The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

February 4, 2010

Susan Lenz & Blues Chapel, women’s work, working women, women who WORK & Eboniramm

I’ve written about my friend, local fiber artist Susan Lenz, before — that’s because in many ways she is one of my she-roes.  The work that Susan does resonates with me on so many different levels — much of it going back to the core of who I am.  Many of you lovely readers may know that, in addition to writing about beer and arts and travel, I am also an adjunct lecturer on women’s and gender studies at the University of South Carolina.  I came to this academic place in my life after spending many years studying sociology, focusing on gender roles and women’s experiences.  When I was in grad school in DC, I read Alice Walker’s book — still one of the most important books in my life — In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens.  In this book, Walker talks about how poor, unschooled, and under-valued women have not always had the luxury of canvases on which to express their creativity, and therefore, they captured canvases wherever they could find them.  In the way they planted their gardens, for example, with the deep green of sweet peppers juxtaposed against shiny red tomatoes — in the arrangements of carefully canned produce on their pantry shelves — in the quilts and hooked rugs they made for their homes.  Thus, in so many ways, the work that women traditionally did became, for many women, an expression of the creativity residing in their souls fighting its way out.  This is yet another reason why no one has the right to say what is art or not.  Art is gut and soul — the quilter and embroiderer feel this no less than the ceramicist or sculptor.

Susan Lenz’s primary medium of choice is embroidery.  She calls herself a contemporary embroiderer — I call her a genius.  Susan has taken this traditionally female art medium from the quiet laps of working women (all women are working women — whether they get paid for it or not; and by the way, most don’t) and placed it on the walls of galleries and art exhibits where it rightly belongs.  But don’t expect samplers and doilies when you see Susan Lenz’s work — expect to be moved, shocked, overwhelmed, elated, and devastated.  It can be intense.

Susan’s upcoming exhibit at Gallery 80808 on Lady Street is called Blues Chapel and Last Words.  In it she has taken the images of 24 blues divas and adorned them with the gilded glory anyone who made the contributions they did, deserve.  People like Ma Rainey, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, and Nina Simone.  Susan has literally coronated these women with golden halos endowing them with dignity, engendering reverence.

I’m lifting the following quote from Susan’s blog —

“Early female blues singers lived in a male dominated society, in a segregated country, and worked in an industry that took advantage of their lack of education and opportunity,” Lenz said. “Physical abuse, drug and alcohol dependence, and poverty plagued most. They struggled, made sacrifices, and sang of their woes. They helped change the world for today’s young, black, female vocalists.”

Last Words, the accompanying exhibit which has been integrated very well into this show, represents the miles and hours Susan spent visiting cemetaries, literally across continents, collecting silken grave rubbings from headstones and monuments then bringing them home and transforming them into 30 art quilts.  The arrangement of the exhibit is such that if Blues Chapel represents the Church, then Last Words serves as the church yard.

The opening of the show is Friday night, February 5th from 6 to 8 pm, with a performance by local blues artist Eboniramm beginning at 7 Pm in conjunction with The Blue Martini, which shares a hall with Vista Studio’s gallery.  Eboniramm will be the lady singing the blues in tribute to the artists we will all be honoring on Friday night.  My friend, the artist Susan Lenz, included.  The reception will end at 8, but the gallery will be open until midnight, and the exhibit will also remain open for viewing as well.  Then at 9, Eboniramm will reprise and expand her tribute at the Blue Martini for a $5 cover charge.

It’s going to be a beautiful night — I hope I get to see you there.

For more info visit Susan’s blog at

December 30, 2009

I get to be Susan Lenz for the night — at the FOM First Thursday opening January 7th

As most of you know, one of the first big arts events of the new year will take place on Thursday night, January 7th at Frame of Mind on Main Street, just across from the Art Museum and in between The White Mule and Gotham Bagel.  Mark Plessinger’s FOM series is presenting Reflections with Columbia’s own world renowned fiber artist Susan Lenz, featuring her Decision Portrait Series, as well as a few of Susan’s smaller pieces for those of you who can’t resist taking home some of Susan’s art and letting it become a part of your lives.  There are big things in store for the Decision Portrait Series, which is to say, it has future engagements scheduled, and the items are therefore not available for purchase at this time.

It seems, in fact, that Susan’s dance card is quite full these days.  Her glorious installation, Blues Chapel, which honors amazing blues divas like Billie Holiday and Ma Rainey and the glorious Bessie Smith, has been showing at The Gough Gallery in Denton, Texas for more than a month now.

Along with one of Susan latest projects, Last Words, an exhibition based on epitaphs and gravestone rubbings the artist has gathered, honored, and embellished throughout her travels, Blues Chapel will open here in Columbia at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios on February 4th and run through the 16th.  (More to come on this in a later post — suffice it to say, however, that Susan’s opening on Friday, February 5th, in combination with the Blue Martini’s tribute to her work on the self same night, which includes Eboniramm’s vocal tribute to the subject matter, has got your first Friday night in February covered.  Really — don’t make plans to do anything else.)

Unfortunately for Columbia though, Susan will be in Texas during the FOM opening night festivities on the 7th, closing down the Blues Chapel’s run in Denton.

But Columbia’s misfortune is my gift because I get to be Susan Lenz for opening night!  No, I will not sign autographs, however I will have on hand a list of FAQs about the artist’s work as well as a cell phone in hand with the artist’s number on speed dial.  (Susan and husband Steve will actually be en route to Texas during the gallery opening — fingers crossed for good cellular reception as they traverse the deep South.)

Some of you have had the pleasure of seeing a few of the pieces in the Decision Portrait series already, as Susan has exhibited some of them in her gallery space as they were completed.  You folks already know how moving the faces and phrases on these pieces are; you know how the xylene transfers on the muslin fabric seem to both personalize and distance the subject and patron; how the sparsity of the words favors the intent of the message.  You are the ones who know not to miss this exhibit.  Those of you who have yet to have the pleasure — take my advice, pay a visit to Frame of Mind during the month of January — better yet, be there on January 7th – opening night, when I get to be the amazing Susan Lenz.

For more on Susan’s work and the Decision Portrait Series visit her website at

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