Elements of Architecture XXIV, free-motion machine embroidery into big, bulk hand stitches
Artist: Susan Lenz
Business name: Mouse House, Inc.
Location: Columbia, SC
Website & blog: and I have a page on the Vista Studios
Art by Susan Lenz blog
Vista Studios gallery page
Videos by Susan Lenz [Editor's note: this blog is devoted to videos of Susan's altered books and is not to be missed!]
In Box XXXI, detail is polyester velvet on 100% craft felt with free-motion machine embroidery using only 100% cotton, then melted from the reverse side
How do you describe your work, Susan, and why did you choose the name Mouse House?
Fibers and mixed media.
I selected the name Mouse House twenty years ago because my nickname in college was “mouse” and I wanted my business to be located in my house. I thought I was going to have a little “hobby” buying pictures at auction and fixing up the frames for resale at antique shows while starting a family. I did manage to have two sons, but the “hobby” turned into a professional custom picture framing business. My husband (who has a PhD in civil engineering) quit his job to help run the frame shop. Eventually, we had fourteen people on payroll, offered full health and retirement benefits, paid overtime and for annual two-week vacations. Business was still growing at 10% a year when I couldn’t stand it anymore (2001). Stress can really, really KILL a person.
So, without any formal training, we forcibly downsized Mouse House so that I could pursue art. (You really know your husband loves you when he agrees and supports such a plan!) It took two years to find jobs for people and finish other commitments. It was odd to finally admit that I REALLY, REALLY wanted to become an artist. I rented a studio and simply STARTED. I’ve sort of been fumbling around ever since…trying to find my true passion…trying just about everything…entering juried shows…and having a blast learning to express myself INSIDE the frame!
Do you like to work with music or silence?
Every electrical gadget created to play music is pre-programmed to my favorite station….W-OFF. I could go days enjoying the serenity of nothingness!
What is your creative process like?
I’m all over the place on this one. Some pieces evolve over time and with a great amount of thought…though hardly ever laid out according to detailed and measured plans. Generally, however, I’m already working on something else while thinking about the next piece. Many of my best works are the result of acting on a split second, hair-brained idea.
I work in small chunks of time during the week and in ten to twelve hour blocks of time on the weekend. I’ll adapt to the time allotted…as long as I get to work!
One Man’s Trash is Another’s Treasure, a found object work of mainly hand stitching on a “sandwich” of paper and felt with collaged letters and machine embroidery
What kind of training did you have which helped you achieve your current level of artistry?
I have no formal training. I did not take art in high school or college. Instead, I have a BA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies with a concentration on history of art. I spent a year in graduate school thinking that I’d become a museum curator…only to learn that I hated paperwork. Later, I framed pictures…until this was an all consuming and utterly too successful business. I look back and realize that I was trying to get as close to “art” as possible without risky actually doing it. I have had embroidery workshops, however, with international renowned instructors Charlotte Miller, Jan Beaney, Jean Littlejohn, and Valerie Campbell-Harding.
I was never a hobbyist. I was a dreamer who worked seven days a week…sixteen hours a day. I had great fantasies of creating art…ones I didn’t really even admit to myself. When I could no longer handle the stress and pressure of running a business, I finally had to give in to the desires I was suppressing. I became a “professional” when I made the commitment to become that artist I was born to be. It was a life altering decision…a step taken without looking back and with no regrets.
Dreams of Africa, fibers, paint, beads, oil pastels and expanda-paint on a giclee print mounted to canvas
Is there a tool or material that you can’t imagine living without?
There are several…however, the one I joke about more than the others is the need for chiffon scarves…Yes, I mean the kind ladies use to wear over their pink, foam and plastic hair curlers in order to go to the grocery store while waiting for their new updo to set…I actually mail order chiffon scarves from my favorite supplier, the Thread Studio. They have all the colors I need and cannot live without.
What inspires you to create?
Inspiration is everywhere…from the moment I open my eyes until I fall to sleep enjoying inspirational dreams. I am driven to create. Inspiration is the thought process that results in a specific body of work. I have found Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, African artifacts, the mosaics of Ravenna, archeology, and religious icons to provide more than enough inspirational ideas.
What inspires you to keep going when the work gets frustrating or tough?
Life, bills, the idea that I’d have to return to custom picture framing, and the encouragement of my nineteen year old son who is actually world famous (in ballet)…you can google him, Mathias Dingman using the category “Video”. He teases me all the time…no matter how many hits I have on my blog…he’s got nearly 10,000 views on one of his videos and something like 7000 on one of the other…Pathetic..but still very encouraging…follow the dream!
What is your best piece of advice for those who would like to rise in their level of artistry?
There is no good excuse…only work. One works to live and lives to work. Art is Life…get on with it.
A day in the studio. Although I clean up regularly…in order to find the floor and ease walking…I generally work with a wild sense of passion!
What takes up the majority of your time besides your art?
Framing…I hate to admit it, but I still pay the bills by framing for a few select clients. Fortunately, my husband handles the household!
What’s your favorite activity besides art?
Ballet (as a spectator sport)