Susie Frazier Mueller
A Natural: As Artist, Mom and Businesswoman
Susie was born in Inglewood California, near Los Angeles, on August 21, 1970; "That makes me a Leo." She lived there until she was about seven when her family moved to Scottsdale, Arizona and moved again at age ten to Denver, Colorado.
She attended Colorado University at Boulder and graduated in 1993 with a degree in communications. "I was much more interested in inter-personal communications than broadcast communications. Fundamentally the common denominator in all things is communication. It helps us navigate our way through life from our basic behaviors to conflict resolution - everything."
She was a sorority girl, a Delta Gamma. Delta Gamma was a civic social sorority with headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. There were over 200 sorority sisters in their house. Their mission was to help the Anchor Center for the Blind, especially the children.
"Our college mantra was "try not to let education get in the way of the college experience."
"We were all individuating at that stage of life and it was a very good experience." They tried to experience the fun, work, social and scholarly aspects of college life while they "explored and experienced human relationships." There are ten girls from the college that Susie still gets together with.
In her senior year she met a man from Strongsville, Ohio and they started a long distance relationship. They decided to get married. "I came to Cleveland for love." The marriage didn't work out but Susie describes her ex-husband as "a friend whom I still respect."
Once she was divorced she began exploring her desire to have an arts-based business. She started by creating art projects from slate roofing tiles. She "scavenged" through the demolition of old Cleveland buildings. She made picture frames, mirrors, benches, all types of artistic works.
Each one would come with a hang tag that described the piece as "a little piece of Cleveland history" and then elaborated on where the tile came from. After a year her older sister, Nancy, joined her. The company name was Set In Stone.
Susie took her work to national wholesale shows where she was picked up by over 60 galleries and catalogs and it was working out very well for her. Then in the third year of her business things took a turn for the worse. Susie became very sick at the end of each day. Her symptoms included headaches, fever and exhaustion.
A nutritionist took a blood sample and told her there was free radical damage evident in her blood. The two most likely sources would be fast food or a toxic environment. Since Susie didn't eat fast food she had to take a closer look at her work area. She had a great ventilation system in place but it wasn't enough.
The skin, being the body's largest organ was acting as a sponge and absorbing toxic particles. She had a pre-cancerous ailment called Stone Mason's Disease.
She knew she had to get out of the business but she decided not to sell because she didn't want to pass the danger on to someone else. So she had one last studio sale and closed her doors.
Nancy went back to Colorado and Susie took a little time off, making a commitment to herself to get her health back. She actually wound up creating a new art medium - Environmental art. It is still earth sensitive, but it is not toxic.
Susie Frazier Mueller Art work titled “Perseverance.” Made out of driftwood mounted onto wood
She deals with things that grow, especially in the forests. She scavenges in the different seasons and finds beauty in what otherwise make have been considered trash. "My fascination has always been converting something often overlooked or discounted into something beautiful."
She experiments with all that nature has to offer. She works with bamboo, leaves, twigs, pine needles, drift wood, even bark. She likes to incorporate the textural qualities of the element. "Often the underside of something is even more interesting than the outside. This is a metaphor of my relationships with people."
As she looks back now Susie is thrilled with the changes. It was also during this time that she met her husband, Tim Mueller. "It was a great time of re-invention. I was out of the divorce, out of the slate work and out of bad health."
Susie says that "It is a great testament that all things will make sense some day, but you don't necessarily see it, or know it at the time. It feels overwhelming, like everything is working against you, but out of chaos comes order and out of sadness, joy."
Susie Frazier Mueller
(photo by Janet Macoska)
While she was working on all of this "right brain" (art) activity a lot of "left brain" (words) things were going on in her head. So she started to jot them down as they came to her and these phrases became poetry. She has labeled them "Earth Inspirations." She has developed a product line called "Body of Work" with written phrases and inspirations with each.
Susie believes that Mother Nature teaches Human Nature. When she is looking at potential art she has three basic steps to her observations. The first is "What does the item do in its true environment? What is nature telling me?
The second observation is "What are these specific materials doing as I work with them? And finally she looks for a life metaphor from each piece - and is never disappointed.
"It is amazing to be an artist and help people understand themselves through art." Although there are some pieces she finds too special to part with, in most cases she is happy when they go to someone else and let them experience an "A ha!" moment of revelation just as she did while creating it. Her husband Tim wishes that some things could stay longer and has begged her not to sell certain pieces.
Susie's 2002 GuitarMania piece at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "Imagine Harmony With Nature" was made with slate roofing tile that came off of Cleveland buildings and branches from an English oak tree.
Closeup of the body of the guitar
She has a piece in her home from the stone making period, a huge 6 ft. x 4 ft. two panel mosaic that looks like a rug. "Navajo meets Persia." She now sees a lot of flaws in it, but feels the need to keep it. "I love the flaws; they remind me of the beginning."
She would like her house to reflect other people's art work. She especially loves the work of local artist Brenda Stumpf.
Susie prefers to work from inspiration rather than a commissioned piece with boundaries. There is a sense of challenge each time - nothing is ever repeated. "If someone has seen something I did and wants one just like it, I won't do that. I will create similar, but there will always be at least a twist in every piece. If you're looking for a signature piece it is better not to put boundaries on it."
Susie is self taught in illustration and commercial art and has roots in photo realistic drawing. She helped her first husband's family launch a catalog business. To do so she learned computers programs to facilitate her work and was fascinated by them.
She has also created logos and has done other commercial work. "It is a completely different skill set to create a product line than to be an artist."
A large portion of her time is now spent in Art Service, more in a marketing capacity. She is the co-founder of Sparx in the City whose goal is to market downtown Cleveland in an artistic way.
She wants to let people experience the city through art from street performers to paintings to shows.
