When you walk into Sue and Perry Freeman’s Roanoke Island home, you can’t help but notice the art on the walls and a huge living room wall covered in strips of multicolored wood. The art and the wall are creations by Sue Freeman, a local artist who was a recent award winner in the Molly Fearing Memorial Art Show.
Freeman works primarily in wood, though she also is a painter and does encaustic pieces, as well. She cuts, paints or stains, glazes and sands wooden pieces and fits them together like a puzzle to form atmospheric designs or landscapes that are hung on the wall. Some are tight compositions, others are more loosely formed. Each has a meaning for Freeman and a fitting title that generally relates to nature such as “Pea Island,” a design she created, which won her Best in Show in the Molly Fearing exhibit.
Using reclaimed wood is very important to Freeman who enjoys turning trash into treasure. “It’s my passion,” she said. “To keep things out of the landfill. So that’s why all my wood is reclaimed.” Her painting, glazing and sanding process adds new life to wood that, as repurposed wood, already comes with an imbedded soul. She works with multiple painted layers. Her favorite part of the process is sanding once the layers are dry. “That’s when you see the different colors and textures,” she said. Each sanded piece has its own character lending intimacy and originality to the work.
Wood is found through Facebook posts, objects such as an old drying wrack, chair and antique trunk, driftwood and furniture found by the side of the road, and she salvaged a truck load of scraps from a restaurant supply storage building.
Her living room wall is fitted with strips of wood that come from strapping materials and pallets. The entire feature is eight feet by twenty feet. Perry installed the magnificent work of art that features muted pink, green, blue, yellow, turquoise, and red colors. “It was a blank wall,” said Freeman. “I don’t like blank walls.” On color, Freeman experiments with several palettes but tends to prefer neutrals.
In her singular works of art, Freeman creates intuitively. She doesn’t always know where the design is going to head. “I have tried to draw my plan first, but it never ends up that way,” she said. Except for a group she calls her quilt series. These were patterned after specific quilt designs such as broken dishes, star, log cabin and crazy quilt patterns. The size of her finished pieces range from 4” by 4” to 24” by 36”.
Freeman has bins of wood scraps in her garage. She may begin by choosing a piece that calls to her. “I really like that piece (blue), then I start grabbing pieces and may not have to cut at all,” she says of the process. When it comes to cutting, though, some compositions are easy with all the pieces the same length and width. Others start with a specific piece, then additional pieces must be cut to fit around it. She has a sixth sense when it comes to making shapes and fitting them together to form a finished work or art. Her composition skills are stellar and working with wood is satisfying to the artist. “I love using the saw, and I love using the sander,” said Freeman. “To me it’s very therapeutic using the tools.” In the end, it’s as if the works were born to be exactly what they have become, with little hint to what they once were. They exude a sense of timelessness. “I am happy when I finish a piece, but I bet I have 10 pieces started because I like the process,” she said.
Nature is Freeman’s primary inspiration. In an abstract sense, her images recall rainy day gardens, Monet’s waterlilies, a walk in the park, on the pier or in the woods, or a sound side sunset. She takes pictures of images that catch her eye: “growth on a log, browns, pinks, oranges…” “I take pictures while we are fishing, where ever we are, marshland, waves, the old Mann’s Harbor Bridge.” She zeroes in on shadows, reflections in water. sculptural sand, ice on a pier, sunsets and the marsh. The feeling of what she has absorbed in nature comes through her work.
Freeman has creativity in her genes. The Virginia native is the daughter of a quilter, and her daughter Kasey, creates wire-wrapped jewelry. Freeman earned a BFA at James Madison University. She joined the Army as a Junior through the ROTC program at the University and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant at graduation before going on active duty for four years. She went to boot camp at Fort Bragg, then was stationed at Fort Lee, Virginia, and Fort Drum, New York. While in the Army, Freeman was a Platoon Leader and then a Personnel Officer. When she got out of the Army, she continued to work in personnel, human resources, and learning and development. She currently works as a Project Manager.
Last year Freeman reentered the world of art. “I said, ‘Perry’s retired, and he can take care of the house pretty much, the kids are gone, I work full time, what about me? I want to get back into art.”’ Freeman went into the Dare County Arts Council and fell in love with the place. Then she entered the Mollie Fearing Memorial Art Show that the arts council hosts. “And damn if I didn’t win Best in Show,” she said. In October of last year, she was juried into the arts council’s gallery. “So, I started putting pieces in there,” she said. “I can’t really keep up it’s doing so well.” Today she works on her art during lunch breaks and before and after work. “I’m addicted,” said Freeman. Perry frames all her work.
While Freeman has a passion for wood, stained glass may become part of her future. She used her Molly Fearing winnings to buy the contents of a stained glass studio. “So that’s what I’m gonna try next,” she said. You can view Freeman’s wood and encaustic work at the Dare County Arts Council, 300 Queen Elizabeth Ave., Manteo, and Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m-5 p.m. and Saturday, noon-4 p.m.