Press mention #1
Sculptor Susanne Greene Sees Life in Clay
Nantucket Independent, August 31, 2005
By Laura Raskin – Independent Arts Writer
Only yards away, the sea looked like a tray of sequins outside the swath of plate glass window in the living room of the main house of the Wade Cottages in ‘Sconset. Susanne Greene cupped her hands around a butterfly that was batting its wings against the glass and let it out the door. A family renting one of the cottages played ping-pong on Greene’s porch and the ball smacked and clucked, back and forth, back and forth.
Greene does not get much time in her small studio here in the summer, what with the maintenance of renting out her husband Wade’s oasis of cottages and apartments to loyal returnees. The tradition goes back to Wade’s grandfather, who built the family compound in the 1920s. His grandmother began renting out part of it in the 30s. It is a job that means Greene has not fired up her kiln once.
A clay and mixed media sculptor, Greene was urged to bring her latest large piece to the island from New York City and it premiered in a show last week at the Artists’ Association of Nantucket Gallery.
A dark, solid sheath imprinted with the vague outline of a leaf fronts a five-and-a-half foot tall easel. Thin strings hang off it and although seen un-mounted, a dough trough is meant to suspend from the sheath. The wooden dough trough, scrubbed clean after years in Greene’s attic, is filled with a white sheet out of which clay heads, arms and legs protrude — fetal-like figured that emerge, disappear and overlap in the material without order.
It holds ideas that Greene has been extrapolating on for several years.
“I don’t feel that it’s dark, but it may have had a darker start,” said Greene, commenting on its fruition around the time of the start of the war in Iraq.
But other small sculptures in Greene’s island studio carry the same theme — leaves and roots and female figures sprouting from them. It is about renewal, rebirth and the re-use of energy, and perhaps has something to do with the fact that Greene’s mother died not long ago, as did a friend this summer, of breast cancer.
That friend had told Greene she would process her mother’s death in her work somehow, and Greene guesses that she did. Now that her friend is gone, the woman’s husband believes the friend is “up there looking down,” said Greene. For Greene–who appears contemplative, does yoga and is influenced by her Buddhist son — she can only hold onto the idea backed by physics, that energy never disappears. “That suits me pretty nicely,” she said, as she expects a cycle of birth.
Greene has one grandchild by her 36-year-old son who lives in Barcelona. Now she is poised to visit her 33-year-old daughter in Los Angeles who is about to have a baby.
Although she explains her work clearly, if abstractly, Greene said she is somewhat unsure about how to describe it. She did not go to graduate school and does not know the language, she said. But she has had a long history of showing on the island with galleries like the former Sailor’s Valentine, and one owned by Nantucket Arts Council president Reginald Levine. Her work was featured most recently in Old Spouter Gallery. She seems more interested in simply creating.
In New York where she and Wade spend winters, Greene takes classes and uses studio space at Greenwich House Pottery, blocks from her house. Since 1992, she has spent hours there firing in the kilns and working in the third-floor hand-building studio. It is a social and friendly place.
“I prefer it to working by myself,” said Greene. “Clay people are happy in groups. Lots of clay people are very generous and knowledgeable.” Greene never liked wheel pottery. What attracted her to clay was the construction of it.
As someone who always liked to work with her hands and whose father took her to the woodshop of the school he taught, Greene slipped into carpentry jobs in the city in the mid 1970s.
She grew up outside of Boston, had been an English major and French minor in college, lived in France and then worked for Time, Inc. But when a friend asked her to build a children’s room in an apartment, Greene warily accepted.
She knew the basis and gravitated to it. The job requests kept coming and before she knew it, she rented a cheap shop on 10th Street by 7th Avenue. A chinese restaurant had its storeroom above her and she built pallets to raise their rice bags off the floor.
Although she was on the outskirts of it, a lot of women were entering the construction business in New York at the time, said Greene.
When rent became too high, Greene used a substitute teaching license and was an art teacher for a decade, taking advantage of a free rein to scavenge for wood scraps for bizarre projects.
Greene met Wade, a writer, editor and then philanthropic advisor, at a Mexican bar called Fonda del Sol at the bottom of the Time Life building. A mutual friend introduced them. It was 1963, shortly after Greene had moved to New York. Wade drove (and still does) a Citroen and Greene had just returned from living in France. The two married in 1966
In the late 1970s, Greene used her construction skills and she and Wade built a house on their ‘Sconset property. They rent that house out now, too.
Scattered throughout the Greenes’ expansive living room, which they try to keep for their private use, are some of her sculptures, such as a series of Roman claw hammer heads that reflect the love of function and tools. Greene likes that the medium is forgiving, because she is not particularly patient.
She fires her work on low heat to produce a final product that is not as rock solid. She prefers her work to have life. ❚