Monday, November 14, 2016

IN THE WINDOWS: Patricia Bronstein and Susan Huhn-Bowles

Patricia Bronstein, November 2016
Though a coincidence, these collages are being shown at a time where I hope they will give some joy and humor, and provide some relief to those (including me) who need it.
This country has suffered a devastating setback.  What do we tell ourselves about our country?  Many are struggling about what to tell our children? 
I’ve always liked collage because it allows you to say anything by juxtaposing images.  Look closely at these works.  I think they are sweet and funny.  I hope these make you happier because as Bette Davis in All About Eve, “fasten your seat belts, we’re in for a bumpy ride.”  She really says “fasten your seatbelts, we’re in for a bumpy night.” This is a film from1950.  Either quote, the only car model that had seatbelts at that time was a Nash.  Congress did not mandate them until 1959. 

Learn more about Patricia Bronstein

The Spirit House, Altar and Tree of Faith
Susan Huhn-Bowles

The Spirit House, Altar and Tree of Faith is the representation of my hope for unity and peace.

As humans we are all physical and spiritual beings.  Our religions and beliefs guide and sustain us.  However, they can also divide us and distort our social behavior. We can be born into specific belief systems based on our parent's beliefs and cultures.  We also have the right and obligation to ourselves to search our hearts, listen to our soul's voice and find what the most sustaining beliefs for ourselves.

This also means not being judgmental, demeaning or hateful to those of differing faith.

This is my prayer.

Learn more about Susan Huhn-Bowles 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Such a long time

It has been such a long time since my last blog post!  Hints of activity have been blasted out on Facebook:  so easy, so fast!

Tonight, I will slow down for an admittedly drowsy bit of time and try to catch up on the events and activities in the studio.

A magnificent deal came my way on a new embroidery machine.  In fits and starts, including a trip to the shop, I have begun using it. There is a learning curve, but it is not too steep.  It works like any other embroidery machine...except you have to set up the thread-to-needle assignments. It is a bit fussy.
It allows me to sew up to 10 threads with no spool changes. What a wonder! Mostly I have been doing color studies: stitching identical designs with identical thread choices on different color fabrics to see what happens.

I rearranged the studio to make room for the new machine.  In anticipation of the need for more wall space to work large, I finished drywalling the garage.  I have one really long wall out there...over 14 uninterrupted feet.  Now to get it heated...or designate it the spring-fall studio extension.

I applied for the Guggenheim fellowship earlier this fall.  It is unlike any other application.  You practically write a memoir : about 8 pages of narrative about your career and 3 pages about your proposed project and beyond.  No resume.  No artist statement. And you have to provide 3 references. BUT no pictures...until asked.  I was asked!  So I have been combing through jpgs, trying to find the right sequence, the right story.  It is a big-deal-lot-of-work!  I cannot tell you how many hours this has all taken...and it is not done yet.  You can see my progress on picture selection etc. at

The body of work I did with my son, I DWELL IN IMPOSSIBILITY, will be exhibited at the Phipps Art Gallery in Hudson, WI as a solo show, in  October/ November 2019.

The EROS DRAWINGS are on exhibit in Wyoming, Minnesota for this month.

And the Art of Giving Project continues.  More artists books have gone to collections:  Pratt Institute of Art in NY; Brooklyn Museum of Art; and now Long Island University, NY.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Stitched: Themes and Variations

Stitching on Rives BFK.  Digitized in 6D Embroidery software. STabilized with medium weight cutaway stabilizer.  Threads are rayon, polyester or cotton.  There is a thin layer of batting between the stabilizer and the paper.  Hand coloring with watercolor: bold pours; brush swooshes and staining from the back of the stitching with the rayon thread.  The rayon wicked the watercolor to the front, containing it to the stitched area.

