Unusual Paintings: Fiber Art by Susan Levi-Goerlich
Tucked along the side wall of the main exhibition barn at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Susan Levi-Goerlich’s Stitched Impressions booth is an oasis of serenity and calm amidst the jostling noisy crowds. At first glance it isn’t immediately obvious why she is exhibiting here, at an annual festival dedicated to all things fiber. The walls of her booth are covered with what appear to be oil and watercolor paintings. Look more closely, however, and you realize that what you thought was paint is actually painstakingly stitched embroidery, hand painted silk, and detailed needle felting; time honored fiber techniques used in new ways to create both the softly intricate landscapes and the bolder abstract pieces. Susan Levi-Goerlich’s work demonstrates the unique beauty and synergy that results from the combining of disparate disciplines.
Working from Columbia, Maryland Ms. Levi-Goerlich creates her gorgeous landscape work out of hand painted silk and then free motion machine stitched embroidery. Her abstract paintings are done with collage and needle-felting. Her work is an outgrowth of two interests; the art she studied in college and the sewing she has been doing since middle school. She has been creating and selling her unusual paintings since 1986. She has won multiple awards over the years and has been featured in newspapers, magazines and on television shows.
Ms. Levi-Goerlich manages the chaos of the festival with aplomb, finding brochures for one customer while explaining to another that she first paints the background and then stitches the embroidery. She is happy to talk about her work, smiling and sharing stories and small details that make the experience of visiting her work a true joy. At one point she gently declines the offer of another sewing machine made by a visitor to her booth, although she did appear tempted. “I have five sewing machines at home.” she says. “I’m not allowed to have anymore.” Later she comments that most of her work is done with a 39 year old Kenmore sewing machine, the type sold for home use. She does not use computer programming to aid her work, viewing her sewing machine as another artist would view a pencil or paintbrush.
The art she creates with her five sewing machines is fascinating. Her landscapes feature peaceful garden and forest scenes with detailed renderings of flowers and trees. One of her show centerpieces featured a colorful garden planted behind a pond. The attention to detail is staggering, with each element above the water line painstakingly reflected below in soft pale colors. The geometrical shapes and colors of her abstract paintings are rich and bold, reminiscent of the American Southwest. She wisely frames her work and places it behind glass, for at close range the rich texture of her work tempts the observer to touch as well as see. Everything she exhibits at the festival is for sale, ranging in scale from tiny accent pieces that are 4 inch squares to large wall portraits several feet across. Each piece is a treasure of time, effort and attention to detail.
Besides her own inspirations, Ms. Levi-Goerlich offers portraits on commission, creating fiber portraits of the favorite spaces of her customers. She states the most fun she ever had with a commission was a house portrait done for a fellow artist in New Jersey. This man, a metal artist, had a beautiful house that was covered in mosaic. The funniest work she can recall was a portrait of asparagus, done upon request from a customer. She has also done a portrait of someone’s dog. Her website http://www.susanlevi-goerlich.com/ features information on commissioning work, many of her current paintings, and a listing of galleries and upcoming shows where she will be exhibiting. The website also lists the two books she has for sale, Stitched Impressions published in 2009 and Garden Portraits published in 2011. She also shares detailed photographs of several of her paintings on her blog http://colorinbloom.blogspot.com. Ms. Levi-Goerlich also offers classes and workshops in fiber art techniques, passing her unique vision and skill on to new generations of artists.