Suzanne Stark has a mind like an engineer. She excels at figuring out new things that peak her curiosity. Armed with loads of creativity and open to possibilities, she explores various mediums with fabric products her end result.
The Frisco artist, 61, segued from a home economics degree where she learned to sew (among other things) to upholstering furniture, designing fabric and handcrafting products, such as purses, hand and beach towels, pillows, napkins, table runners, kid’s leggings, blankets, bibs and more.
She is a natural at design and follows her instincts when creating patterns for her products. Stark enjoys sketching, coloring, painting and taking photographs as idea starters. She transfers her original work to the computer, where she uses Illustrator and Photoshop to perfect her designs. Guided by a love of color, gardening and walks on the beach, she comes up with patterns that can be as light and airy as floating blue-green feathers or pale purple dogwoods to a saturated sunrise over Frisco Pier.
Her choices of color and shapes easily moves from a crowd of painterly magenta, orange and crimson blossoms to linear black and white seaweeds graced with fish, sea stars and sand dollars.
There are many cool factors when it comes to Stark. She follows her inner voice, which calls for embracing new ideas. She isn’t keen on replicating the same things over and over. And you can find surprises and meaning in her work. Take, for example, a black goat leather purse she crafted. Lift the flap, and you discover a stunning lush green, satin fabric that was designed from a photograph of the sound. Making purses was so labor intensive and costly, Stark now concentrates on less complicated products that free her up to keep producing new fabric designs, her current focus — but that purse stands as a testimony to her unique design sense.
Fabric’s not her whole story. Part of her lengthy resume, which includes being a fitness coordinator and running a health food store, also includes wood working. She graduated from a cabinetmaking school in Fayetteville and currently is creating cabinets for her kitchen. A nod to her creativity is her living room coffee table that features a shelf hidden by a handsome piece of knotty driftwood. The table is topped with sea-green glass tile. The lower shelf has two wave-like lines etched in the wood to, overall, create an unusual piece using everyday materials. Though this beauty is crafted from pine, Stark works mostly in cherry. “I love the smell, and it looks good when finished,” she said.
Stark’s first creation from wood, while working under a carpentry mentor, was an herb drying rack. It wasn’t the first design she wanted to craft, though. Initially, she brought in a picture of a four-drawer dresser and was told she needed to start with something simpler. But in pure Stark style, her second piece was the dresser.
It’s kind of the way she learned how to upholster. Never having done it before, she took apart an upholstered piece of furniture, numbered and named every piece, and she jumped right in. Maybe having a father who was a civil engineer, painter and photographer enables her to figure things out and have that creative edge to make something that’s structurally sound also beautiful.
That creative mind wanders as she speaks in almost a non-stop stream of consciousness style. For a person who doesn’t see herself as interesting, her speech is filled with fascinating segues about life, family — she’s married with two grown children and grandchildren — and creativity. She also makes her own beer and sourdough bread, and grows veggies. “I like to do a lot of different things,” she said.
Design ideas come when Stark’s in a meditative state —those precious moments when just waking up, while showering, and when strolling by the sea. She is getting positive feedback about her ideas-turned-art from the public. “That’s a confidence builder; when people you don’t know buy from you.”
Stark sells her wares at multiple local shows from Hatteras Island to Southern Shores. A favorite is her Frisco Pier design that appears on a pillow or beach towel. The pier was recently taken down, so the design not only covers a functional product but is a keepsake, as well. In fact, she has a line of Outer Banks piers beach towels including one of Jennette’s Pier. “I photographed it with a point-and-shoot and put it on Photoshop to make it like a painting,” she said.
As Stark chats about art and life, she looks back to when she first met her husband of 37 years, Billy. “Our first date we went to a dump in Provincetown,” she said. “We got dining room chairs, and I upholstered the seats on them.”
Stark has come a long way since then. While her wood shop — that takes up half of her studio — is filled with reclaimed wood and machinery, her fabric designs are being generated in the other half of the studio where her computer sits. Designing fabric fits with her love of color, texture and the desire to always create something new. It’s perfect for a one-of-a kind gal.
Mary Ellen Riddle has been writing the Coast’s art column for more than 20 years and brings to her work a BFA in painting from East Carolina University and a profound passion for the role the arts play in society.