Suzanne Halstead and I were sitting in the Collegeville Diner, as I interviewed her about her art. Suddenly, Suzanne had the idea to collaborate with her pastels and my mosaic frames, and we christened it the Marzanne Project. She came over to my studio with some artwork and we had fun playing with potential tesserae for frames inspired by the art, and chose some colors for mosaics that I would create to inspire her art. Orange, of course, was one of the colors, because Suzanne is part of the sisterhood of orange! I love how how her Orange Nautilus unwinds itself into the frame.
What we didn’t expect was that Suzanne would move to Ohio and Nutmeg Designs would be overflowing with commissions. The commissions started a year ago as well, with Suzanne and her husband Gary’s Fruits of the Spirit project,* and have been rolling ever since! So between the growth of Nutmeg Designs and the distance of Suzanne, we’re not sure where Marzanne will lead, but I treasure the work we have already collaborated on.
*Have no fear! The Fruits of the Spirit mosaics went with Suzanne and Gary to Ohio, although they were sad to leave the labyrinth behind.
Talking with Suzanne Halstead reminded me of one of the most important things I learned from her, which was approaching art as a form of play. She has a Master of Arts in Education from Concordia University, with an emphasis on the development of creativity, play and informal learning environments. She says play is serious business for kids, one of the ways in which they learn about the world. Adults don’t allow this for themselves, often abandoning the act of making things, and thinking of art as “drawing something you can identify.” Suzanne describes another walk at Mensch Mill church camp, to the pond, and more drawing which began to feel more like “an exercise of skill rather than the passion of who I am,” and when releasing herself to the images on the page, vivid jagged spikes of red blossomed from the top of the watery blue green. This openness to the alive and growing edge of the soul is part of enlivens Suzanne’s pastels. She often uses “child’s pastels” which may not last forever, but she loves the color, and the beauty of playing with them.
There are ways in which realism can limit our ways of seeing, and Suzanne remarks on the transformation when drawing something in the world, something “real” but which she has a relationship with, a friend of the trees, not a scientific, botanically accurate relationship, but one of love. When she goes back into a drawing to explore it further, she is drawn to using her fingers, moving from the implement of a pastel crayon, to making a physical imprint on the page.
She suspects that this is a possibly unique process, and many of her colorings have the actual marks of her fingers as part of their composition. This series of pastels was a result of allowing herself to stay with one medium. Her love of different art media is irrepressible, and her studio is a treasure trove of supplies from printmaking, collage, and papermaking, but staying with the pastels was rewarding, seeing what she could learn from the medium.
Reality is so much more interesting than one type of “realism” and the pastel on the left, Coming to Grips with Green, comes out of both using green, a color she is not usually attracted to, and a visitation of 17-year locusts. The red glows amidst its opposite on the color wheel, and vivifies the green. The spiritual aspect of working through pain, and being open to joy, is essential to Suzanne’s work, and she related how the book Drawing Nearer: Devotional Workbook of Creative Prayer came to be. While attending an annual conference for the United Church of Christ in 2007, she was talking with a pastor who was aking her about vocation, and vision in her life, and she mentioned her series of pastels. He suggested she talk to Rev. Wanda Schwandt, a writer, who was leading a workshop on different forms of prayer. Later in the evening, Suzanne went to the dessert table and reached for a slice of chocolate cheesecake, at the same time as another woman was reaching in, and looking over she saw the nametag said “Wanda Schwandt,” so out of 300 attendees at this conference, they had found each other!
Wanda invited Suzanne to help lead a Forms of Prayer Workshop that Spring, and after getting to know each other, then started doing several successful workshops together. It was a year or so later that an ‘Art & Prayer’ workshop they were offering together had no one sign up so they took that as a sign to start working on the book sign to start work together on a book combining Wanda’s writings on prayer, with Suzanne’s pastels. I was privileged to be part of a “tester group” in Lent of 2008, using the book as a Lenten devotional, with prayers to contemplate, and prompts for drawing in pastels, in order to explore images in the same playful, intuitive manner that has been a passion for Suzanne. I was in a desert place of the spirit at this time, but the possibility of drawing, using color, and not being expected to do something “perfectly” or “right” opened the potential to explore.
