Susan Beallor-Snyder interview: Manila rope sculptures
With well over a decade of experience in producing hand fabricated jewellery designs, Susan Beallor-Snyder is a sought-after goldsmith. As her work has continued to evolve, Susan recently shifted her focus to creating natural manila rope sculptures.
Susan is also an accomplished photographer, using the Manhattan skyline as inspiration at an early age. She now splits her days between New York, Atlanta, and Maine, and devotes her time to art, family, film and television production, and holistic living.
In this interview, Susan Beallor-Snyder discusses her career as a classical goldsmith, the support she received from her parents early on, as well as the emotional and spiritual connection to her work.
The action of it
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Susan Beallor-Snyder: I have been interested in textiles my whole life. When I was nine, my grandmother taught me to knit which occupied much of my time. I knit scarves and crocheted rugs for my Trolls. Vera, a designer of linens in the late 1960s inspired me to think about studying textile design. In the ’70s I loved doing macramé and hook rugs and always had enough string or wool wherever I went to play Jacob’s Ladder with my sister and friends. My great aunts worked in the dress business at 1400 Broadway in New York City’s garment center. My mother’s grandfather became a tailor after he escaped from Russia in the late 1800s, so growing up was full of textile experiences.
I have explored various media over the years and when I began to work in manila rope in 2011, I pondered over the thread between my very different bodies of work. Leading up to my rope sculptures, I was creating hand-fabricated, high-karat gold jewellery using the ancient techniques of the classical goldsmiths from the early Roman and Byzantine era. I alloyed pure gold to 22 karat to create the formula most closely used by ancient goldsmiths and drew my own wire. I found great pleasure in drawing wire. It’s a simple task but I loved the action of it and enjoyed using it in my work. I have a website devoted to my jewellery. I began to experiment with knitting and weaving techniques using wire, but when the price of gold went sky-high in 2008 I felt that my creativity was being limited by the cost of my materials and I knew I had to find a different medium to express myself.
I went back to school for professional development and my professor, knowing I was a goldsmith and that I worked with wire, introduced me to the artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, whose work inspired me to use rope to create a project in which we had to use multiples of inexpensive material to create a woven piece. I chose manila rope because it was a plant material and I would be able to express the emotions that I wanted to convey in this piece with its rough natural texture.
After I created my first piece titled “Inner Struggle,” I vowed never to make another one. The rope was rough and the shards stuck into my fingers; it was difficult on me physically as I had to lumber over the piece moving back and forth in order to create the underpinnings to hold it together. At first I saw this as a deterrent and dreaded the thought of repeating it. After a gallery owner saw the work and encouraged me to do more, I began to contemplate making this work and realized the pain I experienced in creating these sculptures was equal to the pain and emotion that I was striving to manifest in the finished pieces. I did create more and have been exhibiting them with great interest from viewers and collectors.
Focus on something three-dimensional
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
I have been an artist as long as I can remember. For me it’s who I am, not what I do. I was fortunate that my parents supported and encouraged my creative nature. I was born and raised in Manhattan and one of my earliest memories of studying art was at the Museum of Modern Art. Although it was a very long time ago, I still recall the various experiences I had there and one of my pen and ink drawings still hangs in my parent’s home.
My mother is a gourmet cook and working in the kitchen with her growing up was a creative outlet for me. I love to work with my hands and all through my life cooking and art have always gone hand in hand. Food is a great source of inspiration for me. The colors, shapes, textures, aromas -all inspire me. Learning to cook and use hand tools to create delicious and beautiful dishes to nourish my loved ones and myself has been a joyful gift and blessing.
Growing up I was surrounded by great museums in a great city and saw great diversity on the streets. The sights and sounds of the city gave me so much inspiration. I saw vast wealth and devastating poverty on the same block.
Having no ability to draw but wanting to create art, I studied Package Design and Photography at the High School of Art and Design. I had been accepted to the Fashion Institute of Technology to study Advertising Design when I was overcome with crippling anxiety and had to withdraw. As my health improved, I spent much of my time taking photographs by day and developing and printing at night. I went on to work in television news documentaries and spent some time in the editing room.
In 1987, I moved to Los Angeles for my husband’s work. Once in Los Angeles, my inspiration to photograph left me and I stopped shooting for many years. I worked in film production until we had children and then focused on food and health to work on my own mysterious condition of chronic fatigue and insure the health of my family. We moved several times over the years and my life was consumed with raising my kids, running a busy household and trying to overcome fatigue.
Once my children were both in school, I decided to go back to creating art and pulled out all my supplies from art school. I set up a studio for myself but it was about that time that we were going to move again; this time back to New York. I was overjoyed and immediately ordered a 92nd Street Y catalogue. As the movers were packing around me I sat and looked through the catalogue for classes I could take. Since drawing was not my strength or desire, I decided I would focus on something three-dimensional. I settled upon a jewellery-making class. I didn’t really care for jewellery at the time but I figured I would learn to solder and make table sculptures. Little did I know that a classical goldsmithing class would capture my heart and set me on a path of creating one-of-a-kind, handcrafted 22k gold jewelry for 14 years.
I sold my work privately and in galleries in the US and internationally. In 2008 the price of gold skyrocketed. I was at a turning point because I also wanted to exhibit my work and no one wanted to exhibit jewellery. I pulled out my old negatives from the ’70s and ’80s and started to exhibit them. I needed to create a current body of work but now, living in Atlanta, didn’t offer the same opportunities to shoot on the streets as New York did so I made the decision to focus entirely on the rope work.
A vessel for the work
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
My current body of work is created with natural manila rope. My technique is what I call free-weaving and I use the rope in different thicknesses and a wire cutter. I work on the floor and create as I go. I don’t sketch studies or create maquettes for the work. I have an idea of size and shape and begin the work. Sometimes I work for days only to realize that something is not working and I pull it apart and start over. Although this doesn’t happen often, it allows me to see what doesn’t work which is sometimes more important than what does.
The work is spontaneous and intuitive. I get lost in my thoughts and the work just flows. When I am stuck in a particular spot, I step back and watch the work and ask where it wants me to go. I feel like a vessel for the work to come through. This work is very emotional and spiritual and it can’t be rushed or forced or it just doesn’t work.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
The textures and shapes and colors in nature inspire me. I am inspired by what is going on in my life and the lives of others. The struggles and the victories are all important inspiration for my work. My favorite artists today are artists whose work I love and whose life stories inspire me to follow my passions. The story of the Impressionists like Monet, Manet, and Renoir fighting against the Paris art establishment helps me to forge ahead and stay true to myself.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
The very first piece I made entitled “Inner Struggle” is one that holds a special place in my heart. It was the first piece I made in this body of work and was also a turning point for me as an artist. This was the first piece that was conceived by having a purpose in mind; to express personal emotions. It was the first piece that was autobiographical in concept.
This piece opened up a whole new world for me creatively and for me this is just the beginning.
Corporate and public settings
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
In the beginning, my work was dependent upon the framework that I constructed to hold the piece together. The pieces were more dense and complex. I am now experimenting with less of a structure underneath the piece. I am evolving to a much more deconstructed method although I continue to create large-scale installations for corporate and public settings.
I am working on a multi-media installation. The exhibition would express emotion as an experience for the viewer as they walk through using the rope as well as sound and video.
What other resources do you use?
Learn more by visiting: www.SusanBeallorSnyder.com
It is not common to hear of a goldsmith transitioning into creating thought-provoking rope sculptures. What does that transition say about Susan and her capacity for creativity? What does it say about the limitations we, as artists, often place upon our own work? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.