Meet Local Artist, Sue Stockman
The Mosaic of Our Lives: From Brokenness, We Can Find Wholeness
When local artist Sue Stockman moved from Baltimore City to Denton at age 5, life changed. Instead of being stimulated by the busyness of the city streets, she became enchanted with the natural world of the new rural environment on the Eastern Shore.
“I was bored, so I began to discover nature on the Choptank River. My sister and I had whole imaginary worlds we created — it was beautiful and rich. We would go to the beach, read, play outside, and make things,” Stockman said.
She said her parents paid attention to what she and her sisters were doing in their new environment, giving her an art kit for Christmas from which she created her own designs. She also attended the local 4-H Club, learning there she could get paid for making her art from her 4-H Fair award winnings.
When it came time to go to college, Stockman felt the pressure to do something more academic, majoring in biology at Towson University until she took a two-dimensional design class in her junior year.
“I was initially intimidated, and then realized the art classes taught you how to do art,” Stockman said.
She soon switched her major to art. Around that same time, during a college philosophy class, Stockman learned about meditation and Zen Buddhism, which soon became an important part of her work, as well.
Stockman eventually left Towson to attend the Glassell Museum School of Art in Houston, Texas. Being annexed to the Museum of Fine Arts, the school broadened her exposure to different artists, as well as allowed her to experience another part of the country.
Eventually, she returned to Towson to finish her art degree, focusing on metal sculpture and jewelry. Before she graduated, she opened a gallery in Ellicott City and made a proclamation to herself that she was going to make a living making art.
In 1991, she moved to St. Michaels. It was there she raised a family.
While initially she focused on painted murals and jewelry, about 15 years ago, Stockman started working with mosaics. She recalled a day in the Florida Keys with her husband and daughters when she was riding her bike and saw a broken pot on the side of the road.
“I was struck by the incredible color of it, and brought it home and glued it on a box. That was my first mosaic,” Stockman said.
Mosaics are in line with her passion as an environmentalist, as well — reusing broken things is part of being a steward of the planet.
“It takes me back to the years when I studied biology, and feels like I’ve come full circle,” she said.
After getting a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council to create a 20-foot mosaic for a school in Rockville, Stockman said, “I eventually made a connection, and saw the mosaic as a metaphor. All the kids from this fourth-grade class had come from divorced parents. The kids told me about their lives. The once whole pieces of the mosaic represented their families before divorce. The broken pieces, like their families now, could be reassembled to create something else — different, but still potentially beautiful,” she said.
“It allowed the kids to participate and not feel totally disempowered. They really understood the symbolism as it pertained to their own lives,” Stockman said.
She has gone on to coordinate and teach projects in the schools throughout Maryland, sometimes working with students who have experienced intense trauma, including working with the Walter P. Carter Center for incarcerated women and the Renaissance Academy High School in Baltimore, which had three of its students murdered in a short period of time.
She currently is working on a project in Baltimore City at the Mergenthaler Technology Vocational High School. Through her “Arts Everyday” Project at the school, everyone can speak and be heard.
“My teaching method involves treating each other equally, respectfully, and checking in emotionally, which are elements of expeditionary learning — something I learned from an Outward Bound-based lab school in Colorado,” Stockman said.
In her classes, Stockman trusts her students to handle broken glass and tiles, as well as the special tools required for making mosaics. Each mosaic they create becomes part of the architecture of the school. Through the mosaic, the kids can tell their stories with anonymity. It also provides an opportunity for the students to do something that could change and improve the environment of their neighborhood — something that gets noticed by their parents and the community.
“Our mosaic even survived the Baltimore riots,” Stockman said. “These collaborative projects are potent. They allow connection and a way to process some of the trauma and adversity we face in life. Ultimately, the beauty created is a visual reminder of our resiliency and hopefully reminds us what we are capable of achieving.”
Stockman, who also works with adults, said, “Adults have more life experiences, sometimes more pain, as well as understanding when making art. It requires vulnerability to create, and takes some courage. The creative process can be so helpful in navigating this complex world we live in, providing a space to be contemplative and in the present moment.”
“With mosaics, you almost can’t mess up. Anyone can do it. There is freedom in giving someone something they are going to be successful at and that is fun,” she continued.
Stockman said art is essential and transformative.
“Giving yourself the time to be creative soothes the soul. We all come from a long line of makers, tapping into that part of ourselves reminds us who we are and what we might be capable of. If you make something on the outside, you can make something on the inside,” she said.
This past year, Stockman was commissioned by Richard Marks and Amy Haines, and the Dock Street Foundation to create a mosaic for the common space at Haven Ministries Shelter in Chester.
“I have learned the circumstances in life are often out of our control. Bringing compassion and beauty to a population that really needs some of that is often the best we can do,” she said.
The mural also was a very personal project for Stockman whose ex-husband died last year and was homeless at the time of his death. Following his death, Stockman began work on the mural with her daughter, Sequoia Chupek, in their studio in St. Michaels.
“I recognized how important it was for us to be working together during this time. It was therapeutic for both of us, as we co-created this piece of art,” she said.
As she looks to the future, Stockman said, “I want to be compassionate in the world. We are all intrinsically connected. Everything we do can help ourselves and the world.”
This past fall, while traveling across the country, Stockman taught a workshop near Santa Fe, N.M.
“I was practicing radical love — I really tried to love everyone I met, and be really kind. As it happened, I was in places where there were tumultuous events — the riots in Kansas City, the Las Vegas massacre, and the fires in California. It’s a reminder that we don’t often know what people might be going through, and simply being kind may make a difference. I’m working on doing that for myself, too. It’s a practice.”
Stockman said, into the future, she is learning to nurture herself, so she can continue to give back to others — whether they are kids in extreme situations or regular adults struggling through life, she wants to make a positive difference in how we all view ourselves — and the world.