Conversations with Nature: Suzanne Theodora White
For some artists, their connection to the natural world is personal, possessive, and revisited on a daily basis. Such is the case of Suzanne Theodora White who owns a farm in Maine, land that has deep roots to her family beginning in the 1800’s. It is a spiritual place, one that she traverses almost obsessively, becoming part of the terrain and honoring what is presented to her–offerings of beauty and death and history. The woods are her studio, the rocks and trees, her family. She is indeed, having a conversation with nature, internally and externally, in a most profound way.
Suzanne Theodora White is a visual artist living on a farm in Maine with her husband, 5 dogs, sheep, ducks, and chickens. Her practice focuses on the fragility of the planet and documents the seasonal and climatic changes to the land, with a particular interest in the connection of place and spirit.
She received her BFA from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston where she studied painting. She is a winner of the Clarissa Bartlett Fellowship, William Paige Fellowship, and Kate Morse Fellowship for Women, from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. In the 90’s she was retained by Absolut Vodka for their famous ad campaign. Her work is informed by her experiences traveling the globe, from surveying bird populations in the Amazon, to an 18-month solo expedition overland around the world. Currently she is pursuing an MFA from Maine Media Workshops and College. Her work is represented in private and public collections in the United States and Europe.
Forty years ago, my husband and I purchased a farm in Maine. While I had daydreamed of living in the country for much of my life, little did I realize the profound spiritual and artistic effect this humble slice of land would have on me over the years.
I have always felt connected to the natural world, but with this farm I found a deep and abiding love. As an artist and in the work of farming, I have explored all corners of the property, learned its rhythms, seasons, its birds, beasts, heartbreak, joy, the soft warmth of the lambing barn at night, and the smell of new life. It has become my muse and my canvas, a keeper of memories, and my hope for the future.
The result of a land survey for the property revealed that the farm had, in the 1850’s, belonged to a distant family member. This was a curious and eerie coincidence and went a long way towards my understanding of a deepening relationship with this land and the sense of fate that I should find myself rooted here. In the words of Carlos Castaneda, I think of the farm as a ‘Power Spot’, and I’ve been drawn here by forces I can only imagine. I have become a part of the history of this land.
My farm has about 3-4 miles of walking trails through fields, woodlands, and around wetlands. Everyday I walk my dogs. Like Heraclitus said ‘No man steps in the same river twice’ as each day introduces me to something different. A few years ago, I started two projects that have since become intertwined. My property is dappled with erratic rocks, large boulders of volcanic origin that migrated here during the last ice age 11,000 years ago. They fascinate me. I was drawn to a particular rock because of its shape and curiously it was integrated into a stone wall. A leviathan among minnows. She has become The Sacred Grandmother – a shrine, refuge, symbol of endurance and longevity. She is a silent witness to generations of farmers, indigenous peoples, and geologic history. She is a witness to what we have lost in the natural world. I speak to her through my photographs and installations, with my gifts and my offerings, and she speaks to me of hope and time future.
The second project which I have called The Unguarded Moment is a visual diary of my walks around the farm, observing and documenting seasonal and climatic changes. I explore that moment in time that is both a failure of vigilance as well as a portal to consciousness. I gather elemental gifts that appear in my path, bones, sticks, moss, rocks, and more – choosing to limit my palette to that what comes from my farm and bring these totems into the studio. The photographed constructions are an antidote to the grief I feel living in a diminishing world, and help me to believe in magic and miracles, time travel, ghosts, hope and reincarnation. I think of them as elegies, memorials, celebrations of life and mortality. As I bring the two projects together emotionally and mindfully, they make up a visual language of this place I call home, and that I hold so dear.
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