TdeB: Good evening. Can you introduce yourself to those who don’t know you?
SdeG: I discover with every cut. I’m a direct carver. I shape towards a sculpture that is not so clear at the beginning. I love the feeling of freely moving and pounding towards an emerging figure. My works are about what’s going on for me at the time. Gouges, mallets, stones, and strops: hand carving tools are satisfying. Each piece is alive, although no longer in tree form. Each piece has its own requirements, and I explore slowly: meditation by a thousand cuts. I don’t like to waste wood. I make my pieces fit as close to the edges of the chunk as possible. This underlies my style. I prefer irregular pieces of wood. Some have bark on them; some have edges that look like the board was torn off by hand; some are wedges or half-rounds; some are cast-off shapes from a fine cabinet maker; and of course, some are squared. Other than my father’s basic instruction, I am self-taught. However, over the past eight years, I’ve had the great fortune to learn from Chris Pye (UK) and John Bryan (Maine). John is my source for the European linden. They are each world-class masters, generous with their teaching.
I have been practicing woodcarving since 1974. My father taught me the basics of carving, especially how not to cut myself and a few other techniques, and I have never cut myself in all those years. I practiced painting a long time ago and am trying out photography, but wood carving is what I really love. It is a means of communication for me. When I have a feeling that is too wonderful or too terrible for me to find adequate words, I carve.
TdeB: What type of wood do you use?
SdeG: I’m using European linden, which was brought to Maine by Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect in the 1800s. This is a magnificent wood that many famous European carvers have used for centuries. It is easy to work with and is beautifully grained.
TdeB: Tell me about your creation process. Do you give yourself a deadline to finish your work?
SdeG: I always have something in my heart or in my head that I am deeply focused on, a vague image, then I take my pencil and draw directly on the piece of wood that would go best with my sculpture. I do not do a mockup on paper. Usually, I give myself an informal deadline to finish, but in the end, I ignore that because there are pieces that can take me years to finish.
TdeB: What type of audience do you have? How do you feel about sharing your work with the public?
SdeG: I started showing my art publicly only eight years ago. Before that, I kept it to myself or only shared it with my friends and family members. With my husband’s death, I started to create the “grieving series,” and I was invited to talk about my public art. I even gave a Pecha Kucha presentation. When I share my work in galleries, people are receptive, understand my work and feel connected to my art.
TdeB: where do you get your inspiration from?
SdeG: My inspiration came initially from my father, and since the beginning, from life experiences. Although my husband was not an artist, he is even now an inspiration to my life.
TdeB: Does your art contain a message?
SdeG: I don’t have a specific message. I would like my art to raise questions rather than messages. What I hope is that those who look at my art have their own visual and emotional experiences because it connects them to something deep and meaningful.
TdeB: What type of work environment do you like to be in when carving wood? What’s going on in your mind when you’re carving wood?
SdeG: I am a quiet person; I love to work in complete silence, although music gets me dancing with my chisels. I think about what I will do, what size it will be, what wood I will remove, and the idea I would like to express. Then there comes a stage in which the hands and the wood take over. It is as if I am watching myself working in a meditative state. I always know where I am going, but I do not know what the final piece will look like in advance. Wood has its own existence, so it may want to take another direction. It is a moment of deep conversation between the artist and the wood.
TdeB: What difficulties do you encounter as an artist living in Maine? What can be done to improve the situation for artists?
SdeG: I have no difficulty as an artist, probably because I am not trying to promote and sell my works of art. I just like showing, and if someone buys, so much the better. I live in a city where there are a lot of trees, and my chisels just need to be sharp. It is very difficult for artists to make a living from their work; it is a constant challenge. We need more galleries but also to work to influence our culture to place more value on the arts. For example, in some countries, like France (just because I’ve spent time there), art is essential to the way people see the world.
TdeB: Do you think that your works should not only be looked at but also touched with the hands to have a deep experience?
SdeG: I would like people to touch my works. Visually impaired people should be able to experience my sculptures because they are very smooth and soft. I think of them as big soothing stones.
TdeB: How do you build self-confidence as an artist?
SdeG: Just by continuing to practice regularly, looking all the time for what I like and don’t like. I’m certainly not the best in the world, but I manage to express what I want.
TdeB: At the beginning of our interview, you said you tried photography. Why the choice of photography?
SdeG: I love photographic images. The process is so quick; it’s the opposite of woodcarving. I think it’s good for artists to have more than one art. It shakes up the creativity. I also weave.
TdeB: What will be your next project?
SdeG: I’m finishing a large carving of people. After that, I’ll see what’s on my mind/in my heart. I think I’m living my best life with good friends and art. Nothing more to know!
Image at top: Susan deGrandpre, Love, basswood with cherry base finished with shellac solution, 11.5 x 6 in. (photo: Titi de Baccarat).