Saint George — Sometimes it is complete happenstance that an artist finds their true metier. For Bowdoin artist Susan Mills, it was her love of llamas that led to her passion for creating the distinctively expressive wet-felted mixed media creations that are featured in her solo Hedgerow Gallery show that opens to the public Thursday, July 30.
“I got my first llama in the mid 1980s and my herd grew over the next few years to seven llamas,” Mills said. “I had all this lovely fiber but could not embrace any of the traditional fiber arts as in spinning, weaving, knitting and so on. However, when I took my first class in wet felting I was hooked! I realized I could make three-dimensional objects out of fiber. It was—and still is—alchemy for me.”
Mills’ compelling mixed-media fiber creations—from masks, medicine bundles, altars and goddess forms to ‘spirit ships’ and ‘magic carpets’—draw on both her longtime involvement with theater productions through a career in commercial photography and decades of personal experience with a practice of shamanic journeys and meditations or “night travels.”
“My art is inspired by nature, by the physical world and the world of the spirit,” Mills explains. “It is my way of recording my inner journey and embodies my search for a new myth, a metaphor that heals the split between our inner and outer worlds, our bodies and souls.” Still, she adds, “it truly does not matter to me if people who see and may like my work understand the shamanic roots and meaning.”
Mills’ show at Hedgerow Gallery will also offer viewers work bridging an intriguing range of scale. “I love to go back and forth with scale,” Mills says. “I have made some altars that have served as human-scale installations and others that fit in your hand. Some of my ‘spirit ships’ are 12-feet long and some are only 12 inches.”
The last of Mills’ llamas, Pele, passed away four years ago. The fibers she now uses in her wet felting (she also uses some needle felting techniques) come from sheep, camel, deer and canines. Walking outside her Bowdoin home and along the Maine coast Mills collects sticks, pods, stones, bones, quills, grasses, shells and other elements that she incorporates into her art. She also employs some metal smithing and gilding for special effects.
Mills’ Hedgerow Gallery show runs from July 30 through Aug. 8. An artist’s garden reception will be held at the gallery Sunday, Aug. 2, from 2 to 4 p.m. COVID-19 protocols will be followed. Please note: Hedgerow Gallery is closed Monday, Aug. 3, and Tuesday, Aug. 4.
Hedgerow Gallery is located at 8 Ridge Road (at the corner of Route 131 and Ridge Road) in the Martinsville section of the St. George peninsula, between Tenants Harbor and Port Clyde. For more information on Mills’ show, go to hedgerowdesign.com; for more information on Mills’ work, go to susanmillsstudio.com.