Susan Lenz jumps from topic to topic like a Twitter feed — the recent NCAA tournament fortunes of Ohio State University, Key West, Bojangles’ sweet tea, “Raising Arizona” and fashionable appropriations of pantyhose.
But there is always a thread that connects one seemingly dissimilar piece of media to the next, very much like her art.
Lenz, a fiber artist who uses thread in many of her works, is the first Artista Vista Artist of the Year. Artista Vista, the annual springtime gallery crawl, is in its 22nd year.
On a recent visit to Lenz’s fabric strewn space at Vista Studios, Lenz talked about The Pantyhose Dress, an entry in the recent Runaway Runway. The dress was modeled by Christine Heiszer, whose face was obscured by pantyhose and a Mardi Gras mask. Heiszer was really Lenz in disguise wearing a dress with a bodice of woven pantyhose and a skirt fashioned from knotted knee-high stockings. Leggings and tights were part of a 15-foot boa.
The pantyhose over her head made her think of Nicolas Cage in a scene from “Raising Arizona” when his character, H.I., attempted to carjack a man. The man simply said, “Son, you got a panty on your head.”
Lenz, who will show five three-dimensional assemblages at Vista Studios/Gallery80808, as well as stained glass fiber work at Ellen Taylor Interiors during Artista Vista, is already thinking ahead to Vista Lights in the fall, the next time her studio will be open for an arts crawl.
She’s interested in natural dyeing techniques, and tea stains fabric well. Art is a constant experiment for Lenz.
“What would happen if I took leftover Bojangles’ tea and steeped vintage fabric in it,” she asked rhetorically before jumping to another idea. “And no one that I know is using any part of the magnolia. I don’t know if it will work, but when you think of the magnolia, what could be more iconographic of Southern plant life than a magnolia tree."
How many hours does Lenz spend in the studio?
“Can I change the question a bit?” she asked.
“OK, I don’t know,” she responded. “Now I’m going to change the question a bit. I spend 40 hours a week making art. Whether it’s in this location or at home.”
Home is the so-called Mouse House, the home, gallery and studio where Lenz also does limited custom picture framing.
“Your best ideas always come from the process of working,” Lenz said. “When you’re cutting fabric up and you’re thinking about, ‘What would happen if I, instead of cutting it into circles, cut it into triangles? What would happen if I buried it in the ground?’ Those ideas come to you while you’re working, not while you’re sitting there.”
“I Do, I Don’t,” an installation piece she exhibited at Artista Vista two years ago, was a way for her to celebrate her 30th wedding anniversary. She stitched words and phrases into wedding veils and ribbons. Lenz and her husband, Steve Dingman, have two sons, Alex and Mathias. The latter is a soloist for the Birmingham Royal Ballet in England.
Lenz also invited the public to write their own musings on marriage. Some were hilarious in a I-want-to-rip-their-heart-out way, while others were sad in a, well, rip- your-heart-out kind of way.
“It was my way of celebrating whatever you feel about the institution of marriage,” Lenz said.
“The Wall of Keys,” an ongoing project since 2010, dominates her studio. Nailed to the wall are hundreds of random keys, each with their own handmade tag attached by zigzag stitched yarn. The tags contain words of inspiration or resolution, depending on perspective.
“It’s an ongoing thing,” Lenz said of the keys, which sell for $15. “People keep giving me keys, and I keep selling them."
The letters on the tags, cut out from various sources, resemble the variety found in, say, ransom notes. Lenz has a box of alphabetically categorized letters.
“Generally speaking, I like vintage letters because the fonts are so cool,” she said. “These are almost all from vintage sheet music.”
Lenz had taken a break from working on a stained glass window to entertain a guest. But there isn’t any glass to stain. To create the imagery, Lenz builds upon black acrylic felt the she gets from Guy Jones, owner of River Runner Outdoor Center. The felt is used as packing material to ship kayaks. She used a flat-faced iron (no holes, no steam) to fuse fabric pieces together with an adhesive. She ironed over a silicon paper so the synthetic fabrics, including polyester, wouldn’t melt.
Before the window is complete, Lenz must stitch it with cotton thread, a sort of signature.
“You’re basically just drawing with a sewing machine,” she said.
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.