Friday, June 7, 2013

Why Handmade: Special Family Edition, An Interview with Susanne Guirakhoo of Enchanted Hue

by Lynn Mohney of Prunella’s Workshop

Our families and our upbringing can have great impact on who we are as artists as well as the future artists we may create and inspire. Every once in a while I plan to interview an artist regarding art in their family, both current and growing up, to shed light on the different places artists come from.

Recently I had the pleasure of cyber interviewing Susanne Guirakhoo of Enchanted Hue, and one of our very own Boston Handmade members. She creates exquisite dyed silks in colors that are truly enchanting. Upon meeting Susanne a few weeks ago, I can tell you she is as elegant in person as her beautifully dyed fabrics. However, she also has a wonderful sense of humor that is thoroughly enjoyable! I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I have.

Would you describe your family to be creative/handmade/artistic?

Definitely! My mother was always baking (I include baking here because her pastries and cakes were true pieces of art), sewing, painting, doing one handicraft or the other. My father also painted. I had a great-aunt who sewed the most adorable stuffed animals. My favorite was a blue floppy dog-kind of thing. It was called ‘Schlappi’ (‘Floppy’ in English). I lost him on a ski lift. Remember the trauma to this day!

Gingerbread Mansion by Susanne Guirakhoo of Enchanted Hue

Was there a particular family member who inspired you to pursue your craft based upon their craft?

Seeing their parents being creative naturally rubs off on the children. My brother and I were encouraged to use our imagination. I remember winning a Lego kitchen in a contest where you had to draw your dream house. This was back in the early 70s, and Legos were still quite simple. My mother shared her Fimo dough with me (she was working on some decorations), and I made elaborate, tiny cakes, breads, vegetables, fruit, plates, cups, and other things out of it and decorated them with seed beads.

My mother was an accomplished seamstress. She never taught me how to sew, but the idea that you can make whatever garment you imagine was always in my head. In my late teens, I was into sewing for a while, but I didn’t pursue it further.

Was there someone outside your family who introduced you to crafting? If so, how?

My sons’ friends’ mother is a jewelry maker. While the boys were on a play date once, she showed me her work space and how to string beads, attach clasps, use crimp beads, etc. I found that fascinating and read a few articles on that topic.

One of my best friends and her husband are very interested in gemstones and their properties, and I learned quite a bit from them. I combined these two interests and started designing gemstone jewelry, at first with gemstone properties in mind.

I am from Vienna, Austria, and painting on silk was very popular there in the 80s. I don’t remember how it first started and who introduced me to it, but I found myself somehow with a frame (which I still use today) and a few pieces of silk and lots of dyes. My technique changed over the years and I learned others, from the traditional, precise outlining to snow dyeing, compost dyeing, Shibori, and natural dyes. That’s what I love about it so much: the great versatility.

Self Portrait Scarf by Susanne Guirakhoo of Enchanted Hue

I stumbled upon Kimberly Baxter Packwood’s website. She is a textile artist specializing in natural dyes. The results she achieved with plant matter and her unique methods were fascinating to me, and I started researching more and experimenting with it. This is the craft that held my concentration the longest. Not that I get bored, but I like things that give serendipitous results and turn out differently, even if going through the exact same process. This is also where Shibori comes in. It is predictable up to a point, but there are still surprises every time I unwrap a piece.

I have the ‘problem’ that I can pick up any craft very easily. I am intrigued by color and shape and the beauty found in nature. I will try anything and be fairly proficient at it in a short time. Pottery, stained glass, knitting, crocheting, stitching, collage, mosaic, oil and water color, baked creations (from gingerbread houses and other 3-dimensional creations to theme and fantasy cakes), furniture restoration and repurposing (I mostly rescue pieces from other people’s trash) – I have tried them all. Drives my husband crazy, because he never knows what he will come home to next, and what piece of ‘trash’ will clutter the garage.

How do you feel your family influence has affected your work? Has it been a jumping stone into something new? Or do you delight in a family tradition?

Like I mentioned, my mother was an accomplished seamstress. And I tried sewing. However, straight lines and exact measuring are not my forte, so I did not pursue that further.

Gingerbread People by Susanne Guirakhoo of Enchanted Hue

She was also a wonderful baker. Her pastries were always perfect and delicate and little pieces of art, too pretty to eat sometimes. This is something I seem to have inherited. E.g. I don’t like chocolate chip or other drop cookies, because they look sloppy. I love making cut-out sugar dough or gingerbread cookies in different shapes, depending on occasion and season. I custom mix the colors for the frosting and use different techniques of applying it. Christmas is one of my favorite seasons, because I get to make elaborate gingerbread mansions and other three dimensional creations.

Both my parents always painted the most beautiful, delicate, intricate Easter eggs. This is a tradition I continue with my boys. It’s a ceremony when we paint our eggs!

And both my parents knew how to transform an ordinary piece into something new and beautiful with a few brush strokes or gluing a piece of paper onto it or sanding it down. Imagination and seeing beyond the primary use of a piece are two of the things that have been handed down to me.

Susanne Guirakhoo's parents, and of course Susanne in the middle!

Do you feel it is our responsibility as artists to pass along our skills and knowledge to future generations? If so, how?

It is important to pass that along. Some artists are hesitant to share their techniques and materials and sources, but I think that is shooting ourselves in the foot. Everybody has a different talent, a different view, and even if we use the same materials and methods, no two pieces are alike. It is important to share and learn from each other.

One of the most valuable lessons we can give our children is open up their minds and give them tools and let them be creative in their own way.

Not everybody is good at writing blog posts or books or tutorials, at shooting instructional videos or leading workshops. All of those are great tools to share knowledge. But sometimes even watching somebody do their craft or talking about it can spark interest and might lead them to pursue that particular craft further.

How do you pass along the love of what you do to other people?

Mostly by talking about it and sharing my passion. Many times I had to explaining to my neighbors why I’m crawling through their yard collecting particular pieces of bark, why I’m sitting on their curb shoveling the last of the snow into a bucket, why there are disgusting smells coming from my kitchen, why I am burying suspicious bundles in my compost pile, or why my fingers are a particular color de jour. They are used to it by now (I think), but it always sparks a conversation.

Susanne Guirakhoo caught foraging!

I give jewelry or scarves or pillow covers as presents to my friends, and I know that they treasure them and that somewhere in Lyon or Gothenburg or Vienna a friend of theirs is asking about them and learn how they have been created.

Do you feel it is more important to pass along your specific skill set? Or a respect for craft/art in general? How can either be achieved?

I think it is more important to pass along a general respect for crafts and art. Everybody will find their own way eventually, but the more you are exposed to different areas, the more likely you are to find your particular passion. And it is always good to try new things.

I feel that I am still not at the point where I am an expert. I probably never will be. There are too many variables. But it gives me pleasure when I see a friend experiment with a simple compost dyeing project, or when my son picks up some fabric and dye and yarn and makes his own fiber art.

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