Art is the ability to express beauty in symbolic ways. Whether it is a bronze sculpture, an oil painting, or an interesting piece of hand-made paper, the ways to express the beauty around is endless. Everyone is an artist in some way, and everyone is a patron of the arts in some way. Most likely, we began our appreciation of art the very first time we picked out our own clothes from the closet.
“Textiles are a part of everyone’s life,” said Suzanne Weidie of The Mary School of Arts in Ocean Springs. “You make textile choices all the time,” from choosing clothing, your living room drapes or the furniture you sit on, right down to the mat outside your shower door. Many people start their life as textile artists the first time they hem a pair of pants or sew on a button. Suz, as she likes to be called, got her start like many young girls. She learned how to sew at school – in the school building that now houses The Mary C O’Keefe Cultural Center of Arts and Education. Her mother bought Suz her first sewing machine when she was in 7th grade. “I would sew all night,” she recalled. She knew from the beginning that textiles would be her lifelong passion.
When Suz turned 20, she began another form of textile art called “batik”. This is the art of drawing on fabric with wax, then layering and dying the fabric to create often-times surreal yet delicate organic designs. This is an ancient art form that has changed little over time. Batik cloths have been found wrapped around ancient Egyptian mummies, and is depicted in 17th century statues of the goddess of transcendental wisdom on the island of Java. It was the Indonesian artists that introduced batik to the western world. One of the largest collections of ancient batik art can be found in The Netherlands, a popular port of call for international traders. Suz’s batik, called “wax resist” is the technique used by the Javanese, and is considered the most traditional.
With this exciting start to her career as a textile artist, Suz moved to Washington DC to teach her craft at an independent school for the next 17 years. She learned how to make hats with a local milliner, and enjoyed working for Flashbags handbag company in Burlington, Vermont for a period of time.. Rich with American culture, the DC museums provided Suz opportunities to see some extraordinary textile art exhibits. Two that really made an impact on her were the works of Julie Taymor who won two Tony Awards for her costume designs for the world acclaimed Broadway production of The Lion King, and; the Quilts of Gees Bend, named after the solitary island in the Alabama River where a group of freed slaves settled after the Civil War. The island’s women have been making quilts from old clothes and scraps of fabric for six generations now. They are renowned for their intricate design work and brilliant beauty. “Some looks like abstract art,” Suz said, while other quilts are traditional geometric patterns that even Euclid would appreciate.
Suz truly enjoyed her time in the nation’s capitol, but her home is in Ocean Springs. Today, you can find Suz in her textile studio on the second floor of The Mary C. “I draw with stitches,” she said. “And right now I am doing a combination of drawing and stitching, constructing purses,” which some are made using past copies of Go To Places! “They just had the right colors and the picture I wanted,” she said. Suz holds an ongoing class she calls “The Entrepreneurs.” Young teens come to the Textile Studio after school to learn, “the business of art,” Suz said. “We want to cover product development, develop marketing strategies and a mission statement. And I want to teach them the history of textiles.” The program has been ongoing for three years now.
Suz teaches beginning sewing on Tuesday nights and provides “open studio” time during regular hours at The Mary C. “And you can always jump in to a workshop at any time,” she said. Classes include Fabric Printing, Pattern Making, Fashion Drawing, and Fabric Design. You can reach Suz to schedule some time in the studio by calling The Mary C at 228-818-2878.