Jonathan Jones: [00:00:00] Hello, this is Jonathan Jones and Aaron Heim with the Lift the Spirit podcast from DEMDACO. Aaron, how are you doing?
Aaron Heim: Doing well, my friend. How are you?
Jonathan Jones: I'm doing well. I've been looking forward to today's episode because we have a very special guest who's very busy and is graciously giving us some of her afternoon in her wonderful studio in downtown Kansas City. Susan Lordi. Susan's most well known as the Willow Tree® artist, but she does a lot of other things and we're going to get into that. Sue, thank you so much for joining us today.
Susan Lordi: Well, you're welcome. I'm glad to be here.
Jonathan Jones: So Sue, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? Did you have siblings? What? You know, what age did you kind of begin to be drawn to art?
Susan Lordi: Well, I have two sisters and a brother, and we're all fairly close in age, very close in age, and [00:01:00] we're all very close to this day. I guess the first ten years of my life I grew up in Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, and then my family moved to the St. Louis area. My dad got a job transfer there, and so I went to high school. In St. Louis and then went to college at University of Missouri, moved to Kansas City, got a job offer in design. My major was interiors, interior architecture and design. So I got a job in Kansas City designing restaurants.
Jonathan Jones: Are there any restaurants that you can name that you?
Susan Lordi: You know, it's not the original design, but the Grand Falloon, I did the original design for that. But then since then, I think there was a flood, maybe a couple of floods, but I, I don't even know what it looks like now, but the original owner and I first planned out that restaurant. Yeah. So that was one of them.
Aaron Heim: My, my wife's dad and step mom [00:02:00] met at the Grand Falloon. And my wife's step mom was a waitress there.
Susan Lordi: Wow.
Aaron Heim: They've been married for almost 30 years.
Susan Lordi: Oh my gosh. It might have been when it was, when I designed it. When the original design was there.
Jonathan Jones: This is the Lift the Spirit podcast. Right. Sue, your original restaurant design is why Aaron's here today.
Aaron Heim: It's why I have, it's why I have sister in laws. Yes.
Susan Lordi: That's great. Definitely a coincidence.
Jonathan Jones: So when you, when you were young. When, when did you realize that you really enjoyed art, and what did that look like for you as a child, or was that something that came along later?
Susan Lordi: I remember being very young, and it must have been a babysitter or somebody, well, I mean, this is just what stuck in my mind. Right. I think I always loved to, if I go back to my earliest memories, coloring and construction paper, that's about, you know, what we had. But I remember her taking us down to the after-school activities, walking down to the To the elementary school and the kids might have been [00:03:00] a summer camp. They were working on these little popsicle stick houses and the smell of the, the stuff they put on it, the probably not good to smell, but the varnish and I, whenever I smell varnish to this day, it reminds me of that memory. I remember walking in there and seeing all the big kids. They were elementary age, I was probably preschool, making those little houses with the popsicle sticks and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I just wanted popsicle sticks so bad after that. I remember I wanted to make things like them. So, and then in school, I loved coloring, all of my crayons were always broken up because I would press really hard and because I wanted to press really, really dark and mix the colors and I, we had to color in like little. Little birds and things that were already drawn for us, you know, but anyway, I just remember loving Anything to do with art? I remember in second grade if you got the [00:04:00] best score on the reading there was like a reading worksheet She said whoever gets the highest score on this can pick whatever they want to do and everybody's like, oh, watch the blackboards. Oh, you know, get an extra resource, a recess. And so, I work so hard. I got the number one pry, you know, I get to pick what I wanted to do. And I went around that night and I collected sheets from my neighbors, and I came back in with a whole handful of sheets, you know, just like bed. And I said, I want to make puppets. And so, we made puppets. I was in second grade then. Wow. And everybody was, you know, making puppets, but that was like the thing I wanted to do. So, I mean, I guess as far back as I can remember, I liked to make things. Whatever I had on hand, whether it was paper, crayons, bed sheets. I like making things with my hands.
Jonathan Jones: I, I read once that everyone's born an artist, and most people stop at about age seven, because they can't take the criticism when they put their [00:05:00] artwork up, or people go, that's no good, and so they, whatever that, that spark, and most people kind of gets blown out. What was it for you that kept you going?
