Susan Hensel Biography – Contemporary Art by Susan Hensel

Learn about contemporary art by Susan Hensel. Susan Hensel received her BFA from the University of Michigan in 1972 with a double major in painting and sculpture and a concentration in ceramics. With a history, to date, of over 200 exhibitions, more than 30 of them solo, twenty garnering awards. Above all, Hensel’s desire to communicate stories through art continues to be a powerful motivator.

Hensel’s artwork is known and collected nationwide, represented in collecting libraries and museums as disparate as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and The Getty Research Institute with major holdings at Minnesota Center for Book Arts, University of Washington, Baylor University and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Archives pertaining to her artist’s books are available for study at the University of Washington Libraries in Seattle.

In recent years Hensel has been awarded multiple grants and residencies through the Jerome Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, and Ragdale Foundation.

Hensel’s curatorial work began in 2000 in East Lansing, Michigan with the Art Apartment and deepened with ownership of the Susan Hensel Gallery. Hensel has curated over seventy exhibitions of emerging and mid-career artists from all over the United States and Canada.

Artist Statement

I am a multidisciplinary artist, with a 50+ year career, who combines a mixed media practice with embroidery across digital and manual platforms. Additionally, I make sculpture and wall art using the colors and techniques of commercial embroidery, designed on the computer and stitched out on the computer-aided embroidery machine with the aim to create an experience for the viewer that overwhelms with color, transcends the quotidian and encourages one, for even a few seconds, to step outside the narrative of the ego into a place of pure sensation.

Digital machine embroidery is not a substitute for, nor a speedier version of, nor an imitator of handwork. It is a mindset and a media choice in and of itself.

As an artist, I find the beauty and the structure of embroidery thread qualitatively unique. It also deals in optical color perception but provides a lenticular opportunity due to the tri-lobal structure of the thread and its ability to bend light. Likewise, to quote Jane McKeating, “Color drips off the needle every bit as richly as from a brush.”

Digital embroidery lends itself to hard-edge geometry as well as biomorphic form. The combination of high tech with “women’s work” also provides a delicious contrast of hard/soft, nostalgic/current, objective/non-objective. It also lends itself to modular repetition and re-combinations. Additionally, themes can be played out quickly in the computer and then stitched and sampled oh so slowly on the machine, combined with and without mixed media in a wide-ranging exploration of forms in space.

In this chaotic time, digital textiles seem like a way to begin to bring order to the world. Order is, however, always unstable, a glimmer of hope, cut off by random acts of chance or intent. However, it is no different in digital embroidery. In the computer, all things seem orderly, put together, and logical, as though the human propensity for chaos did not exist. In production, chance operates: human error, flawed thread, broken needles, run out bobbins, high humidity, low humidity, fabric popping out of hoops and the panicked phone call from a friend. Repair savvy, canny attention, and a spirit of wabi-sabi is essential.


Professional Organizations

Susan is a member of the following:

  • Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota
  • Surface Design of America
  • Textile Society of America
  • Weavers Guild of Minnesota
  • Textile Center of Minnesota
  • Minnesota Center for Book Arts
  • Women’s Caucus for Art
  • College Art Association


I am available for studio visits, lectures, panel discussions, and other visiting artist activities. Previous engagements have included visits to:

Emory and Henry College, VA
Chadron State College, NE
Alma College, MI
Lansing State Library, MI
East Lansing Library, MI
Minnesota Center for Book Arts, MN
Hollanders, MI

Habitat for Humanity, MN
Las Vegas Civic Center, NV
Weavers Guild of Minnesota


I am also available for mentoring on a variety of subjects:

  • Taking the next step: How to build an exhibition career
  • Getting seen: How to use social media
  • Productivity in the Studio (Download The Free PDF!)
  • Grant fulfillment: that second pair of eyes, timelines, advice
  • Critique
  • Technical skills: Hand dyeing, hand spinning, digitizing for machine embroidery, and also other media

Rates negotiable.

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