by Britt Aamodt
Sue Seeger was one of two women in the welding class at Anoka-Hennepin Technical College. This was the 1990s. She had left a job in business, she was over 30, and she was a student again.
“My original idea was more businessy,” said Seeger. “I thought, well, I’ll learn how to design and build furniture from metal.”
Her old job had been with a furniture company in the Twin Cities, so it wasn’t a great leap going from marketing someone else’s furniture to making her own.
Originally, she’d left her job, bought welding equipment and set up a studio next to her house in Zimmerman. The studio had a chimney. Even before the beginner furniture maker could knock out her first keeper, the chimney caught fire. The studio burned to the ground.
Now she says it was probably a good thing she lost her studio. It forced her to reassess.
“I’d never welded before. I’d used some of the tools, but I was intimidated by my own equipment,” she said.
That’s when she connected to Anoka Tech’s welding program. The other students, working toward their certification, wondered at this woman who wanted to make furniture with the tools they were planning to use at job sites.
One day, while her classmates were off learning about blueprints and welding math, Seeger practiced her cutting. Metal scraps heaped at her feet. When she gathered them up, an extraordinary thing happened.
“The strips fanned like a wing,” she says.
The suggestion of a wing stirred her imagination. She spent the next hours welding the strips into sculpture.
“It was like a switch had been flipped,” she said. “That moment, I knew I needed to be doing art.”
And in the nearly two decades since, that’s what she’s done.
Seeger and her husband moved to Elk River five years ago. They live on a wooded lot, from one end of which rises a tiny yellow cottage. Over the entrance, metal letters spell out Suelandia. Suelandia is Seeger’s studio and a tangible symbol of her ambitions made reality.
Seeger is a full-time sculptor whose art has found its way into public spaces, parks, galleries and private collections. She has won grants and commissions. Getting there required pushing aside her initial goal of furniture making and logging thousands of work hours.
After that pivotal moment at Anoka Tech, Seeger announced to friends and family she’d decided to make metal artwork. But they shouldn’t expect to see anything soon.
To her, the next two years were her version of art school, only cheaper and she’d be teaching herself.
Seeger eventually premiered her sculpture at Elk River’s ArtSoup Festival. Then she started shopping her portfolio to galleries. At that time, her work incorporated stones and bits of wood, which attracted galleries on the North Shore and in Door County, Wis. She has been showing her sculptures at Seasons on St. Croix in Hudson, Wis., almost as long as she’s been an artist.
Her art graces the Hennepin County Medical Center and the Elk River High School. “Tina,” a sculpture of a crouching woman with antlers, sits alongside a busy mountain biking trail.
“Tina” is underground art, which, Seeger explains, is public art made outside the commissioning process. In other words, unofficial public art.
These projects are typically unpaid. “Tina” took Seeger two years. In September, the artist is launching a kick-starter campaign to help fund a sculpture for Elm Creek Park.
Beginning this month, she’ll be posting video blogs on YouTube about the campaign, her art and her current work on a sculptural installation for Elk River’s Handke School.
The installation was funded by a grant from the Central Minnesota Arts Board. It will feature a 12-foot metal arch, decorated with nesting herons and five white-tailed deer running toward Handke’s Nature Explore Classroom.
Seeger said she never looked back once she decided to dedicate herself to art.
“I’m a believer in taking leaps of faith,” she said. “It’s your life. Don’t chicken out. You only get one shot at this stuff.”