By David Willard
If you take a trip to downtown Winston Salem, be forewarned, you may be entering another place or time, or even more fantastic, someone else’s mind. Of course, that is the aim of The City of The Arts for its downtown area. Every artist, craftsman and musician are making their marks on the area by exhibiting or performing in the area. They are the gateway, and we are the travelers to their imaginations. This week’s column travels through the mind of Susan Walker, a downtown artist who is making the most of her retirement by living her dream of being an artist.
Although Susan has lived in other states, including Maryland and Colorado, she has always called North Carolina her home. Susan was raised in Mount Airy and, later, went to college at Western Carolina University. There, she received her degree in elementary and middle school education with a concentration in science and math. She went on to get married and have four children, and now has one grandchild. Walker obviously had a full life but always had art in her heart.
Growing up in Mount Airy, Susan spent many an hour practicing what truly would be her passion. “In my early childhood, I spent many hours in my bedroom drawing and, later, painting using an easel Mom bought me after considerable begging on my part,” said Walker. “Art was my avocation in my years as a teacher, stay-at-home mom and vacation Bible school director. When I returned to teaching about 10 years ago, I incorporated art into my classroom instruction on a daily basis.”
What Walker came to realize was that her desire to be an artist on a larger scale was trying to manifest itself into her everyday life, and luckily, Susan listened to that inner voice. “Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to retire,” said Walker. “I used art as therapy to relax and to refocus my once-busy life. After about six months of painting, relaxing and loving both, I decided that art could be a new vocation for me despite my age. My husband gave me his full support and agreed to create an art studio over our garage. Feeling that I needed to know more about the workings of the art world, I rented a space at Studio 7 in that Arts District on Trade Street and began painting in earnest.”
According to Walker, her work is an outpouring of her emotions at the time she is painting. When asked about her style she responded, “I don’t have a particular style of art. My work reflects the ways I am feeling when I start a new canvas piece. I use mostly acrylics but also do watercolor when I am commissioned. Most of my paintings are acrylics with lots of texture along with a smooth blend throughout my canvas paintings. Art is an extension of myself into the world — a way of connecting. I regard art as a method of conveying an emotion or range of emotions to people who view my work. My art also calms me and serves as a meditative tool.”
Walker’s influences on her work are testaments to her love of nature and her community. “My small town and semi-rural childhood is reflected in some of my work,” said Walker. “My fondness for mountains and seaside also shows in my paintings. Other influences arise from my much more urban life in metropolitan Denver and Baltimore; and my now more blended life in Winston-Salem. These later influences come mostly in my abstract paintings.”
Now making her art as part of the downtown area, Walker makes it very clear how she feels about the community of artists that surround her studio on Trade Street. “I feel at home downtown,” said Walker. “I can express my sometimes eccentric self comfortably in the non-judgmental atmosphere. Downtown touches all my senses. Daily, I can see, hear and experience many art genres. There is visual in galleries, restaurants, clothing stores, sidewalk displays and on buildings. There is frequent music and other performance art on Trade Street as well as other street venues downtown.”
Susan Walker’s art and life have come full circle. From the little girl who drew and painted in her bedroom as a child to the teacher that brought art to all her students to the studio artist on Trade Street that now is bringing her heart and passion to all who view it. It is a journey of experiences and places seen that Walker now invites us all to take as she has. All that has to be done is to open the door to Studio 7, and come in — just like many other doors in downtown Winston Salem.