Q&A with Waterloo Arts Fest Artist-in-Residence Susie Underwood

fan ax set design by Susie Underwood for Near West Theater's production of Aida
fan ax set design Near West Theater’s 2018 production of Aida

When did you know you were an artist?

I have always loved making things and coming up with creative narratives. When I was a kid, I’d read fantasy or science fiction novels, and then I would create costumes or props inspired by the stories. That being said, I don’t think I was comfortable calling myself an artist until I had completed some installations with my former art collective, Art Club, around my mid-20s. I felt that I was actually doing something unique and from my own perspective for the first time, and that helped me to feel comfortable calling myself an artist.

How did you get your training?

I went to Ohio State University for art and journalism, got my master’s in art museum education from Antioch University Midwest, and gained a lot of my experience from working with studio and family programs at the Columbus Museum of Art. Much of my knowledge is self-taught. School can only get you so far.

What types of work do you create?

Susie Underwood in costume I like to “try on” many different types of art making, and I’m usually most successful when I combine installation with performance and audience participation. So, instead of having an art show, I might set it up like a garage sale. Or I might perform lounge songs while dressed as an alien, while cracking nerdy jokes and harassing the audience with props. For the Waterloo Arts Fest, I created a “living room” under a tent and painting everything white, so that visitors could decorate my little “home.” I prefer to change the atmosphere and environment from the usual visual art experience, which I find to be pretty boring.

What inspires you?

I love finding new artists on Instagram; there are some amazing artists in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Melbourne right now. Drag queens have really elevated their practice into some of the best contemporary art out there, and they have become a big influence on my performance approach. I am also inspired by the City of Cleveland, the weird history, and the kitsch and beauty that is taken for granted. I love music and science fiction; so, that comes out sometimes.

What are your thoughts on with art therapy?

I am interested in the growing field of art therapy but I’m not actively involved in it. I curated an exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art which highlighted the different ways that art can be used therapeutically. I was showcasing the field to the general public, who may not be aware of all that happens or the potential of art therapy.

How did you get involved as an artist-in-residence with Waterloo Arts Fest?

I was recommended as a potential artist-in-residence because I am good at creating interactive, participatory experiences and working with the public. My years as a museum educator made me that way.

Tell us about the project.

I set up a 10’ x 10’ tent with living room furniture inside. Everything was be white, even my clothes, so that visitors could paint and decorate my little home. I also had a chandelier they could help create by adding junk from their purses, and a rag rug that they could help weave. It was inspired by my love for rehabbing and decorating my home. I want people to understand that creativity doesn’t just have to take place in an art studio; it should be infused into every aspect of life. Creativity is vital to our survival, and we need it now more than ever. We need leaders who can create new ideas, not just destroy things they don’t like.

What’s next?

I have a potential mural on the horizon, if I can ever finish the design!

Susie Underwood mural for Porco Lounge, Cleveland
mural for Porco Lounge, Cleveland
Susie Underwood's WEB for the Columbus Museum of Art's Wonder Room
WEB for the Columbus Museum of Art’s Wonder Room
Susie Underwood's banners for Near West Theater's 2018 production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame
banners for Near West Theater’s 2018 production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Susie Underwood

Jewelry maker associates beautiful objects with taboo subjects in an effort to get people talking about mental health

Begin Again Jewelry jewelry making bench and tools

(an interview with Colleen Terry, owner, Begin Again Jewelry)

How did your interest in creating jewelry begin?

I took my first jewelry class after receiving a medical treatment called electro-convulsive therapy to treat bipolar disorder. The treatment resulted in severe memory loss. I had previously been a pretty big geek, even earning an academic scholarship to Baldwin Wallace University. I prided myself on my nerdiness; however, without my memory, I went from having a 4.0 my first semester of college to getting Ds and Fs when I came back. My mom, an artist herself, recommended that I take an art class. So, I signed up for a jewelry-making class. I found comfort and renewed self-esteem in making things with my hands. I fell in love with the permanence of metal objects, and my passion grew from there.

Where did you receive your training?

After falling in love with jewelry making, I transferred from Baldwin Wallace to The Cleveland Institute of Art where I earned my BFA in jewelry and metals.

The “Our Mission” section of the website mentions a donation of 10 percent of each purchase to organizations near and dear to your personal story. What can you share about that story?

I started my business about a year ago. I was finding myself during a period of recovery. Three years ago I was smoking 2 and 1/2 packs of cigarettes, drinking 1/2 a liter of vodka and engaging in eating disorder behavior every day. In 2015, I found yoga. Within two months of beginning a regular practice, I was able to quit smoking, and one week later I quit drinking — both cold turkey and on my own. The eating disorder was the toughest to escape. Six month into yoga, I found the Emily Program Foundation, and, with their help, I became free of those behaviors for the first time in 20 years. As I began to find myself, I began to reexamine what I really wanted to be doing with my life, and I knew that part of that had to be making and another part had to be giving back and supporting others who had dealt with issues similar to mine and who were on the road to recovery. I also wanted to associate beautiful objects with taboo subjects in an effort to get people talking about mental health.

How did you create that business’ name?

Beginning again is what I am doing in my life and what I want to nurture and celebrate with my line and within the lives of the people I am able to touch with my jewelry, my cause and my philanthropy. It is also a yoga mantra that helped to change my life.

Where do you sell or market your products?

I am doing shows here and there and selling from my website primarily by word of mouth and social media.

How are the pieces made? Can you walk us through the process?

Typically, when it comes to designing my pieces I come to the bench with a general concept and then let my materials guide the rest of the process. I work primarily in 14k gold and sterling silver, and most of my work is hand fabricated. I do have a passion for CAD/CAM object-making and will likely be further incorporating this process within the line in the future.

What inspires your designs?

The symbolism and stones in my line all in some way represent hope, healing and rebirth in some facet. For example, some of the stones are known to facilitate calming and aid in meditation, and butterflies are a common symbol of rebirth.

What do you like to do when you are not designing and making jewelry?

I do a lot of yoga! I actually just earned my yoga teaching certificate and cannot wait to spread the love and healing with yoga and jewelry! I also treasure my time with family and friends.

Do you consider yourself a maker or a manufacturer and why?

I consider myself a maker because I am not mass producing and each piece is made with love, hope and gratitude.

What advice do you have for other makers?

Don’t be afraid to do what you love and share it with everyone!

Begin Again Jewelry butterfly pendantBegin Again Jewelry braceletBegin Again Jewelry necklacesBegin Again Jewelry butterfly chokerBegin Again Jewelry Colleen Terry