She asks "Why do people love the great cities in the world? The London's and Paris' and New York's?" She finds it is not just the big attractions, but the city itself including the merchants, the artists, the residents and the downtown workers. "This adds a new fabric to life in Cleveland."
Sparx in the City is focusing on 3 major pieces. The first is Street Beats which goes on from June to September. It is a weekly celebration of performance artists, live, throughout the city in various open, out door spaces.
The second is the Gallery Hop, which is Ohio's largest Art Walk. It strings together about 100 art galleries and studios connecting the Cleveland Museum of Art, The Chalk Festival, The Tremont Art Festival and MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art).
The third major piece to Sparx in the City is their effort to have art act as a publicist for the city itself. They are attempting to get media coverage for creativity on the streets thereby offering opportunities in the art world that did not exist before.
Susie Frazier Mueller at the microphone
promoting Sparx in the City
"Publicizing art will result in economic growth. We are creating quite a buzz in the art world, and that will bring people to Cleveland. Cleveland is happening - and people will come!"
Sparx in the City event - a performance by Verb Ballets
With all of this going on it is amazing that Susie has time for a personal life, but she does, and it is very important to her. She has three children; two daughters Casey (4) and Morgan (2) and son Brady who is less than a year old.
"Our children are everything to us. Parenting is a very humbling job. It makes a person realize how little they really know about absolutely everything." She finds her children to be excellent teachers. They help keep her grounded and not take herself too seriously.
"My children don't care that I have a meeting. They care that I promised to make a snowman with them, so that is what I need to do. It is so important to be completely present with them while I'm reading or playing with them. If my body is there but my mind is somewhere else, they will know it, and suffer for it."
She says she has won the lottery in the husband department "Tim is such an amazing husband and father. Even in this day and age a lot of men are not very helpful. Tim is so connected and so much a part of the family. He is just fantastic."
Tim and Susie Frazier Mueller
Tim is the former Tech Czar for the City of Cleveland and is currently the president of a company based in San Francisco called Phylogy. Phylogy is a very advanced, high-tech telecommunications equipment company.
"I am thrilled to see Tim do so well. I've learned so much from him. He is a serial entrepreneur; I've never seen so much creativity in one person in my life. He is my Number 1 mentor. He can take off his husband hat and talk to me as a business person - it's truly amazing."
She says someone with his talent and integrity is a rarity. "You have to hang on and rally around a guy like that. He can turn a rock into a gem and do it with honor."
Somewhere down the road Tim may go into politics, but right now he's happy doing what he's doing. If he does decide to throw his hat into the political ring, Susie will support him. "I will support any decision Tim makes and help him any way I can. Just as he supports me and helps me. We are truly a team."
Susie recently went to Europe on a fellowship granted by the German Marshall Fund (GMF). The GMF is a gift from Germany after the United States re-built the country after WWII. It is one of the programs of the American Marshall Memorial Fellowship (AMMT).
The goal is to bring leaders from different cities around the world and introduce them to Western Europe. Each person is teamed up and engaged with various leaders in an effort to foster democracy. Every year 55 Americans are awarded the opportunity to be part of this project. Her group went in October (there are three visits made throughout the year) and the members were in all lines of work. There were military, non-profit, elected officials, artists and all aspects of the business world.
The Slovak Republic’s first president,
Michal Kovac with Susie Frazier Mueller
They had the opportunity to meet with heads of divisions of NATO, the first president of Slovakia, heads of German parliament and the Olympic Committee chairman. They shared ideas of what works in their perspective cities, and discussed ways of putting those ideas into action in their own cities.
Susie was the only person on the trip representing the creative sector. She found the experience to be very eye-opening. "The trip was 23 days; you can't bring your family. It is amazing how you bond and create lasting relationships in 23 days."
Susie does enjoy travel for pleasure as well. "I've been lucky in that if Tim and I have decided to go somewhere we have the resources to do so." She has been to Europe with Tim as well as countless U.S. cities. She is absolutely fascinated with big cities: "Artists are usually attracted to the urban setting."
Cleveland Magazine cover featuring Susie Frazier Mueller (Jamie Janos photography)
She would love to see Cleveland spawn creativity on its own streets like the origins of the Blue Man Group. She believes that there is a lot of talent in Cleveland, but it is often in fringe communities where it is "safer" and less criticized.
Waiting for makeup for Cleveland Magazine cover (above)
Susie has an issue with art critics. She feels they attempt to train people to think that some things are not worthy. "They tell people 'It's not worth it. Don't go.' When what they should be saying is 'Go and decide for yourself.' This just perpetuates the snobby reputation artists have."
She believes that art in all forms is beautiful and almost by definition is subjective. Sparx painted the fire hydrants in downtown Cleveland and many of the critics deemed it to be a low form of art. Susie disagrees. "Art is not just for the elite. Sparx wants to take art to the streets and give everybody a sample."
Although an artist, Susie is just as analytical and intellectual as she is creative. She says she is blessed with a split personality - one that allows for both sides of her brain to function in unison.
"I don't want to be labeled as an artist, although I am that, but I am more. I also do marketing and communications and budgets - all the things needed to make a business work. We need to erase the lines that say people are either creative or business types. We can embrace the Executive Vision, creatively."
Susie is right when she refers to the stereotype of the creative person having no common sense. It may not be accurate, but the thinking is none-the-less prevalent. If there is anyone who can shatter that stereo type it is Susie Frazier.
She is all of the beautiful, magical things you associate with artists and all of the intelligent, concrete things you associate with a business woman. Throw marriage and motherhood into that mix and you have a wonderful combination of the best of all worlds.
In Susie Frazier's world there are no boundaries and no restrictions. What a wonderful world it is.
Profiled by Debbie Hanson
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