Not Just Rainbows and Teddy Bears

On November 10, 2012 by Andrea Magee Steedman

A Profile of Susanna Conaway

Most people have never thought about stained glass as an art form outside of their visit to Notre Dame or maybe when considering Louis Comfort Tiffany.  For those who get to know stained glass better, there is a shockingly hsusanna9igh percentage of patterns for things like teddy bears holding balloons, happy cats and dogs, and oftentimes rainbows with cartoon suns at the end of them.  Stained glass also isn’t an art that encourages creativity, as most people who create stained glass work from an established pattern, only breaking out of the mold long enough to decide which glass to use.

In this very well established paradigm walks Susanna Conaway.  Susanna creates art works that turn the world of stained glass on its head.  Although she creates conventionally beautiful pieces as well, her work always breaks one convention or another, whether it’s technique, form, function or subject matter.  I caught up with Susanna at her workshop in Berkeley to talk to her about how she got started in this traditonal medium, and where her interesting and unconventional artworks stem from.

Susanna explained how she first got started in stained glass: “Wsusanna1hen I was living in Chicago, I was working for Gallery 37, which is basically an afterschool program and is run by the city.  I was assisting teaching ceramics (which is what my degree was in), but after doing that for a year I was at a point where I wanted to learn something different.  So I got to work with the person who was teaching stained glass at Gallery 37 and that was my first taste of stained glass.  I liked how different it was from ceramics: it was this building process, you had to plan and you could see the process all the way through.”

The first pieces she made on her own were what she calls her “Fracture” pieces, which she created while living in Wisconsin at a stained glass workshopsusanna2.  These pieces are basically pieces of glass that she breaks, and then solders along the lines where she broke them.  She describes them as “this active, spontaneous moment, which is then stopped by soldering it.”  These pieces are reminiscent of the randomness of Dada or even Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass, which was not complete, according to him, until it was broken and then repaired.            After moving to New York, Susanna got an amazing commission to do a triptych in a night club that was being built.  The owner wanted goddesses—but they actually wanted erotica.  The resulting piece is reminiscent of figural traditions in stained glass, but only if they were to take the media to a whole new level of beauty and complexity.

Since moving to California from New York, Susanna has been taking commissions and showing in small venues and raising her daughter as well as enjoying Berkeley.  Her more recent projects include stained glass sculpture like a birdhouse-shaped terrarium, and a television that was greatly improvedsusanna7 by a stained glass screen.  She has showed at such diverse venues as Old Crow Tattoo shop in Oakland, Ironworks climbing gym in Berkeley, and most recently at a stained glass shop and gallery in Berkeley.

When asked what she likes about stained glass, Susanna sums up the beauty of glass in a nutshell: “…I like that it has a personality—when the sun comes through it and changes it throughout the days.  It’s more organic: and the cool thing about stained glass is it has so many different steps so you can fit the step in the projects to your mood.”  The allure that first led people to put stained glass windows in cathedrals still inspires artists today, but few have brought the medium into the 21st century as well as Susanna Conaway.

 

If you would like to learn more about Susanna please visit www.because-designs.com

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