Susan Lordi: Well, my parents, you know, you go back to your earliest memories, it's your parents, right? The kind of parents that you have, and they really allowed me to be free. And to do, yeah, they, they weren't helicopter, they were the opposite of, I mean, they let me do my thing. And my dad was an engineer who was very creative. My dad was always making something, he wasn't making it. He was thinking about creating. So he was, you know, he's a musician and an engineer by trade engineer, but a creative musician and instrument. Did he play? Clarinet and saxophone. Okay. Yeah. Yep. My two favorite instruments. My mom was a stage actress. Really? So, an educator teacher taught high school Spanish. So she, you know, she had a lot of leading roles on the stage. Oops, [00:06:00] I'm going to get that in a minute. That was my timer for one of my pieces, which is in the oven. Jonathan's laughing at me. Where was I? So I think there's something about, you know, the, the fine arts, whether it's performing acting, a musician, a writer, my dad was also wrote poetry that the next generation, it, you know, there's a good chance your kids will be creative, but maybe in a totally different area, like I was more visual arts, my son's a musician, you know, I just think it's really cool how it translates. Through the family, but it is in the arts, but it could be another, you know, realm of the arts. Just kind of that freedom to be creative. Yeah, and I mean to have it in you somehow, to have that wanting to, to create, whether it's a story or whether it's music or whether it's a piece of art, not visual art. Yeah.
Jonathan Jones: I'm going to pause. Do [00:07:00] you need to get that out of the oven?
Susan Lordi: Actually, it's to turn it off.
Jonathan Jones: It'll be a good, good time for us to pause.
Aaron Heim: I had a hunch when that alarm went off, that would make for a very, very nice little moment there. So, it was good. Well, Jonathan, I love what you said, the, the quote you said about the age, the 7-year-old age. And I'm sure I've thrown this quote out in a past podcast, but there's a, there's a quote that I, I use that attributed to a famous artist. It says, the creative, the creative adult is the child who survived. And to hear you talk about sort of, you know, your influences and, and I like to tell people always ask me, you know, how did, why are you a writer now? I'm someone who didn't let my creativity go as I got older and older. It didn't always mean that I had to conform to what everybody else thought was cool and to be a certain age and that self-consciousness comes in. But I, I, I love all creatives. I think they're the children who survived, you know, with that creativity. But going back to being an early artist, who were some of your early influences starting out [00:08:00] or as you sort of developed and kind of figured out the kind of artist that you were going to be?
Susan Lordi: Well, I thought you brought up a good point about how the criticism and some people may be checking out, not feeling like they're creative enough. I think sometimes just the word artist. scares people off. When I was growing up, I never thought I, we just didn't say that. I mean, I never said, well, I'm an artist, you know, like we didn't grow up like that. I just knew I liked to make things. I, I got a lot of joy for making things and I felt very comfortable with materials. And so for children, that's one thing that I would always stress. I taught preschool for a while, preschool art, but when my kids were little, just to have the materials in front of them and let them do, but not have that stigma of who's a good artist, who isn't a good artist. So, I never really thought of myself as, Oh, I'm an artist. I just knew I loved to make things like my dad or my mom, you know? So [00:09:00] that was, you know, I just wanted to clarify that I thought of myself more as, yeah, just I was happy making little things out of whatever I had. My dad would always instill in us, make things with what you have on hand. Like he could fix anything. He would just come up, he was like an inventor. I mean, he would use what he had on hand. He didn't, he didn't go out and just buy it, you know? And so that makes you be more resourceful, and it does force you to explore materials. What could I do with this? What if I did this? Nobody's ever done that before.
Jonathan Jones: I think situations like that are great because you may or may not be able to afford the thing. Yeah. And, and often when you can't, you're forced to figure it out. But there's just something about Even when you could afford to replace it or pay someone to fix it, there's just something so rewarding about rolling up your sleeves and digging in and figuring it out.
