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Transforming scrap into transfixing art

The Baltimore Sun

Susan Kroiz Krieger set a plastic foam square on a work table in the basement of her Baltimore home, picked up the frame of an old clock and squished it down into the foam.

"I use items like this that I find all over the place to create my art," said the 63-year-old Baltimore native, picking up some beads to add to her creation. "When I find something I can use, I call it a happy accident."

Krieger was creating a relief piece similar to items she is showing in an exhibit that opens today at the Liriodendron Mansion in Bel Air. She is one of four artists who created an exhibit when the scheduled artist -- Carole Jean Bertsch -- had to cancel her show after losing her home in a fire at the end of March.

Krieger and the other three artists, Edward Towles, Robert FX Giroux, and Pat Dennis, were asked to participate in the exhibit by Dana Harris-Trovato. Harris-Trovato is a board member of the Sowebo Arts Gallery in Baltimore, where Bertsch is associated.

"When the other artists heard about what happened, they wanted to help," Harris-Trovato said. "It was such a tragedy. Carole Jean was so excited about doing the show. It was a retrospective that included elements of her work over time. It was to be a tremendous look at her career."

When Harris-Trovato called, Krieger jumped on board.

"I was glad to help out," she said. "Carole Jean is one of the most prolific artists I've ever met. She has such a spirit about her. And I don't know what I would do without my art."

It seems only fitting that Krieger is showing her work in the exhibit, because years ago she lost her art in a fire.

"I know what it feels like to lose all your artwork," she said. "But artists can feel their way back to life through art."

For Krieger, art has been a part of her life as far back as she can remember. When she was in the first grade, her teacher had the class make dioramas to depict Colonial times, she said.

"I was hooked," said Krieger, who studied art at Forest Park High School.

After receiving a scholarship, she attended the Maryland Institute College of Art where she majored in sculpture and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1965 and a Master of Fine Arts in 1974.

For the past 35 years, Krieger, an abstract expressionist, has worked in clay, fiberglass, bronze, cast paper, found objects and digital images, she said.

"My thought is that art is about the 'making process' and that the artwork should speak for itself," said Krieger, who said she is inspired by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and pop artist Andy Warhol. "My artwork is about just making things that I like."

Her interests changed over time as she ventured from sculpture to ceramics. She found it was cheaper to take a class than to operate her own studio, she said.

Eventually she became involved with the Fells Point Gallery. From 1972 to 1976, she worked as director for the gallery, which served as an alumni gallery for MICA. Then, from 1976 to 1989, she worked as the director of the Gallery at the Mechanic, located at the Mechanic Theatre of Baltimore.

When her time as director of the Gallery at the Mechanic ended, Krieger began making paper in a class at MICA where she met Carlene Moscatt.

"Susan has always appreciated the pop culture," said Moscatt, 72, of Baltimore. "And that comes out in her work."

Krieger began working with a computer in 1994 after remarrying and creating a studio in the basement of her home. She started creating print images on handmade paper, she said.

Using subjects such as vegetables (fennel or rotting onions) and bugs she photographed in Mexico for graphics, her latest passion is using found objects -- packing materials, wood, rice, beans, toothpicks, flower petals, broken jewelry pieces, seashells, beads and ribbon to build relief pieces, said Krieger, a self-proclaimed junk artist.

"I combine my digital images to create iconic images using gold leafing techniques and adding beads for embellishment," said Krieger, who sells her pieces for $300 to $700. "I cover things to give them new life."

Sometimes Krieger, who works as a nonprofit administrator, is inspired by the most unlikely things, she said. For example, she spent two years creating a bronze piece that depicts a woman's legs clothed in a girdle and stockings held up with a garter belt.

"My mother's friends were wearing girdles, so I thought it would be fun to depict something from real life," she said.

The offbeat diversity in her artwork is one of the things fellow artists appreciate about her work.

Her work is innovative, said Lois Hennessey, who met Krieger while attending a ceramics class at MICA.

"Susan uses intense, rich color," said Hennessey, 70, of Baltimore. "Some of her work is whimsical. She's a unique artist. She has gone from fiber to bronze to paper-making. And what she does on the computer is richer than anything that I have ever seen."

Paul Moscatt, who taught at MICA for 37 years and is married to Carlene Moscatt, agreed.

"Her computer work is very inventive, kind of like a photo montage," said Moscatt, 75, of Baltimore. "Her art has a play on dimension, fantasy and humor in it. But any time you see her work, it is elegant and something you want to hang onto."

The exhibit is free and open to the public. It will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. today and continues on Sundays through June 24. In addition to the exhibiting artists, Harris-Trovato will display some of her personal Bertsch collection along with a note about the artist and her recent misfortune.

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