This one is my favorite.  Stitched inoff white rayon, stained from the back with watercolor.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Eros and Thanatos wall

I have begun a marathon photoshoot.  Here is not quite 1/2 of a wall of Eros and Thanatos.  It is white conte and hard black pastel and a little magic on Stonehenge paper coated with chalk board paint.
  I ahve also been working on a few new monoprints as well.  These are tiny, maybe 5" x7"

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Holding it Together : testing the concept

For the past year, I have been feverishly applying for grants for this project. None have come through, yet, more are being written, and several are awaiting results. I can't really start the project until the grant period begins...But, I do need to try out some technical ideas.  These are 2 iterations. All together they took several hours of design work and about 11 hours of stitching.  I have 2 or 3 more ideas to try out.  Right now I am thinking that the text will be on suspended plexiglas.

The hoped for project is: Holding it Together: women's lifesaving stories, an installation of digitally programmed, machine embroidery, making freestanding lace, inspired by the history of Irish lace. Clones Irish lace re-emerged during the potato famine as a way to save families from destitution and starvation. Women designed unique motifs loosely based on Venetian bobbin lace that could be made simply with a crochet hook and common thread. Lace motifs were particular to families, identifying the individual and their relations as clearly as insignia or monograms. The individual motifs were collected and assembled by the "Netter," creating wildly popular luxury goods from the contributions of a broader community, a process that we now would call crowd sourcing. 

I posit that all people, and older women in particular, have unique stories, both dramatic and mundane, which create the foundation for their family's survival. The stories might be as simple as "How Thanksgiving dinner was saved" or as profound as a human life rescued or sacrificed.  In this project, I am taking on the role of both the lace maker and the "Netter", collecting women’s stories, creating motifs that express the content of their stories and piecing them together into an exhibition.

My saved the day story is: In the early years of my widowhood, when my son was still small, a playgroup decided to go sledding.  I did not feel I could participate. It was several years before my surgery and my back was too fragile to haul my toddler up the hill, much less ride the icy bumps with him. I returned home discouraged.  That night I received a phone call from my insurance agent, offering to be a "big brother" to my son and how would we like to go sledding!


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Summer work

Summer seems to be a disjointed time. I get hot and sweaty.  I go on vacation.  I get distracted from my goals...again. But, work happens nonetheless.

While on vacation, I drew sticks, which will become an artists book..
I worked on sumi woodblock prints.

I worked on pastel transfer monoprints, an interesting, wild, unpredictable process.
Today, I completed the transformation of some of these prints into art objects: cut them down to 8", dry-mounted to foamcore, coated with epoxy. I am undecided about the transformation. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

This is what I believe

I am on vacation, reading, sleeping, thinking. I have been reading Arthur Danto, WHAT IS ART.  It is philosophy and surprisingly interesting, readable. It has, perhaps, caused me to wax a bit philosophic. I don't think this falls under his rubric of ontology: he wrote about what it means to be art.  This is more a statement about why I believe art is important.

I believe art is a primal, essential expression of the human experience. It is basic and definitional. Without creative expression, our humanity is in doubt. I believe that art is a cultural/community communicator. It can, and does, express both the anxiety and the solidarity of living in community. Sometimes it has a healing effect;sometimes it is a statement of alarm. Visual art communicates, mostly without conversational language, the needs, fears and aspirations of the artist and the community.

What do you think?

Friday, July 1, 2016


Setting timelines and dues dates from internal cues is today's topic.  It is hard enough to pay attention to the external cues: Grant due dates; school assignments; application dates.  Lots of people have a hard time completing things well and on time.

Even harder is setting your own dues dates. SO here are some dates I am setting for myself...which I am already questioning. Feel free to hold me accountable!

7/8/16 send in Chenven grant application I did this yesterday!

7/15/16 Identify 5 university galleries accepting proposals I sent one yesterday!

8/1/16 send a direct fundraising letter for completion of (Her)Suit.  I think I can do this.

(Her)Suit getting photographed

8/1/16 send gallery/museum proposals(as appropriate) or introduction to my work.

Don't know about this one.  Might not be ready, even though summer is the best time to send. I am not finding the right fit.  So, while not giving up on this one, it is back to the drawing board as far as timing goes. More research is needed.

