an artist working every day to give back some of what I’ve received.  My life as an artist was rebooted in 2009 when I was inspired to celebrate all peoples’ similarities rather than their differences.


I strive to be the "perfect party hostess".  I offer simple, beautiful images to begin a conversation that draws disparate people together in thoughtful discussion.  I use these images, rather than words, because I have found it more effective, rather than presenting a specific point of view, to just say, "Look!”.


What I Do

My artwork is based in traditional needlework and fabric manipulation.  The pieces I create are intended to hang (I call these “wallpieces”) or be held in a hand, and to initiate a conversation.  Often my work incorporates words, but rarely a complete thought.  At its most effective, the viewer completes the thought because, as we have all been told, it takes two for a conversation.


When I’m asked about the simplicity of my work, I explain that it’s something I explore with each new piece I create: Which is more important, message or image?  Many popular fiber artists insist on layering images, asking that the viewers delve deeply into their work to see the many intricate levels represented.  I have chosen to present a simple image, asking that the viewer search through their own many intricate levels.


I quilt, but do not make quilts.  I print and dye yardage, with the result serving, but not being, the outcome.


 Why I Am


I grew up in a family of artists, philosophers, inventors, theologians, and attorneys who generally supported themselves in other ways.  They were always doing something, often several things at once.  If a woman were sitting anywhere but at the dining table, she would have “lap” work.  My mother and aunts were painters and also produced the loveliest needlework.  My mother’s favorite media were knitting and needlepoint.  She taught me to needlepoint successfully; the knitting…not so much.  I never learned how to “cast on” and have always eschewed written directions and patterns.


My brain works well with visual and aural input; there has always been a disconnect between reading directions and understanding them well enough to put the words into practice. Give me a graph, draw me a picture or TELL me how to do something, and I can actually be ahead of the curve.


I have always loved the fiber arts.  My first creative projects involved embroidery, which I learned in Girl Scouts.  We each made a quilt block decorated with our name.  This was also my introduction to quilting, though I just watched that process and asked lots of questions, storing the information for later.  I went on to embellish almost every piece of my clothing. I had the most amazing denim jacket embroidered on the back with a beautiful fairy, wings spread wide, seemingly ready to take to the air at any moment, as was I.


I enrolled in Berea College at 16, without one clue about what I really wanted to be when I grew up.  After three years of swaying with the most interesting breeze, I surrendered to my heart and declared an Art major.  My major studio work was in weaving, with ceramics and woodworking sharing second place.  This is also when I learned that I am not a renderer; I am a three-dimensional artist.


My student labor was at the Appalachian Museum.  There I learned, demonstrated and taught traditional fiber craft: spinning (wool, flax and cotton), weaving (once I hand-tied 1500 string heddles) and vegetable dyeing.  I learned from mountain women whom we visited and who visited us.  After graduating, my first “real” art job was demonstrating spinning, dyeing and weaving at Fort Boonesboro in Kentucky.


One spring, I took a life-altering class at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee.  Sister Mary Remy Revor taught a silk screening on fabric class.  The four days spent with her were the most influential in my artistic life.  She was an award-winning artist and the very best teacher with whom I’ve studied. She taught the way I wanted to teach: unselfishly, honestly, and simply.  She told me, emphatically, that inspiration is not spontaneously generated.  After Sister Mary, all things were possible.


My next step was more education (my father suggested I had become a professional student).  I took a graduate class with a recently-arrived Arturo Sandoval at the University of Kentucky to add new work to a portfolio that would allow my acceptance into the MFA program, with an emphasis in sculpture, at Florida State University.  I worked with Don Bonham, Trevor Bell and Janice Hartwell.  I grew as an artist, discovering that my medium would always be fiber.  As a sculptor, I “add” rather than “subtract” material.  As I work, each new piece is illuminated with the light of all the men and women who have shared a part of themselves with me.  I hope they are proud of the way I use their gifts.


   Why I Do


My work has evolved from my need to communicate the parallels inherent in the religions founded in the Abrahamic tradition.   I do not intend to convert, but to call attention to our similar beliefs through the images I create.


I have expanded my work beyond text to natural phenomena; the wonder of the night sky, a cloud filled with the promise of rain, or flowers that may or may not presage fruit.


In my view of the world, the Taoist concept that understanding any living thing allows you to understand every living thing equates to God’s admonition to love one another (Leviticus 19:18).  This illustrates the way I’d like to have my work viewed:  Each piece represents a small piece of the world or concept of thought which, being made simple, allows for broad personal reflection.


How I Do


I see my process in three stages:

Concept and design

Preparation and gathering of materials

Actual production


A piece can start with almost anything: A thought, a feeling, a smell, a sight.  For me, it is often one of these that leads to another.  I stand on my porch in the dark when most of the world around me sleeps.  I close my eyes, turn my face to the sky, and breathe.  A peace always fills me when I am willing to surrender to it (not so easy in a cold rain).  I spread my arms wide and let thoughts drift in and out.  I see a beginning.


I take that beginning (be it a word or image) to my design wall.

I pin an appropriately-sized piece of paper to the wall, step back, and visualize what I can.  I then add to it; perhaps I write the word(s) on another piece of paper and add that.  I may add fabric in the general shapes and colors I see when I close my eyes.  I step back again.  I move, add, remove and change the image for as long as it takes to make a grin spread across my face and my feet start a happy dance.  It may take quite a while (hours-days-weeks-months!) for that grin and dance to erupt, but when it does, I know it’s time to think about actualizing the concept.


I then enter hunter-gatherer mode.  I open my cabinet of many colors and textures and pull one possibility at a time.  I don’t put any away until I’ve found as many pieces of the puzzle as I can. As I’m doing this, I see how each piece fits with the others.  The color may be right, but the texture wrong.  I visualize embellishment.  I don’t begin construction until I have assembled most of what I need.


I take pieces from my design wall, one at a time, using each piece as a pattern to cut the puzzle part it represents from the fabric I've chosen, then put that fabric piece on the wall.  Bit by bit my vision becomes reality.  It is a fluid process.  Some things work, some things don’t.  It’s never done until it’s done, and then the wonderful thing about fiber is, it can be undone!  It’s tedious to undo, but if it’s not right, it’s wrong.


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