More Wordless Here.
I had the pleasure of interviewing my friend, and fellow artist Suzanne Halstead about her Earth & Spirit Exhibition at Water Gallery in Lansdale, PA, March 18-April 24, 2011. I checked out the show and it was a delight seeing the oil pastel colorings, as Suzanne calls them, full size. I first witnessed them in a draft of her book, coauthored with Wanda Schwandt, Drawing Nearer: Devotional Workbook of Creative Prayer.
Suzanne uses a powerful metaphor for her artistic process, that of seining the soul. As a child at her grandparent’s ocean cottage, she would seine for sea creatures, to see what treasures emerged. Marine biologists also use seining to take a census of the sea, in hopes of preserving the ecosystem by seeing what is thriving and what is disappearing. This kind of curiosity is intrinsic to her art.
An art retreat in the summer of 2000, with Pat Allen, sowed the seed for this series of oil pastels. Allen, author of Art as a Way of Knowing, had participants fix large sheets of paper to the wall with masking tape, and then start using oil pastels in whatever gestures and colors each desired. Suzanne describes becoming enamored with the process “automatic drawing,” addressing the images in real time, as they come up on the paper. She describes her art as a total body experience, listening to music, using gestures of dance, an organic process where she feels most alive. Allen’s model of the Pardes Studio had three steps, Intention, Attention/Process, and Witness. Suzanne resonates with the image of archaeology, digging into the images, and witnessing them, working with our psyches, which are complex and layered.
Then, after exploring with pastels over the next two years, with an incredible longing to keep the exploration going, this woman who loves the ocean, had a desert time of not making art, in the midst of moving to Mensch Mill church camp, where her husband Gary was called to be director, job angst, teaching workshops, and being in flux and transition. She relates a turning point that began when Gary gave her a gift of oil pastels for Christmas in 2003, which ultimately led to the piece above, Offering of Color.
She tells how couple months after Christmas, with the pastels still in their box, she went out for an early morning walk in the woods, and the words “Go use the pastels” came into her head, and heart. She went home and taped a piece of paper to the window in her back door. With the dawn light filtering through, as the sun rose, she was keenly aware of the pattern of the paper, the arrangement of the fibers, and it was calling the her. She used every color in the box but black and brown, and let the paper tell her what to do. Then 2 or 3 hours later, she peeled away the tape, which was a breakthrough experience for her. Suzanne describes how the actual taping of the paper, and then the taking the tape off is like the beginning and end of prayerful intention, and that tape acts as buffer for using the pastels with abandon, and as she peels the tape away, and a clean edge is revealed, she can witness again what she created. The works are not static, as she goes back in to rework images, not as a way to perfect them, but in response to what she is witnessing.
She worked in bursts of 5 or 6 days in a row, over the next year and a half to create the body of work in Earth & Spirit at Water Gallery. Suzanne ends her artist statement with the following, “While all art making is personal or ‘of the artist’, the images created in this body of work feel like a gift I am honored to be sharing them with you as a witness to these works.”
Doris Chan A cool friend of Suzanne’s, you can only see the back of her head in the photo at the top, plus some lovely blue yarn, and one of her original crochet creations.
If you have an opportunity to check out the new exhibit at Water Gallery in Lansdale, PA, head over on Friday March 18th, 5-9 pm or Friday April 1st, 2011, 5-9 pm, for two special openings. Tomorrow’s opening features Bette Conway’s modern celtic and contemporary jewelry as well as the special treat of the artist playing Irish Fiddle.
Friday April 1st focuses on Suzanne Halstead, my good friend, and one of the first people to nuture my love of making art! Pastels that are reproduced in her book, cowritten with Wanda Schwandt, Drawing Nearer: Devotional Workbook of Creative Prayer, will be on display in all their live vibrancy. There will be refreshments, a book signing, and music by her talented son Joel Halstead. Suzanne has graciously agreed to let me interview her about the exhibit, so look for a future post featuring her work.
EDITED: Sadly, Water Gallery is no longer at this location.
Healing Mandalas: Our Bodies as Conduits of Light(about Suzanne’s influence on my art)