Susan Lordi: Like, I did it! [00:10:00] Yeah. But early in, you know, other than my parents, we, when I lived in Pittsburgh, we had a neighbor across the street, and they were artists. It was a couple and they had kids about our age. And the Marcella's, I remember they had this big old house on the hill, and I would go over there and she had an art studio on the third floor. It was like a real old house. And I remember going up there and you're going to laugh at this. She worked on figures with clay on armatures. And I remember I was in awe, I must've been seven, eight and watching her. And then her husband did painting for commercial reading cards. And he painted all the saints and my, my sister would model for them and, and he would do, you know, like saying Agatha, she held a cat, but then in the card, it was a lamb. You know, he would use just, I just remember him using models and then adapting it to be a set. So that's kind of what I do now, which is kind of [00:11:00] funny. She, she was kind of a huge influence on me as far as like, you mean you can like do this when you're an adult, you can just make things and be happy in a big space like this.
Jonathan Jones: And when you were, you know, when Willow Tree®, you began to work on that, did you, immediately think back to being up in that studio.
Susan Lordi: Well, I mean, I, I care, that was many years ago, but I, I carry her, her memory with me. And I, I always loved her work. I mean, I went back 30 years later to visit her. Really? And yeah, Karen and I went, we, we, I think. We drove to Pittsburgh. I don't know, but we were, yeah, it was back in like 1990 or something like that. We went back and visited them, and it was just great. And to see her beautiful work. And then I gave her, I just had a little book published on my textile work and I wanted to share that with her. And I had a show in Pittsburgh, an art show. And so she was. It was just so neat to visit somebody who all these years I held in such high esteem. That's great. [00:12:00] And just for those listening who, who don't know Karen, Karen is one of Sue's sisters and they work closely together. Yes, very much so. And she's actually the creative writer for Willow Tree®. She and I work on all the sentiments and all the titles, and she is, she and I are very involved with every step of the way. I can tell you how that started too.
Jonathan Jones: Well, we'll get back to that later, yeah. Talk about why art is so important to have in our lives.
Susan Lordi: There's a lot of reasons why it's art. I was just, you know, thinking about like this could also spill over into all the arts or performing arts. I mean, it would, so way to, you know, I've been thinking a lot about the word beauty. I just did my last piece, Radiance, and questioning that whole idea of beauty. And is that enough? Is that enough to see something beautiful, whether it's a A poem that makes you cry when you read it or, or a performance that's so beautiful, [00:13:00] achingly beautiful or, or a visual piece that you walk into and you see in a gallery. I mean, do you need any other explanation? You know, it just, it just carries you away. It either lifts you up, it gets you in touch with what the essence of life is. It's a kind of a renewal in a way. And so, I think it's something that you can't really tell somebody when you need to go see this play or you need to go hear this person sing. It just, they can discover it on their own. If they have that experience, if they have those opportunities, which is why we give, you know, the kids all the opportunities. And then they will inform themselves, Oh wow, this made me feel, you know, really a certain way, or it just got me in touch with my feelings, I really like that. And then those hopefully will be supporters or enthusiasts of the arts someday, when they grow up.
Jonathan Jones: That's great.
Aaron Heim: I put food in that category [00:14:00] too. Chefs. That's an art.
Susan Lordi: Food is an art.
Aaron Heim: It's a big-time art. My wife and I, we enjoy, we enjoy art. We enjoy theater, performance. Man, do we enjoy eating food from chefs who've, like, trained their whole lives to bring these flavors to life. That, to me, is a huge form of art. You know, I'm a big music guy, too. I love listening to music, but there's just something about going and experiencing a meal and being like, you know, you might be there, you could maybe do this twice a year. You go to a meal that's going to take you two and a half, three hours to go through it. And by the end of it, you're like, If I never eat another meal, that's the one I want to have, you know? So, I think the food is, is a big piece of that experience you're talking about. Food is so much, and it's also a social thing too, like cooking together. This is going to be a softball question for you.
Susan Lordi: All right.
Aaron Heim: How has being a mother and a grandmother influenced your art?
Susan Lordi: Okay. Well, a lot of people have, well, I've talked about this a lot, with Willow Tree®, of course. And even [00:15:00] my art in graduate school is very much linked to my heritage and my Awareness the generations and how each generation. speaks through, you know, I was very much in touch through my art with my great grandparents who emigrated here. And so a lot of my textile art, which I did in graduate school, referred to a lot of that, but also at the same time, being a daughter, being a granddaughter, a daughter, and a mother, now a grandmother. And so it's almost like you're living three or four lives, you know, experiencing each stage of your life. But with, but being a mother with Willow Tree®, when I started doing Willow Tree® about 1999, my kids were, you know, young adults and teenagers, it had everything to do with it. Because I've always said, I, I don't think I could have done pieces like, [00:16:00] like this one or like. Like this one, if I, if I hadn't had the experience and describe the pieces you just, oh, this is for always. And it's another holding a toddler up close against her but trying to capture that feeling and being very truthful about it and putting my whole soul into it through my hands. Through the clay, you know,
Jonathan Jones: Because you've been in that pose yourself.
