By Jean English
Susan Balch of Swanville had an idea in mind for the 2001 Common Ground Country Fair poster: She wanted to depict the Native American tradition of the three sisters – corn, squash and beans. However, “it just wouldn’t work,” she says. “There was too much stuff.” She decided she had to simplify the project – especially with the deadline looming to submit the design to MOFGA – and thus focused on corn.
Because Indian corn was not in season when she was doing the work, Balch bought green ears of corn from the store to use as “models.” “I really got into the rhythm of the husks,” she says, “into how they peel.” So, two of the ears of corn in her design have their husks peeled partway so that they “do this nice, rhythmic thing.” The third ear points in the opposite direction and is completely husked, adding to the notion that these three ears of corn are dancing together in rhythm.
Balch then colored the penned design with colored pencil and submitted it just in time. This was the first time she had entered Common Ground’s contest, and her win inspired her to become a MOFGA member. Her design will appear not just on the Fair’s poster this year, but on tote bags, tee-shirts, and other items.
A true back-to-the-lander, Balch came from Maryland to Swanville in 1971 after answering an ad in a newspaper to help someone build a house – despite the fact that she had no house building experience. After that job, she built the initial part of her own home, with free labor from friends, for $3,000 in the late ‘70s. She added an art studio and a “real bathroom” later, after “many years with nothing but an indoor hand pump.”
Art was part of her life all this time. She did wood and linoleum block prints that she then hand painted with water colors – a very labor-intensive process that never enabled her to earn her entire living through art, and a time-consuming process that she felt was throwing her life out of balance, not leaving time for friends and gardening. So, about seven years ago, she started working at Liberty Graphics and has been there ever since.
“I enjoy going to work,” she says. In addition to her work as a color separator (“like undoing a painting,” she comments), she has designed some tee-shirts for Liberty Graphics. Common Ground fairgoers and MOF&G readers may recall her “Starting from Seed” and “Healing Herbs” designs, which have been featured on the back page of The MOF&G in Liberty Graphics’ ads.
When she isn’t doing art on paper or fabric, Balch is designing in her small flower and vegetable garden. “It’s like a French country garden,” she says, with flowers interplanted among vegetables. “It’s a work of art. Well, I try. It’s an artistic endeavor.”