Karioi artist and mentor reveals all in colourful chronicle of life and works

Noted ceramic artist and tutor Susan Flight has turned author in her eighties to pen a colourful chronicle of “my life and other creations”.

First copies of the coffee-table book ‘Taking Flight’ – the text to which took Susan a lot of writing and re-writing last winter – came by post before Christmas, but the full shipment from China is set to arrive in time for her book launch next month at David Lloyd Gallery in Hamilton.

Despite her central role in the book’s production it still feels “surprising” to have the story of her life and life works in print, Susan told the Chronicle from her home studio – a converted corrugated iron shearing shed in Waimaunga Rd on the slopes of Mt Karioi.

“But if people read it and like it then that will feel pretty nice,” she added humbly.

The 60-page book is liberally illustrated both with photographs and more than 100 colour plates of her artworks.

Susan’s particularly proud of the book’s cover design which shows a piece of her fabric art –  a kite – superimposed on her sweeping view towards two mountains and Aotea Harbour.

“All my work was on kites when I was trying to escape from a marriage,” she laughs.

That was some time ago when Susan worked mainly in textiles and had yet to move on to the sculptural clay-work she specialises in at her Raglan studio, Mountain Dreaming Arts Workshop.

The marriage was one of three she felt the need to escape from, she says, and the kite an obvious metaphor.

There’s always a story behind her art, Susan reveals. In clay for instance her preference is for “narrative” work rather than throwing pots. “I can throw but I don’t (very often).”

The title of her book, ‘Taking Flight’, is a story in itself. After a few marriages and name changes Susan decided 40-odd years ago to be who she wished, taking on her “resourceful” great-grandmother’s name which was Flight.

She says it gave her the determination to continue to live the creative lifestyle, having started out as an art teacher then becoming a printmaker, textile worker and finally a sculptor in clay.

Susan’s received numerous study awards and grants along the way including 16 exhibition awards for sculpture, textiles and printmaking in Australia and New Zealand. She’s tutored in both countries including at the Waikato Society of Arts in Hamilton, summer schools in Raglan and at her own Mountain Dreaming workshop where the surroundings inspire her.

“Summer schools in Raglan had special interest to me as we had saved the Old School Arts Centre from demolition and it was all set to grow,” she says in her book.

It was a dozen or more years ago that Susan chose to finally settle in Raglan, establishing a studio with kilns in the basement of her shearing shed turned home. Like-minded potters – some local, others from further afield – gather there regularly, and every two years work towards an exhibition at the old school in Stewart St.

This year the group’s creating intricate pipes and whistles for a display coming up in a few months. “Not everybody likes pipes (of the smoking variety) but we all like whistles,” Susan says of the unusual subject matter.

At age 82 she shows no signs of  slowing down in her artistic endeavours – many creations now taking up the wall, table and floor space of her simple, open-plan abode with kitchen at one end, bed at the other.

“Only creativity matters, and the ability to be creative,” says this staunch octogenarian. “Life’s pretty good eh,” she adds with a smile.

Edith Symes

‘Taking Flight’ is published by a nephew in Australia who runs Tingleman Print Media Group in Victoria.