Susan Lordi: Well, sure, and I know what it feels like to, to have a little child leaning against you and feeling like they're loved them forever and ever and ever, no matter what happens and making that promise to your child, you know, when they're first born and then that's why it's called for always about the promise that I made to my children. And so, trying to capture that without words in a piece. And in any of the pieces I do, I have to have lived it. So, a lot of my pieces are relationship pieces, and with children, with being a parent, [00:17:00] here with being a mother of a, I mean a daughter of an aging mother, and in order to capture that feeling, you have to be so true, so honest, and I have to have experienced it. Lived it in order to give it to my, the viewer or the customers. And I, and I had, you can't fake it, you know? Right. And I had the opportunity of getting to know your mother a little bit. Yes, you did. At the gift markets. And she was great. She was, talk about someone that was full of life and spark and spunk. Yeah. She loved to be up there at the signing table, which was great because, you know, after about an hour I would wear out. And like I was, I couldn't smile anymore. And mom was speaking Spanish to the Hispanic store owners and singing songs that people remember. I mean, she was like totally into it. So that took some of the pressure off me.
Jonathan Jones: She was your hype person.
Susan Lordi: She was my hype person because I couldn't make conversation anymore after about the hundredth person.
Jonathan Jones: So she was, she was great. I know you've talked about this [00:18:00] before and in the first couple episodes of this podcast. We talked a lot about DEMDACO's history and Willow Tree® came up. So we've talked about that and, you know, we've talked about that your first two lines with DEMDACO didn't do well and, you know, then Willow Tree® came along.
Susan Lordi: Well, I, I can't even remember what my first two lines were. One was like little painted boxes or something. I think a part of it was too. I'd never done product design before. And so, Dave said, go to, go to Dallas and see what everything, what everybody's doing. And so that's what I did. And that's what I made. I'm like, oh, this is selling or that's selling. This was before Willow Tree®? Oh yeah. Okay. So, I thought, well, this is what I need to do because they're doing that and this is what the market wants. So, I better do that. So that was sort of the mindset, you know, like. Whatever's hot or whatever, you know, I, I need to do what other people are doing so that I can be successful with this line. Mm hmm.
Jonathan Jones: And just for reference [00:19:00] for those listening, the Dave that you referred to is Dave Kiersznowski, our co-owner, who was CEO at this time.
Susan Lordi: So, I, that did not work out and, and I finally just thought I went and got some clay and some doll clay, which I hadn't really. done before, I usually was working more two dimensional and just shut myself up in the room and tried to, I was going through kind of a healing process myself at the time. This was back in 97, 98, 98, 99. I just worked intuitively, and I did Angel of Healing with the play and I was like, Oh, that didn't turn out too bad. It kind of looks like a person, I mean, very crude. And I did three pieces, three angels, I guess. And Dave looked at it and he said, oh, can you do some more? And so, I did and he's like, well, how about a nativity? Can you do a nativity? Anyway, it kind of grew from, right? But I was really putting myself I didn't want to do [00:20:00] anything that was out there and I hadn't seen anything like that I mean, I was aware of the Amish dolls that the mothers would make their daughters out of fabric, right? And they were always they're not allowed to have any ornament. So, they always were faceless little Amish fabric dolls So that was the only thing I knew of But what I wanted to do was create something, because I had seen what the factory does, and I didn't want them to mess up any expression I did and make it weird or something. So, I thought, well, what if I do something, put no expression. Note that factory will not have to paint a mouth or eyes. Cause if you just move the paintbrush, you can get a totally different, and I didn't want them messing up what I did. So, it was more like a control thing. If I just keep the faces, no face that they have to paint, but just communicate with gesture only, only gesture. So as simple, not, no decoration, which in the nineties was something because everything was over the top [00:21:00] decorated. And so that's how, with Angel of Healing, it was just all about how this little figure felt and how she could express that with her hands or her shoulders or the tilt of her head, faceless.
