A Checkered Past

Susan Whelan
Susan Whelan

Born a mid-century baby with two older siblings, my family resembled that of the sit-com, Father Knows Best. My memories of my Ohio childhood have a lovely kodachrome quality to them. I went off to the University of Cincinnati to study fashion design just in time to be a hippie. My new husband and I came to New York City as co-op students and with the wisdom of 22 year olds, dropped out of a 5 year program with 6 months to go. I worked in the Manhattan’s garment district designing textiles during the disco era. I moved into children’s illustration and stay at home mom as our children kept arriving.

I found my medium in my fortieth year when I took a class at the local pottery studio. I’ve had clay under my fingernails ever since. I love the medium. I find it magical. The alchemy of turning wet, sticky earth into durable, colorful art never falls to delight me. The possibilities in clay are endless and I hope to continue making until the end of my days.

SMW-handsConfronting the issue of how an artist actually makes a living, especially in clay in the age of globalization, has lead me down an interesting path. I first started teaching in my basement studio in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, when pressed by my childrens’ friends to teach them “how to do that”. Soon we outgrew the basement and I opened Hot Mud Studio in an old building down by the Hudson River. The studio kept growing and moved two more times before I sold it in 2004 to move further upriver to Kingston, NY.

Burnt out from administrative duties and a concrete studio floor, I returned to a basement studio once again but needed some steady income to help support my family. I began working for the US Census Bureau. My territory was all of Ulster County. I had the pleasure of discovering all the beauty of this diverse county that stretches from the Catskill Mountains to the Hudson River. I learned much about myself and people during those years that I drove hundreds of miles to knock on strangers’ doors. The most important thing I learned was that the vast majority of people are nice. The job had intermittent hours, code for odd, and I was able to spend stretches of time in my studio, too. A show at the Donskoj Gallery in 2009 was a clay highlight of my years with “the Bureau”, as I liked to call it.

Fed up with the Feds, I quit the job in 2011. Two months later, I started working at Bailey Pottery Equipment & Ceramic Supply. The best part-time job I could ever have. I spend three days a week talking about a subject I love, doing marketing and sales for a company I respect, and the rest of the week? You’ll find me in my studio. Life is good.