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Banner [Virtual] Art Gallery

Larry Pierce in conversation with artist Susie Smith

Anthony W. Neal
Anthony W. Neal is a graduate of Brown University and University of Texas School of Law and has written for the Bay State Banner since 2012.
Banner [Virtual] Art Gallery
“Archangel Michael" by Susie Smith BANNER PHOTO

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This is the eighth in a weekly series presenting highlights of conversations between leading Black visual artists in New England. In this week’s podcast, Larry Pierce interviews sculptor Susie Smith. The interview has been condensed and slightly edited.

Smith’s body of work spans 25 years of creativity in such diverse genres as sculpture, fashion design, art-shade design and fabrication, jewelry design, and most recently, original doll design and creation. Her current series, “Susie’s Angels,” is a collection of magnificent and original-designed sculptures of angels, elegantly attired and radiating love, virtue and purpose.

Larry Pierce: All your friends call you Cookie. So, Cookie, give us a brief synopsis of yourself.
Susie Smith: I’m from Selma, Alabama, and moved to Boston in ’65. I went to Timilty [Middle School], Jeremiah Burke High School, the Vesper George School of Art and, from there, Roxbury Community College because I took a break. Then, I went to Mass College of Art.

“Sky Goddess” by Susie Smith BANNER PHOTO

You’re known for your beautiful Black angels and spiritual beings. How did your creative journey begin?
I always was a dreamer as a kid in Alabama. I always loved dolls and made cornhusk dolls. I thought about making dolls when I visited a Black doll show in Roxbury one Sunday evening. Jane Bradbury, who makes beautiful dolls, was the guest artist. She demonstrated how to make [them] and passed out a brochure. So I called her and she invited me to her studio in Quincy and gave me some tools — some clay, a knitting needle that she made a tool out of, a set of eyes, printouts of the body parts of dolls. She said, “Now go do it.” I went back to her [studio] two days later with a doll. She said, “Oh, my goodness. You really did it.”   

Is it true that Minister Louis Farrakhan purchased one of your angels?
Yes. He bought an angel. It was wonderful.

“Copper & Pearl Necklace” by Susie Smith BANNER PHOTO

You’re a jewelry designer who sometimes uses unconventional material. Talk a little bit about that.
I use glass and metals, a lot of copper. I do a lot of weaving, knitting and crocheting of metals.

You also created a tribute to an elderly woman who had a lot of dynamic qualities, including playing the saxophone in her younger years. Describe the beautiful memorial sculpture that you created incorporating the saxophone.
Miss Betty Ellis was a senior at church who I took care of. She played the saxophone. She would come to the gallery and loved to sit. She could hardly blow the sax because she was 92. That piece is over here in the corner — her saxophone. When she passed, I had to do something. So at her funeral, I placed her sculpture at the head of her casket. 

“Harmony” by Susie Smith BANNER PHOTO

What advice would you give to young people who are considering a career in art?
I would tell young people, if you have a passion for something, stay true to yourself. Just keep working at it and believe in what you’re doing. Not that you’re going to make a whole lot of money in the beginning, though some people do. Young people should just go for their dreams.

Let’s talk about these fairies.
These are my sky goddesses. In the body I wanted to reflect the sky, and her hair is the clouds. In today’s fairies, I think of younger people — the way they dress and their tattoos, the dreadlocked hair, the different colors of hair.

You found this motorcycle and built the rider to scale to fit it, right?
Yes. I found the motorcycle in a flea market in Selma, Alabama. I’ve had it for a while. I made [the rider] an angel on the run and decided to [give] her a Grace Jones hairstyle.

Tell me a little bit about this beautiful lamp you’ve created and when you started making lamps.
I created the shade from a placemat that I found at Pier 1. I took a wooden bowl, and I shaped it. It’s kind of rigged together. I started making lamps when I worked for Appleton’s Antiques in Brookline. They were getting lamp shades from England. I saw them and said, “I can do that.” I went home, taught myself and started covering shades for them. I decided that I was tired of covering shades and wanted to build a shade. That’s how I got into making lamp shades — for Appleton’s Antiques. Once I started building the shades, I wanted to build a lamp. So I started making a lamp for the shade. I learned welding from a neighbor, Mr. Coleman, who had a trucking stop, repaired flat tires and welded parts.

What visions do you have of projects you might work on in the future?
Spiritually, I don’t know how I’m going to be led. I don’t have a plan. It just comes when it comes, sometimes in dreams. I do my best work when I roll out of bed in the morning.

 

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