Feats of clay


‘Clew Bay Nightfall’

How Covid opened a new creative pathway for artist Suzie Sullivan

Ciara Moynihan

When one door closes another opens. Alexander Graham Bell’s oft-used maxim could not be more true for well-known Sheefry-based artist and crafter Suzie Sullivan.
For many years, Sullivan was associated with her felted work in particular, her charming whimsical creations instantly recognisable. Her work earned an national and international reputation – so good it scooped not just first but also second prize at the 2013 RDS National Crafts Competition Felting Category.
A keen supporter of other creatives, for six years she also co-owned The Quay Gallery, a beautiful cut-stone building with an invitingly bright turquoise door, beyond which lay a wonderfully curated array of Irish fine art and craft. (Many’s the Christmas and birthday present this writer gratefully found within.)   
However, when the first Covid lockdown struck, Sullivan decided to retire, and she and the other owners decided to close the gallery permanently. (The space is now occupied by another successful gallery, The Quayside Gallery, run by Saileen Drumm and Joe McDermott.)
The new-found extra time allowed the passionate artist the room to explore different mediums, and one in particular has set her heart singing: the art of polymer clay.
“This new form of art helped me greatly over the last two ‘Covid’ years,” Sullivan says. “This is a very versatile material and can be used in all types of objects, including jewellery, pictures and sculpture.”
But with the doors of her own gallery and galleries everywhere shuttered due to public-health restrictions, she was forced to think outside the box to find an outlet for her work. The virtual world became a lifeline for her and so many others working in the arts.
“With all the lockdowns over the past couple of years, there hadn’t been much happening in the art world, with galleries and art venues being closed, so I searched the net and found that there are online exhibitions open to international artists working in any media.”
To challenge herself, she entered a few – and her work soon drew attention. Her mastery of the medium was obvious, the creations charmed viewers with their otherworldliness, and the accolades have followed.
“The theme for the latest competition was ‘Botanicals’,” she explains, “which was just up my street, so I submitted work and I was delighted to be awarded 1st prize in the 3D section (with a piece called ‘Flower of the Flock’) and received a special recognition for another piece (‘Gone to Seed’) and seventh in Overall Top 10 Artists. They had 784 entries. All the hard work had paid off!
“Also back in September, I was very privileged to be selected to take part in the ‘Sunset Open Call’ exhibition at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin [Germany’s national center for the presentation and discussion of international contemporary arts].”
This piece, entitled ‘Clew Bay Nightfall’, is composed entirely of polymer clay and focuses on the view of Croagh Patrick from the Quay in Westport. The emerald eye of a black crow glints, a golden prize in its beak, as the sun slips behind the Reek.
Sullivan now finds herself fully immersed in her new passion for polymer clay. “Covid in a way has been a positive experience for me,” she says. “I have joined two international polymer clay associations and have at least two Zoom meetings a week, these are very rewarding meetings where we share ideas and ‘show and tell’ our latest projects. It’s certainly a wonderful way to communicate with like minded people.”
The full, lesser-used Alexander Graham Bell quote is: “When one door closes, another one opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”   
Sullivan’s graceful move from gallery owner and fêted feltmaker to internationally acclaimed polymer-clay artist shows the rewards that can flow from letting go and turning toward fresh paths untrodden. These new paths could be lined with fantastical flowers and lush with new possibilities just waiting to be discovered.

To view more of Sullivan’s work, visit www.derryauncrafts.com or head to 2 Wild Geese, Galway. City.