My name is Susie Ganch, I am associate professor and head of the metals program for the Department of Craft and Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. I received my MFA from the University of Wisconsin Madison in the fall of 1997. In 2005, I moved to Richmond, VA where I took my current position. Prior to that I had a variety of experiences that influenced and shaped my career. I was a resident at Penland School of Crafts and ran my own production line while teaching adjunct at different schools like San Francisco State University and the Academy of Art University. I taught (and continue to teach) workshops at schools like Penland, Haystack, Arrowmont, Ox-Bow, and the Mendocino Art Center. Before taking on a full-time time position in education, I also supplemented my income by working for other artists, creating both production work and one-of-a-kind pieces. Throughout the period prior to my current position, I exhibited my work through juried and invitational exhibitions. For the past five years I’ve been co-directing Radical Jewelry Makeover (recently becoming full director) a traveling community jewelry mining and recycling project with Christina Miller, director of Ethical Metalsmiths, and continue to exhibit my individual studio work both nationally and internationally.
How where you financially able to make things work during your journey to where you are now? (teaching, unrelated jobs, selling of your work, financial support from a partner or family, loans…. please be as general or specific as you are comfortable with)
By juggling many different jobs and opportunities, I was able to make my income. I also made all of this “work” by living a very frugal life and not needing a lot. For instance, my husband and I lived in a studio apartment in San Francisco that was smaller than my studio. Granted I shared that studio with two other artists but still…
During my first winter as a resident at Penland School of Crafts I made $24.99 in sales! My friend and co-resident, Louise Radochonski comforted me by saying, you get used to the uncertainty of not knowing where your income will come from. One month you might get a check from all your galleries, the next month you get nothing. Mostly, I didn’t feel comfortable with that and when I left the residency program chose to do things that guaranteed a paycheck, like working for other artists or teaching. Before working at VCU I planned that 50% of my income would result from teaching adjunct and workshops, commissions, and working for others with the other 50% coming from my own jewelry sales.
Please estimate the break down of the percentage of your time (in a week or month) spent in your studio, at related jobs, unrelated jobs, marketing, working with galleries, craft fairs, time with family and friends, or other relevant categories.
Now, as a fulltime educator, my studio life is really split and varied. As a full time professor there are weeks I can’t go to the studio (especially during the spring semester). That is the hardest part of my job and the one thing that I never anticipated! I had quite a romantic vision of what it meant to teach full-time, believing that it entailed some teaching BUT that I would work in my studio a lot, and exhibit my work…..or at least something like that. In reality, part of my job is teaching, part is research, and the final part is service. Generally, I teach three classes a semester. I am at school at least three days a week but often four or five if I have committee work, office work, grading, recommendation writing, proposal writing, curriculum work, or inventory and budget work. In an ideal week, I will have three days in my studio and one day to spend with my husband (and clean the apartment, laundry, etc.). My studio life is also split now between my work with Radical Jewelry Makeover (RJM) and my independent studio practice. That can mean I spend full days in my studio on the computer, which is also something I never anticipated before I became a professor! Since taking this job I no longer make production style work but focus on projects that fulfill my conceptual concerns. That said I usually have different threads I’m following. I always want to have layers and levels of engagement in my studio. Some projects can take a year to execute and are quite involved while other pieces might take an afternoon and require no planning, drawing, or sketching. I also split my time between jewelry and sculpture because each is able to convey my ideas in different ways and offer different experiences to my audience. All of this is to say my studio life is a bit schizophrenic and can make me crazy. It’s me however, who makes myself crazy, and I have to remember that. In the end I remind myself that having this teaching job affords me the opportunity to have this kind of studio life.
Before taking my VCU job life was also generally split the same way between studio and other work (three days teaching/working, three studio days). The difference was that my studio days were filled with production style work. Every piece was timed and I usually knew what I would be doing on any given day. I had a plan. I did squeeze in time to make more involved pieces that I continued to exhibit, however that really slowed down after the residency at Penland ended.
Photo by Charlie Foley from Scout Design.
Looking back at the opportunities you have had which do you feel have directed or benefited your current path the most? Are there things you would have done differently, opportunities you would not have taken, bigger risks you would have made, etc?
The most influential, life-changing opportunity was my residency at Penland School of Craft. By the time my three-year period ended I saw myself as an artist. I didn’t envision myself getting a job at a coffee shop to earn money while working in my studio on the side. I was first an artist, second an artist, and third, an artist. All of my decisions after that period of time were influenced by how I saw myself. Having that three-year period of time in my studio, gave me conviction that I could make a living as an artist. How couldn’t I? I was an artist, after all.
All of my opportunities shaped me and continue to shape me. I have a problem saying no (still!) but generally, I’m genuinely interested in what is being asked of me. I love learning new things, having new experiences, and challenging myself. If something scares me I should probably do it.
Every teaching opportunity helped prepare me for my position at VCU. Every place I taught was different and presented different challenges and experiences. All the students were different. The equipment was different. What was required of me was different as well. Through all of these experiences, I became flexible and able to walk into any studio and teach (One studio I taught in didn’t have tables and chairs the first day of class and I had to improvise!). Those experiences also made me an opinionated educator. I realized through teaching at different schools and institutions, I was ready to commit myself to one place where I might make a difference and affect change in curriculum and teaching. If I hadn’t done all of the things before coming to VCU I wouldn’t have had the experiences that help shape me and therefore help shape the program I now teach.
Where do you hope your career will be in five years? (Especially in relationship to the breakdown of your time spent in the studio, at related jobs, unrelated jobs, teaching, with family. Are there galleries you hope to be in? Have a solo exhibition? Have studio employees, bookkeeper, etc?)
Of course, I always hope for more studio time. I hope to have a vital studio practice, to be engaged and interested in what I am doing. I hope to love what I am doing. That said, my life is about to change in ways I can’t even imagine. My husband and I are on a waiting list to adopt a child and hopefully in the coming year, I will become a mom! So, my hope is that I have a healthy happy family AND a healthy happy studio life! Maybe you will need to interview me in five years since I can only have hope right now.
Be sure to view more of Susie's work on her website at http://susieganch.com/. First time hearing about Ethical Metalsmiths? Find out more here http://www.ethicalmetalsmiths.org/. And to learn more about Radical Jewelry Makeover follow this link http://www.ethicalmetalsmiths.org/projects/radical-jewelry-makeover/.