By Peter Vankevich
Susse Wright has never liked working within the established confines of set patterns.
Her most recent woven creations depicting animals have evolved from traditional basket-weaving classes she has taken on the island with Judith Saunders, a highly accomplished basket weaving teacher and artist.
Hailing from Denmark, as a young college student, Susse originally studied science at Duke University. There she met her husband-to-be Tom Wright. After returning home she studied at the University of Copenhagen. Two years later, she and Tom got married and she returned to the states and took classes at George Washington University and Bryn Mawr College where Tom taught geology.
She got her degree in biology from Allegheny College where Tom worked taught as an assistant geology professor, and later she obtained a master’s degree from George Washington University.
When Tom took a job in Washington, D.C., with the National Science Foundation, she worked at the Smithsonian Institute where she was encouraged to get a Ph.D.
“Not just any Ph.D.,” she recounted. “They said I should get a ‘gold-plated one’ from an Ivy League university.” So she did, getting her doctorate in geology from Yale.
When she moved full-time to island, her interests moved to furniture making and she later started a business called Sensible Design that creates building plans for new houses and those needing extensive renovations.
“I wanted a large, sturdy basket for carrying fire wood,” Susse said about getting into basket weaving. “The baskets I had were poorly constructed and kept breaking at the handles.”
When she learned about the basket weaving classes that Saunders hosts on the island every February, she enrolled.
“I thought now that I knew how to make baskets, why not have a little fun and make animals using these weaving techniques,” she said.
The first one she designed was a four and a half-foot American Bittern, a member of the heron family that winters on the island.
To start this intricate process, she uses copper flashing for beaks and cuts out internal “skeletons” using plywood.
Then she soaks the reeds before weaving them around the form. When finished, the internal skeleton is hidden and insures stability to the form. The coloration and plumage birds are obtained by dyed flat reeds and strips of bark in their natural colors.
In the case of the mahi-mahi she recently made, the vivid coloration needed was unavailable in reeds. So she painted instead.
She will make these works upon request. Her most recent work is the shorebird, a whimbrel.