Much of my life’s work has been a concerted effort to put down roots. My midwestern family were 1950s “corporate nomads.” My family lived in seven different “homes” before I was 12. In response, both the images and materials of my art are tangible attempts to get below the surface of two specific places I have lived the longest and been educated by:
My home in rural western Massachusetts is a 1790’s farmhouse, built by a blacksmith who fought in the Revolution at age 14 and home to his family for 100 years. In New York I lived in a Neo-Romanesque loft building built by Clinton & Russell Architects in 1897 on Murray Street in lower Manhattan and retrofitted by my ambition about 100 years later. The building stands on the site of much native, Dutch, English and African history.
Teaching and making art over 60 years has taken me from my middle/working class Central European & Baltic families in suburban Chicago to an elite New England women’s college through the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements to a Back-To-The-Land political commune that attempted to provide “Liberation News Service” to underground newspapers in the ‘60s, to a derelict 18th century farmhouse bought from the town for back taxes, graduate school and a fellowship in an art colony at the tip of Cape Cod before settling in an industrial area of lower Manhattan that was not legal for residential occupancy. After working for a custom shirtmaker as an assistant to the founder and president, I settled in as a faculty member at a K-12 private school for young women that valued the arts and taught for 30 years. My personal jihad - raising a family, making art, advocating for historic districts, the Loft Law, organizing against over-development, curating an exhibition that brought together artists and community activism in NYC alternated with summers gardening and getting lost in Western Massachusetts, working in the Leverett town archives, finding fragments of lives buried beneath the surface while repairing the 18th century farmstead. Both urban and rural environments make sense to me; a refugee from the suburbs.
Now back in the Massachusetts farmhouse, my current work is collaborative, working face to face with the subject to develop a unique form of personal history. The practice is built on three decades of collecting discarded fragments from the places I call home (often translated into curricula for my students as well). They were layered, stitched, glued, drawn and painted together to forge a personal bond. By unearthing and transforming, I laid claim to place and history. The search took me into the back story of my New England and New Amsterdam neighborhoods. Not only were the historical perspectives of the places I inhabited revelatory they introduced me to archaic media that have influenced my view of what art can be. Historical documentation in America often found form as ceremonial ceramic plates or decorative motifs on domestic objects such as clocks and mirrors. Transferware (intaglio engraving transferred to ceramic wares) or Eglomise (gold leaf on glass with reverse painting) intrigued me. As a woman working within in the western artistic tradition where decorative arts were a primary focus until the 20th century, I decided to build upon rather than reject that reality.
Recent commissions utilize historic and contemporary images in an attempt to reveal conjunctions and create narratives of time and memory. “Digital Transferware” is the latest manifestation.
Susan Mareneck, North Leverett, Massachusetts, 2021