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Finding a balance in life and art

Oct 27, 2016 08:58AM ● Published by J. Chambless

Sue Eyet: 'I'm fascinated with the little objects of life.' (Photo by Kenneth Jones)

Gallery: Artist Sue Eyet [6 Images] Click any image to expand.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

“I'm fascinated with the little objects of life,” Sue Eyet said, sitting at her home studio space, surrounded by drawer after drawer of tiny pieces of the past. “I'm a hunter-gatherer when it comes to tiny things. I love the quality of the old fragments, before the world went plastic.”

From an unruly tangle of cast-offs, Eyet brings order and balance, creating mobiles that pivot gently in the breeze – made of meticulously arranged antique eyeglasses, zipper pulls, bobbins, handmade wooden clock gears, paintbrushes, brass stencils, beads and baubles by the dozens. Behind each construction is an artistic sensibility that says these objects belong together, that they are conversing with each other, and with us, across the centuries.

Eyet's family is originally from West Virginia, but she has lived in Cecil County since 1980. She has marked 46 years of marriage to her husband, Jerry, since July of 1970. “I was always creative in school, but there was no opportunity to go to art school,” she said. “I've always had a compulsive passion for art, and it was always working with small objects. I'm totally self-taught.”

Her creativity has taken her through several mediums, starting with a 1975 adult education class in stained glass. Working with small glass pieces and assembling them into artworks eventually led her to make baskets using traditional methods, beginning in the early 1990s.

Eyet worked a day job for years at Aberdeen Proving Ground as an engineering technician, but, “In my heart, I've always been an artist,” she said. She and her husband have raised two daughters, and they have teenage grandchildren.

In 1987, she left her day job to open her first business, Susquehanna Country Crafts, in a building that now houses the Smokehouse Restaurant on Jacob Tome Memorial Highway. Becoming immersed in the local art community, Eyet met artists Bobby Hansson and Maggie Creshkoff, who lived nearby. Hansson was trying to complete his book, “The Fine Art of the Tin Can,” and needed some organizational help and artworks to fill several categories.

“I ended up doing eight or 10 pieces for the book,” Eyet said, pointing out the detailed pieces in her copy of the landmark book. “I started tearing through piles of tin cans and working on things. In an effort to help my friend, my life was changed forever. I became totally fixated on taking something that has lost its value and giving it a facelift and creating something with a new life. It totally turned me in a new direction.”

Working with cast-off objects and repurposing them in art has sustained Eyet through some serious health challenges in recent years. As a result, she has scaled back, and the former church building in Perryville that once held her gallery and studio is now the home of the Reed Learning Center. Eyet has set up a studio in the lower level of her home, where she has a workbench surrounded by neatly organized drawers full of bits and pieces awaiting her touch.

It isn't lost on her that, by trying to find balance in her life, she has turned to creating perfectly balanced mobiles in the past two years. Her combinations of little objects are so well-planned that they seem completely natural. Of course, you think, the paintbrush goes with the tiny glass vials of pigment, as well as the clock gear and perhaps a zipper or two.

“Sometimes it takes a while to think about how to use these things,” she said. Sometimes, a drawer full of objects will sit for a long time while she considers the right place for them. Recently, she has been incorporating antique eyeglasses into the mobiles, and making a series of tabletop pieces whose bases are burnished wooden shuttles from a long-ago hand loom.

By elevating seemingly unrelated antique objects to the level of art, Eyet fell neatly into the recent steampunk art movement. “It was inspiring when it became really popular,” she said. “A lot of the steampunk fans like my work.”

“My mobiles have not been been seen by many people,” she said. But that's about to change.

Eyet will have a show at the Cecil County Arts Council in Elkton beginning on Dec. 2, so her focus is on getting a body of brand-new works together. The theme is kinetic art, so she is busy making mobiles and 'stabiles,' which are her tabletop pieces. She is also creating wall pieces that combine an old book as the base with a brass gas light fixture that holds a mobile near the wall.

“This is the first show of its kind at the Arts Council,” she said. “This show has been on my bucket list. I've been in tons of group exhibits, and I always thought that someday I would have a solo exhibit, but I was too lazy to go after it,” she said with a chuckle.

She has decided to start checking off items on that bucket list, streamlining her life to focus solely on her art. But she also wants to give to others. For the past nine years, she has been the resident artist and art services coordinator at Ashley Addiction, Inc., an alcohol and chemical treatment center in Havre de Grace. “I do jewelry classes there, and I have met thousands of amazing people, and I love them all,” she said. “My goal there is to create an environment that supports their healing, encourages them to develop a healthy pasttime when they leave, and to build self-confidence. In doing that, it's amazing the joy it has brought to my life.”

For four days a week, Eyet works with people recovering from a variety of alcohol and chemical dependencies. “It's good for my soul to watch them heal,” she said. “If I can make a five-minute difference in someone's day, then I'm successful.”

Eyet's family and friends “have been incredibly supportive,” she said, also crediting her involvement in the Trashy Women artist cooperative with supporting her for the past 11 years. The artist group creates whimsical art out of repurposed objects, and has put on successful group shows regionally. “We love each other like sisters,” Eyet said.

People who know her artworks will supply Eyet with raw materials – sometimes the contents of their junk drawers, and sometimes they give her leads on antiques that she can repurpose. She's a frequent Ebay shopper, searching the world for little things that other people might discard. “If it speaks to me, I'm buying it,” she said with a grin.

“Frequently, people can look at my work and say, 'Oh, that triggers a memory.' You just never know what connections people will make with these little things.”

Sue Eyet's exhibition, “Fragments of Life,” opens on Dec. 2 with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Cecil County Arts Council (135 E. Main St., Elkton). It is accompanied by an open exhibition titled “Life in Fragments.” The exhibitions continue through Dec. 30. Call 410-392-5740. or visit www.cecilcountyartscouncil.org.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.


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