9/1/16 secure temporary space to hang (Her)Suit and document it.
           look on Craigslist
           ask for referrals on social media forums
           line up photographers, videographers

9/30/16 Be ready to run a crowdfunding campaign on Hatchfund or Indegogo to upgrade studio equipment. I think I can do this.

Eros and Thanatos
10/31/16 Complete Eros and Thanatos 
I have to do this.  I was thinking of balling it up and throwing it out, but I got a solo show for it and other parts of the body of work for March 2017.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A can of wiggling worms

As I neared the sure completion of The Art of Giving,  the big give away of the artists books, I found myself anxiously asking, "Now What?" 

Enter, stage left, a can of wiggling worms: What to do with all the newer, bulkier work!!!

That big "Now What?" is why I enrolled in the Creative Capital course and the Praxis course...trying to figure out the next steps for the works on susanhenselprojects!

Sales, of course, would be lovely.  But a lot of my work seems to stubbornly resist commodification. How do you place an installation?  Certainly, after its initial showing or set of showings, the parts can be dispersed. Ophelia and (Her)Suit can be broken apart.  In fact, they were designed to be dispersed piecemeal. But they need to tell their stories a bit more before that happens.

Much dithering still ensues.  However, I have concluded that a new approach to exhibition and a new approach to financing the artwork must be developed.

While considering my response to the results of The Art of Giving and the results of my course work, I am reading a fairly amazing book:  The Art of Asking: How I stopped Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer. I had watched her TED talk a week or so ago and was captivated.

I am contemplating several techniques of fundraising: general ( a support tab on the website), project specific to complete (Her)Suit and a larger scale studio equipment upgrade campaign.

There!  I've said it!

It is so hard to contemplate, much less ask for help!

The message  of the Art of Asking is timely. I am hesitant to ask for donations/help.  The TED talk and the book address this fear.  It is intriguing. It bears thinking about. I am pondering this.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Just a note about Weebly

I have been happily using Weebly for for a long time.  It is mostly intuitive and easy to use. However, it came to my attention ( thanks Sharon Louden) that changes
I made to my website in the last month have not been displaying as designed. I worked long and hard on it yesterday afternoon and evening, saving and publishing over and over before things displayed correctly as designed. It's not like I haven't been doing this since the dawn of website design.Yikes!

So this is to say: double and triple check your web publications on a separate tab EVERYTIME.  Empty your cache and check again.The website preview tab may not be telling the truth.

Meanwhile there is still a lot left to do. Many captions were missing from photos...not all, but many. My forgetfulness to get back to them as well as the Weebly hiccup. So, if you notice something really WEIRDLY ASKEW, please feel free to let me know.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Art of Giving

Generosity and hospitality are core values for me.  Those values animated my gallery work: creating welcoming spaces for viewers; offering generous no fee help for emerging and established artists.

Last year I began to think about generosity in regard to my own art.  Like all artists I not only have a stash of materials, but I also have a stash of older work that needs to find a home. It is a real problem for all artists...famous ones and not so famous ones.

So, I wondered, "What would it look like if I gifted my remaining artists books to public collections?" "How would it feel to give the work away?"  "What are the risks and benefits?"

I started informally, by contacting Minnesota Center for Book Arts, with whom I have had a long relationship. One afternoon, Jeff Rathermel and I went through everything I could find.  (I was not yet organized for the project.)  I kept unearthing things I had completely forgotten about!  It was a surprise and a delight.  When Jeff left with all the boxes, I gulped a bit...but then I felt so much lighter!

It was exciting and fun to give the work away!  It helped to make sure than when I am gone, my hard work will live on.

After that initial afternoon I got a little more organized.  I sent an email to a couple of  of my existing collections about gifting books to their collections. And I waited...

I think I waited only a day for the first excited response from a librarian at University of Colorado at Boulder.  She was in Paris at a book show when she received the email and responded right away!  They wanted one of everything, if that wasn't too much!  Oh my!  I was so pleased to complete their holdings of my work so it could be shared with students.