Jonathan Jones: Yeah, I, you know, I've talked, I've talked to people within DEMDACO and people outside the company. Who recounted that January launch in Atlanta and has said they've never experienced anything like it at all.
Susan Lordi: Yeah, Dave, Dave kept calling me and saying, because I didn't want to go. I didn't want to face failure again in my face. You know, I didn't want to like sit here and nobody come in the booth, and he would keep calling me like every hour. Sue, these are really, I'm not just making it up. I'm like, Dave, you're just being nice because you don't want me to feel bad. And he's like, no, these things are really. Really doing well. So, he, yeah, we laugh about it now because I didn't believe him.
Jonathan Jones: Yeah, that's great.
Aaron Heim: So, as you were starting to, after your first [00:22:00] experience with the clay and the, the, the first angel that you did and the Atlanta show, what, what started to sort of, I guess, form in your heart as hopes for what Willow Tree® could be for people? And then did you ever imagine that Willow Tree® would touch so many lives like it has? And I can tell you, my mother has Willow Tree® in her house, the neighbors have Willow Tree® in their house, you know, our family, you know, my extended family, it has touched a lot of lives. And so, I'm curious, from the beginning, what you were hoping for that this would help people with or what this would, would signify for people. And then to see it, what it has done in your wildest dreams, did you ever think that in the beginning? If you, if you kind of understand what I'm asking.
Susan Lordi: I think from the very beginning, I treated Willow Tree®, the making of Willow Tree®, the making of the [00:23:00] originals, just like any other one-of-a-kind art piece that I have made. And I, you know, when I started Willow Tree®, I was in my mid-forties. So, I had quite a bit of experience making art or as a maker and using a lot of different materials to, to, to create something meaningful. And so it had to be meaningful, and it had to be quality control, it had to be good quality. And I think there's an element of beauty in there. Had to have a beautiful, you know, it had to be visually, you know, something beautiful that somebody would want. And so I feel like as an artist, because my joy comes from the making itself. It doesn't come from how many of these am I going to sell and how much money am I going to make from that. It was not, and I know some other artists in the commercial world, [00:24:00] that's more the goal. But I was coming at it as a one-of-a-kind artist. Remember, I was, I was teaching at a university. I was, you know, doing art shows. It wasn't really, I wasn't really from the commercial art field. I wasn't in, I've learned a lot about business and sales and I, and I love that part of what I'm doing. I love the salespeople and getting to know more about marketing and writing and all that. But when I started out, it was always important to me, and I think it still is today that the piece be interesting and meaningful to people. And I think when you lose that, ironically, you would lose the business because the customer knows. The customer can tell when you're not being truthful. And I think with Willow Tree®, I look at them as very imperfect sculptures. I mean, I look at them now and I'm thinking, God, I wish I could redo that. Oh, wow. That, well, how did I do that arm? Like that looks weird. You know, like I'm very critical of them, but I think maybe in a weird sort of way that might [00:25:00] endear people to the line. My line is very imperfect but isn't that what we see in people we love, the little things they do, the little imperfections, the little things that make each person unique and special. Yeah. That, that's what you see in people and what, what connects you. With people, it may be the way somebody turns and walks away from you or the way, you know, the way they carry themselves or their stance or something they always say. And so maybe in a way the customers will see that imperfection and it will, you know, maybe endear them to the line.
Jonathan Jones: One of the things that I've talked about was, and I joined DEMDACO in 2006, so Willow Tree® was established, but still, you know, we realized that, you know, each piece and the other products that we had would have sentiment on it. And, and obviously that influenced the purchase or the reason why someone gave the gift. But we began to realize that [00:26:00] every situation was so unique, in particular with Willow Tree®, you could have someone give the same piece in a moment of joy or a moment of grief. And the giver and the receiver really assigned the meaning regardless of what we put on the sentiment. Exactly. When people started sending those stories back and you started hearing about the influence of your work, particularly with Willow Tree®, talk about that and what, and really how that affected how you viewed your work and its, and its impact.
