For 22 years The Professional Quilter has recognized outstanding quilt teachers with our Teacher of the Year award. This year’s recipient is Susan Shie, a self-described outsider artist from Wooster, Ohio. Susan suspends the rules, while encouraging her students to find the joy of self-awareness and self-expression. Much of Susan’s work is personal diary work with themes focusing around the kitchen and family, St. Quilta the Comforter (a character based on her mother), astrology, tarot, peace and the environment, with a whole lot of emphasis on peace and compassion-centered politics. Here is a portion of our interview with Susan about her teaching:
How do you encourage creativity in your students?
I mainly work as an example of being creative, in front of them. I don’t pre-plan my narrative themes any more than they can pre-plan for the class projects. I work as an example of being creative by doing each process as a demo. I also bring lots of examples of my work or if the class is in my home and studio, I show them plenty of examples. The students get to know each other by name and I learn their names as fast as I can so that we can become a very close group in the time we have. We have a lot of show-and-tell, of their work and mine, so we all excite each other with our ideas and solutions to the group-invented theme. I also go around the room and have each student tell me about her work (as long as she’s willing to talk about it), and I give her one-on-one feedback. Most important, I ask them to come get me if they get stuck. When their creativity gets blocked, it’s important to get it flowing again as soon as we can.
How do you encourage students’ further growth in quilting, beyond the formal class?
As I mentioned, I explain that their best bet is to take what they learn from me and add it to the mix of where they already were with their artmaking. Copying a teacher’s style is, of course, acceptable and fine, if all you want to do is to make stuff. But if you want to get a career going in our field, or in any art field, you need to be unique. So copying a teacher’s style is like shooting yourself in the foot, unless you want to be called a clone. No one wants that! So you work the new style and ideas into the big ball of dough, of artness, that you already were cooking up in your studio. Yours is a totally different mixture of influences from any other given student’s mix. So you go along till you realize that you don’t need classes anymore, that what you need is time to work in your studio. So you conceptually graduate from that school of searching, and you become a mature artist. Voila!
What makes you a good teacher?
I treat my students like they’re just like me (because they are). We’ve all got the hunger to create, and to the degree in which you’ve been working toward your career, that’s how much evolved you are. I believe we can all be brilliant artists — but we must feel inspired. So my job is to inspire, by example, so that every one of us can be constantly tapping into our intuitive nature, our souls. I teach in order to free souls to the joy of their self-awareness and expression. I help my students find their way back to their innocent, primal selves, and I give them some tools for being able to find that space on their own, when they’re back home.
What has quilting contributed to the quality of your life and to women and men in general?
The act of quilting, when practiced without worry or judgment, is one of those wonderful processes that cause us to center our energy in our bodies. We relax, we enjoy, we are happy. Therefore we let go of stress, and therefore we heal. Few activities in our lives allow us to be happy. When we find the time to sit down and do these purely creative things, we give our bodies and our souls great gifts toward being whole and healthy, and quilting is legal.
Congratulations to Susan and the other teachers who were nominated for this award, including Pamela Allen, Laura Blanchard, Susan Cleveland, Rosalie Dace, Ellen Anne Eddy, Beth Ferrier, Cathy Franks, Linda Hahn, Carol Lewis, Merry May, Pam Mostek, Sue Nickels, Linda Poole, Jane Sassaman, Anne Smith, Cyndi Souder and Deb Tucker.
To read more of this interview in the Spring issue of The Professional Quilter, you can purchase Issue 103 or can start a subscription here.