Then I got even more organized. I named the project The Art of Giving. I did a rigorous inventory and condition check of the remaining books.  I got together the addresses of more public collections who already held my books ( 8-10 places.) With the help of Danielle Moler, my current intern/assistant, I crafted a letter, made a "for collections eyes only" website, burned CDs, printed documentation and sent offers to my existing collections. And I waited...

It felt a little risky and vulnerable to send these packets.

More collections responded...most positively. Of course there were silences and demurs as well.  But, I sent out more books.

Now Danielle and I are sending to collections that have never held my work. The silences are more pronounced, but the occasional "yes" is so rewarding.  As a result, I now have work in  the Getty and the Cleveland Institute of Art.

I have more than doubled the number of collections and the number of books represented in collections.  I went from 10 or 11 public  collections to 23 public collections, so far. I don't remember how many pieces were placed before I began this project, but something like 110 artworks are now in public collections.

So, how do I feel about all of this?  proud, of course.  But it did open up a new wiggling can of worms...

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Career Re-Boot Continues


It has been an overwhelming month!  The Creative Capital class with Sharon Louden was primo.  I am continuing the class with Brainard Carey.  Sharon's class really helped me hone in on my goals. Brainard's class hones in on alternative fundraising.

Doing this intensive study has taken me away from making art (sigh).  I get obsessed and find it hard to turn-off the research and frantic thinking (sigh). But I have come up with a list of goals, general and specific,  short and long term.

Long term Goal

  • find collections to house the newer work

Short term goals

General Goals

  • Build local visibility as an artist
  • find solo show opportunities
  • develop alternative income streams

Specific goals/possibilities for the next year
  1. attend openings
  2. offer salons/potlucks in the studio
  3. consider doing a 1-4 times per year show in the gallery/studio space
  4. serve on the board of a non-profit art organization
  5. send proposals to 5 university galleries
  6. find temporary space to mount (Her)Suit, to exhibit & Document
  7. create/update mailing lists of : curators, galleries, foundations
  8. visit lots of local galleries, both for openings and other times
  9. send postcards again!
  10. design a smallish print-on-demand portfolio book to send to galleries.
  11. do targeted fundraising to complete (Her)Suit
  12. do a crowdsourced fundraiser to upgrade equipment
  13. continue to apply for grants
I color coded the goals for you and me, to show how the specific goals relate to  the general goals.  There is overlap, of course. Visibility is increased by shows/shows are increased by visibility. Income streams are built from fundraising, but also from exhibits in paying venues. etc.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fund Raising, sort of: June 18 Paper Sale!

and the suits are dancing in anticipation.


Saturday, June 18, 10-4
Susan Hensel Gallery
3441 Cedar Ave S

I am lightening the load in the studio.  Unbeknownst to many, I used to be a paper dealer...and a paper hoarder.  I need to make room to store finished work and create $$$ toward the completion of (Her)Suit.  It is going to take $5000 to complete, document and take this installation to its first venue.  So, let the fundraising, however modest, begin!

The papers for sale are mostly from the Black Ink line of papers.  I have a sizeable stack of Canson/Strathmore/unknown.  These papers will all run $1, $2, and $3.

I will have boxes of collage materials. These are organized , marked, cardboard boxes of collage and assemblage materials.  Sold by the box, prices yet to be determined.

I am selling my board shear.
It is in perfect condition.  It is modest size, weighs a ton, will handle 1/2 sheet of Davey board.  $1000.

There will be some display equipment for sale: gridwall, backdrop frames.  You may have to wander out to the garage to see them...we'll see how my energy goes.  Make an offer.

Weird other stuff may join the fray.  So do come by.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Precious tools

We all have tools that we love: paint brushes, hammers, drills, words, computers, needles, thread, cameras...

This is my most precious tool.  My father gave it to me when I was about 15 years old. Everytime I use it, I think of him and imagine him watching me from the "Great Somewhere" of memory, and nodding his head. Perhaps he had hoped it would lead me to an engineering career, like his. But 50 years later, it draws mysterious aquatic creatures on lovely paper.