Susan Lordi: Mm hmm. I mean, I, I try, you brought up a good point about the sentiment. I think the sentiment does help people sometimes, especially maybe the buyer who needs a little bit of You know, a little bit of help on what piece to buy for what, but hopefully most people, I don't need the sentiment with it. I mean, if I can create the [00:27:00] piece where the sentiment isn't absolutely necessary, because I, one of the things Karen and I've talked about from the very beginning on the writing of Willow Tree® is we don't want to be didactic. We don't want to tell somebody what to think. There are enough things out there that tell us. What to think. And even in the gift stores, you know, all the signs, you know? Right. Be happy. Do this, do that. And so, so I, I wanted to make something that was very open to interpretation and, and, and so your point about you could give it for somebody who was hurting or somebody who is celebrating, I love that because then the viewer is deciding on its meaning. And so that, I guess, was a. a hope of mine from the beginning. The viewer decides the meaning. Keep it open. Don't be didactic. Don't tell the viewer what to think because if you do, they won't have a part in the giving and receiving. And if they have a part, [00:28:00] if they can decide the meaning, it makes it so much more powerful and meaningful. And that's that giving and receiving that it's all about. It's not about the piece, really. I mean, it's all about the, the giving and receiving. I always say it's just a piece of resin, you know, like, but, but it's the interaction of that moment that endears. It's like, oh, you, you get it, you know, and, and that's what, what I hope
Jonathan Jones: Are there any stories that we got from were mailed in or emailed in that I know there's, there's tens of tens of thousands, but are there any that stand out to you?
Susan Lordi: Oh, there's so many. I don't want to cry here. There's some very, very touching ones. I'm glad that Marilyn, sometimes I would get, they would find [00:29:00] my email somehow and I would have to say, Marilyn, can you answer this? I just can't, I can't do it. But then I would end up also answering them. I would read hers first. People who write in about their children, you know, that there's issues with, and I remember one woman, actually it wasn't that long ago. And her daughter was paralyzed from the waist down. It was just an awful story from, I can't remember if it was a car accident or what, but she said, well, why, why don't you have anything with a wheelchair? And she sent me a video that somebody made about her daughter and how she was overcoming this and what she was doing. And it was this beautiful young person, you know, like 18 or 19 and how she was. working on it, you know, with the physical therapy and what she was doing with her life and how she talked on it. I was so blown away by her courage. That I wrote her mom back and I said, or I think it was her aunt that wrote it. [00:30:00] And I said, she is way, a wheelchair would be too grounded for her. She needs a butterfly. She is flying above all of us. And she is going to teach us. It's how to be courageous and be joyful. And anyway, we had this kind of back and forth and she said, oh, I just looked at butterfly. Yes, my daughter is a butterfly. And it was just so neat to talk to a customer one on one about a metaphor for one of my pieces. And she said, oh, I see her in that piece. So, moms are parents who see their child. I mean your child, what could you love more? Who could you love more? You know, to see them in one of my pieces is really, really wonderful.
Jonathan Jones: That's a great story. Yeah. Yeah. And just for reference, Sue mentioned Marilyn. Marilyn Harre worked for DEMDACO for many, many years and sadly passed a while back. And she really, [00:31:00] She took it upon herself at one-point years ago to be the point person to respond to the thousands of emails from people who had a Willow Tree® story. And she did it with such care and grace and courage. And so, she's, she's greatly missed and this, this year we, we dedicated the lobby in our corporate office here in Kansas City, Leawood, Kansas, specifically in Maryland's honor. So, she was a great, great person that is missed.
Susan Lordi: She really is..
Aaron Heim: I'm having a moment here, I got my holiday order for my family, and in my trunk right now I have six Maril® candles, I have the nativity set. And I have the stars and I have the animals for my sister-in-law and for my mom. So, I've got nothing but Marilyn and Sue in my trunk right now. It's just a little strange, a little, yeah,
Jonathan Jones: And, and our, our new fragrance line that Aaron mentioned, we named Maril® in honor of Marilyn.
Aaron Heim: As a, as a creative person myself, I'm [00:32:00] always very curious about other creatives process. And I would love to know as much as you'd like to tell us about your creative process as well.
Susan Lordi: Thank you. I think as creative people, we're always looking and trying to see through, I mean, their influences all around us all the time. So, you're taking that in, and every artist synthesizes. That plus life experiences in their own way. So even though we go to the same art show, we're going to see it totally different. What was your question again?
Aaron Heim: Your, your, your creative process.
