Susan Lenz moves her studio to Mouse House on Park Street
Below is the article published in Carolina Arts' March issue. To see the entire on-line magazine, CLICK HERE. The article is nicely spread over pages 18 - 20.
Within eighteen months of declaring, “I want to be an artist when I grow up,” Susan Lenz got a studio at Gallery 80808/Vista Studio, a cooperative studio setting with rental gallery space at 808 Lady Street in Columbia’s downtown Vista neighborhood. That was in 2002. Susan was forty-three years old at the time. Her rental arrangement was tenuous. The other, more established artists accepted her rental application on a trial basis only. This seemed reasonable. Susan really didn’t have much of a portfolio, no formal studio arts training, no sales record, and had only shown what little she’d ever made a month earlier. What Susan did have, however, was perseverance, a strong drive, and the willingness to work hard.
“Almost everything I’ve ever made … at least until recently … was done in my studio,” said Lenz. “I remember the first few months. It was scary. I stared at the four white walls wondering where all the ideas that had kept me up late into the night had gone. I had no idea what I was doing and thought maybe I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. Yet, I kept working”. Annually, the group at Gallery 80808/Vista Studio exhibits together for Artista Vista in the spring and Vista Lights in November. These were big occasions, opportunities for Lenz to share her first ventures into art-making, gauge the public’s reaction, and evaluate how she might improve her process, concepts, and even the way she used her time. “I learned plenty, like how to write an artist’s statement and how to price my work. The other artists, whether they knew it or not, were my teachers.”
Being at Gallery 80808/Vista Studio for the past thirteen-and-a-half years meant Lenz witnessed the changes in the Columbia Vista. “When I was first there, I scavenged for scrap metal and an old shelving unit from a former hardware store, property that later became a parking garage,” Susan remembers. Now the area needs even more parking. There’s almost never an available spot. Hotels sprang up, even next door to Gallery 80808/Vista Studios. Once there weren’t any restaurants options and few storefronts. Now the Vista is a trendy, popular place to eat and shop.
While the changes have been good for the neighborhood, they have affected the solitary atmosphere and quietness that Susan had come to enjoy. “It’s time to move on, to move back to Mouse House.” Susan gave notice as part of her annual New Year’s resolution. She and her husband Steve Dingman started the gradual process of taking supplies, equipment, and over a decade worth of art materials to 2123 Park Street in Columbia’s historic Elmwood Park neighborhood, less than a mile away.
Mouse House, Inc. was established in 1987 and moved to the Park Street location in 1994. At the time, the business was a full-time custom picture framing shop that once employed fourteen people. “We framed all the time, all day and into the night, seven days a week, fifty weeks a year. It was exhausting and led to my fantasy for art,” said Susan. During the summer of 2001, Susan and Steve decided to downsize their business in order for Susan to pursue a career in art. Getting the studio at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios was part of this transition. Now, the transition has come full circle. Mouse House was ready to become Susan’s full-time place for fiber art and installation work. The studio move was completed in February. Now, the entire first floor is devoted to her work, which is also represented at the Grovewood Galley in Asheville, Iago Gallery in Blowing Rock, Lagerquist Gallery in Atlanta and elsewhere. Mouse House, Inc. will retain its normal hours, weekdays from 9:30 – 5:00 and most Saturdays from 10 – 2. Susan is looking forward to inviting the interested public into her new studio. More about Susan and her fiber art can be found on her website, www.susanlenz.com