What is your favorite tool?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Small thoughts, growing larger

As I was reading The Art World Demystified, I kept gasping and thinking "Oh, I could never do that!" That thought ran through my mind almost as soon as I started reading. And then I thought, "Pay attention to when you think that!  That just may be the very thing you need to pay attention to."

And, so, I am paying attention. I am a polite, sometimes self-effacing feminist 1950's chick. While I was trained up to be a well educated professional of some kind, the role models were limited by the times: teacher, nurse, housewife.  Not explorer, breadwinner, CEO or inventor. Even in the late 1970's I remember a female friend who did not make partner in the accounting firm because women were not offered partnerships.

I am almost 66 and while I will still be polite, I am going to start asking for what I need and may even deserve (gulp!  Really?) Actually the asking has begun. I did not get a response, but I asked.  That was the big step.  It took me a couple of days of dithering and writing and re-writing the bold (for me) letter. It felt so good to put it in the mail.  It was a small thing, but it was a step.

SO, what ideas are growing larger?

I am seeking venues for my installations (Her)Suit , the Ophelia Project and Eros and Thanatos.  I actually do this all the time.  But the change is in how I am approaching the research.  It is time to reduce the number of "pay for play" competitions and juried shows on my resume.  Danielle is researching commercial galleries and I am researching college and university galleries and area museums in drivable distances.

I am looking for a temporary space to hang (Her)Suit so I can both show it locally and shoot some good photographs and videos for future proposals.   I have 2 recommendations.  Do you have any ideas?

I am reconsidering how the artworld has worked for years.  I know that the artist/dealer relationship has changed markedly. I know that while artists still garner respect through representation by highly respected galleries,  but alternative ways of exhibiting work are becoming increasingly important. Pop-ups, artist-run spaces, community actions...

I am also looking at how art is funded. Self funding and self representation have worked pretty well for me up until now.  However, the work is becoming more and more complex and more and more expensive to accomplish.  I am looking at grants, patrons, foundations, name it, I'm considering it.

Meanwhile, I need to keep making new work. So, onward, ever onward.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Thinking about a lot these days...

Art-A-Whirl 2016 is finished.  It is a two and a half day extravaganza of art-looking, eating, drinking and art-shopping.  It began 21 years ago as a studio crawl.  It has grown into the largest studio crawl in the nation, I hear. It has become bloated, perhaps.  Every inch of available space outside the rented studios appears to be rented out to artists who do not work in the buildings year round.  As a result it is more like a huge, unjuried art fair.  There is artwork of all stripes and all qualities, from beginner to very advanced.  There are greeting cards, suncatchers, children's artwork and awe inspiring monumental art.  It is truly a mixed bag.

I have exhibited three times now, I think.  Twice in the Northrup King Building and, this year, in the Grainbelt Bottling House Building.  I participate when my work has required renting a larger studio than my home studio.  As a gallery/museum artist, Art a Whirl is not a big sales event for me.   But, it still is valuable.  My goals were to show the new body of work and to collect information. And I was pleased with the results.

So, here is what I am thinking about beyond the last couple of days:

I will be reporting here on how I am going about re-booting my art career.  I have been an exhibiting artist for the better part of 40 years, starting in art fairs with pottery and moving on to artists books and installations in galleries and collections.  190 exhibitions, 30 of the solo!  Most of my artists books have gone into collections.  There are still a few hanging around the studio that will go out to Denver this week to join a wonderful project that takes the books out to underserved communities.

I still work in installations and longterm projects that accumulate momentum and meaning over time. These are harder to place.  I have always been a self-represented artist...whatever that means!  I do show in galleries across the US, but I am my own agent.  It has been up to me to get my work placed.

Currently I am reading the books and watching the Youtube videos by Brainard Carey, garnering ideas for moving forward as an independent artist. Tonight I will be starting an online class with Creative Capital, taught by Sharon Louden, an author I have really enjoyed reading.

I invite you to follow along with me and participate in the brainstorming ahead.  Stay tuned.