Susan Lordi: Yes. Okay. I feel like I am very motivated by materials. I, you know, I would tell you just, yeah, I mean, whatever it is, if you put. I paint, if I go into a gallery and the paint is all out, I'm going to want to paint. I mean, that's just luscious. Ooh, I want to get my hands on that. I mean, clay, it's just whatever [00:33:00] textiles, oh my gosh, metal, you know, like I, the materials are what initially many times charge me up. And that goes for visual references. If you travel and you're seeing stone buildings all the time with gold leaf, I mean, that's Vienna. I mean, I about lost my mind. It was just so beautiful. And that's how I came up with the, the Starry Night Nativity with the gold and the whole, that whole development of this Signature Collection. Well, Signature Collection was all about gold and stone colors. So, so materials is a big motivator for me, or at least to get excited about. I don't know if that helps with the process.
Aaron Heim: Yeah, I think so. Maybe, maybe more specifically, Willow Tree®. I'm curious. We all have notepad by your bedside, right? A pencil. You know, do you go through those experiences where [00:34:00] something comes to mind and you're like, you cannot sketch this out fast enough?
Susan Lordi: Oh, yeah. I mean. Again, I, I like to, with each year that I have to come up with something new, I do like to make a little tweak or a little change or introduce something new because you know, you kind of get bored of the same thing. So, like with the Signature Collection, that was the, the ombre´, the blues and the, I mean, the gold dots, the, the thing with the Courageous Joy was another, you know, another year. Where we could have the resin brown all the way through on the darker skin pieces, and then scratching into that. And then getting the contrast with the white paint, so the white and the brown, and that was totally new. That was really exciting for me to work through that with the factories. Oh gosh. When we worked with metal, the metal edged ornaments. What else? What else? Well, just [00:35:00] every new introduction, I try to come up with, make some tweak or some change because it does make it more exciting, hopefully for the customer or the buyer but also for our team to try, to try something else, to push, push, push, don't keep relying on what we did the year before. Even though it's so valuable, you can't stay there, you can't rest there, you'll, you'll dive off. You, you've got to come up with new ideas to challenge your viewer. I always like to give the customer or end customer, the person that walks into the store, I never want to dumb down to them. I need to present challenges to them because they're, they know they're smart. They figure it out. You know, they know what's true and what isn't true. So with Willow Tree®, I really tried to always challenge the viewer.
Aaron Heim: Whenever I'm asked about what my favorite book might be that I've [00:36:00] written, I always have a hard time answering it because I love all of my babies equally. You know, that kind of thing. This might be a very hard question for you to answer, but what are some of your favorite pieces that, in Willow Tree® specifically, that you've, you've created throughout the years?
Susan Lordi: Okay, so when somebody, when you ask anyone who has Willow Tree®, what is their favorite willow Tree®? It's probably going to be who gave it to them and why it meant so much to them. So, I would say, you know, this one For Always, I'm thinking of my daughter there. I mean, this is one also Peace on Earth. My daughter modeled for that. My son modeled for Zampagnaro so that I keep that out all the time on my desk. That's another one because that's my son, right? This is my daughter, you know, my mom here. Yeah, Loving my mother. What else? I have another little one that after my mom passed. She always kept it on her desk and it was Wisdom. It's one of the first ones I'd done, [00:37:00] but because it was hers and I gave it to her, and she always read to us It's a little girl reading a book and she's real calm. So, I have that right where I see it every day in my bedroom and it's become a favorite now because I think of mom. So, so yeah.
Jonathan Jones: And again, that's probably right in line with people who've been gifted Willow Tree®. It's, it's the human connection.
Susan Lordi: It's the human connection. I probably have a couple in there with Dennis too. I have the, the, the little box, the little box with the kind of couple on the front now and I have, and I have that up in my bedroom. So yeah, it is the people who, that's what endears us to things is the connection, the human connection, I guess.
Jonathan Jones: Yeah, that's great. We named this podcast Lift the Spirit and specifically, it's not about DEMDACO's product per se. We just wanted to look for stories that people could listen to that lift people's spirits. What, in your role as an [00:38:00] artist and in life, how do you see your work in particular, and art in particular the role that it plays in, in lifting people's spirits?
Susan Lordi: In lifting people's spirits. I think, well, we'll just talk about Willow Tree® because my textile art is a whole nother realm of my life and I could spend it, you know, probably, so and people who are listening to this know Willow Tree®. So, lifting people's spirits. I, I hope that some of my pieces, like Courageous Joy and Shine, and there are some, I think, that have a very uplifting pose to them.
Jonathan Jones: What about art in general, though?
Susan Lordi: I don't think art needs to always be, I mean, one of the, okay, before I did Willow Tree®, I remember going to a store looking for something, and I was realizing that everything, everything wanted to lift your spirits, and [00:39:00] everything was joyful and happy. And I thought there's nothing here validating how you feel when you have a loss or when you are just not, I don't know the word for it, but something to validate how you're feeling. Maybe you're grieving. And so, I, I really thought I, I want in my line to have pieces that acknowledge those feelings and that validate those feelings. No, we're not trying to tell you now. I'm to be happy No, we're saying, you know, maybe making a statement about love or acknowledging that grief and, and I certain, you know, keeping something safe within you. And talking about feelings in a different way. So, and, and, I think with all my art, I don't necessarily feel like I need to lift, be, I don't think that's the job of me as an [00:40:00] artist to, to make. I mean, like Beauty, that may totally lift your spirits, but it may also make you cry. You see, and that's okay. That's good. You want people to think. You want to make people think. There you go. If I can shake somebody up. In, in a, you know, not like shake somebody, but you know, like if I can get somebody to respond, you, you know, as a writer, it's the same thing, then that is a very, that's a good thing.
Jonathan Jones: Yeah. No, that's, that's great. That's a great answer.
Aaron Heim: You're, I think you're right. It's, we're being, we're being preached at constantly. We're being messaging thrown at us, telling us how to be and what to do and just to have a moment to be like, you know what, I'm not okay right now. And that, and that has to be okay. It has to be okay that I'm not okay because I'm not going to be okay until I'm okay, but I need time to, I've just said okay six times, but that's okay. Seven times. But you, I, I completely agree with [00:41:00] you. I completely agree with you and that's why I think, you know, everything you've talked about with Willow Tree® about people assigning their own meaning to it is a powerful thing because there's not a lot of, not a lot of things out there that, that allows for that. So, I, can I ask one question? I don't know if you were going to ask or not. Sure. I'm curious. One of the things that we've been talking about. I've been experiencing some clouds, a lot of clouds have come this year, a lot of good things have come this year too. So I'm curious for you, when you have a cloudy day, sorry, when you have a cloudy day for lack of a better way to say it, you have a series of cloudy days, what do you do to maybe help pull yourself out of that or what, how do you, if you don't mind me asking this question, how do you, how do you get yourself to a place where you know the sun's going to come out again? If that makes sense.
Susan Lordi: Well, a couple things, I would [00:42:00] say, I'm going to be real specific, nature, being out in nature, definitely. Like tomorrow I have got to get outside because I've been in the studio sculpting for like a long time this week. So, nature because it, you, you get into the rhythm of nature and that just gets me back into the present. You know, you like slow down and you're there, and you're looking through your binoculars, or you're observing a little insect. Or you know, like everything is, is you're in it through all your senses, you're taking it in through all your senses, so you're awakening a lot of that, and it's very renewing for me. The other thing that I love is to watch a dance, whether it's a video, or I mean any kind of dance, I love it. I love performing arts, and I love dance, seeing other art, being with people I love, reading, I mean probably the same thing you guys do. But yeah, nature's, nature's a [00:43:00] big one. If I can't be with people I love, I'll be, I'll go out with the birds, you know.
Jonathan Jones: Any other final thoughts?
Susan Lordi: Gosh, this was fun.
Aaron Heim: I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Jonathan Jones: Well, Sue, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been great being with you here in your amazing studio.
Susan Lordi: It's been my pleasure.
Jonathan Jones: Well, thank you so much.
Aaron Heim: Thank you for letting us you join.
Susan Lordi: Yeah, it was fun.
Jonathan Jones: And thank you everyone for listening. Again, this is Jonathan Jones and Aaron Heim with the Lift the Spirit Podcast, and we will see you in the next episode.
Jonathan Jones: [00:00:00] Hello, this is Jonathan Jones and Aaron Heim with the Lift the Spirit podcast from DEMDACO. Aaron, how are you doing?