For Susan, who lives in Park City when she's not spending time in Martha's Vineyard, having her work shown in the NMWA is an honor. "The woman who founded it, Billy Holladay, did this twenty-five years ago," Susan says. "She only hangs women's artwork there. Many years ago, I went into this museum and saw it and I said 'oh my goodness, would I ever be good enough to show here one day?', and here I am. It's an honor and I'm very humbled."
Susan has been painting all of her life, but considers her work in this show to be some of her riskiest. I asked what she meant by this, painting a landscape, I didn't understand the risk.
"I think that I am getting bolder. I think that I certainly could have had a clientele that wanted me to stay in my very realistic stage, but I felt like I needed to grow as an artist, so I'm always pushing myself to the nth degree. And, I think that whenever you go through a difficult time (and for me it was my sickness), you become stronger because you fight it, you know you want to succeed. I wanted to live. So, I think all that in turn affects my painting. I feel like I'm stronger and bolder than I've ever been."
The sickness Susan is referring to is her diagnosis with mercury poisoning and Lyme disease, which she almost died from and now will live with for the rest of her life.
Although Lyme and Mercury poisoning are environmental illnesses, mercury poisoning is essentially started with air pollution that eventually works its way into the ocean and other waterways. So, although it may be hard to see how Susan can find the beauty in nature after becoming sick from it, she says her passion for the environment has never wavered. If anything it has increased.
"When hiking, I take a garbage bag with me and a pair of gloves and pick-up the trash that people throw down," Susan laughs. She also supports Jane Goodall who wrote the closing remarks in her book, "Natural Revelations: The Art of Susan Swartz." And, she worked with Robert Kennedy Jr. on Water Keepers Alliance. "I just try to work with different environmental groups to take care of the environment," Swartz says.
It seems that her illnesses have helped her career. Susan believes they did to some degree. "Making me stronger and bolder has opened up different doors. It's pressed me; this is now my third museum show. First one was at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, a year and a half ago Springville Museum with Swanson (who is just amazing), and now moving on to Washington D.C. to the National Museum."
"I think it is how I'm growing as an artist. I think that for me when I was photo-realistic, I didn't leave much to the imagination and now where I am somewhat abstract - that when doing different shows and the museum shows - that when people talk to me about my work people see what I see, but they also see different things in there. I think that that's the beauty for me of having somebody else look at something and see something a little bit different or it just speaks to them in a different way."
I wanted to know if there was anything she hoped those attending the National Museum of Women in the Arts will take away from her paintings.
"I think just maybe giving credit back to our creator and where we got it and to just really appreciate what we have right in front of us. I mean, in Utah, there are the mountains and the sunsets. Utah's probably one of the most beautiful states I know with so much stuff going on everywhere from Zions to Alta, Snowbird, Park City, DeerValley and then the Uintahs. It's a state really blessed with a lot of natural beauty. It's just exquisite. I mean, everywhere you go, you're surrounded."
Susan has also produced several films that deal with environmental change. I asked "What can film convey that your paintings cannot?"
"Well I think they present the facts. We produced the film that was on the short list for an Oscar called "Under my Skin" which was about Lyme Disease. Of course, the film can give you facts and numbers and other people's testimonials. Then we did a 20 minute documentary that was tacked to "The Cove" which won an Oscar a year ago. We did that with Bobby Kennedy Jr. and other physicians, they talk about the under-regulated mines and things like that."
"So, a painting can make you appreciate what we have and stop and think and maybe help you take care of it, but a documentary can give you the bare facts."
And what does she hope to achieve with her paintings and documentaries? Is it the preservation of nature?
"Yeah. I think that its just making people aware of it," she begins, "The other thing is that in this day of computers and high technology, people are looking at computer screens all day long, and if I can cause someone to stop and look and think about something else, I think I've reached my goal."
Overall, Susan says "I'm having such a wonderful time. Its my passion that keeps me going. It's like any passion, it's sort of like you have to do it or you're not you."
During her show, four films will be presented linking the environment, healing and creativity together.
To read more about activist and artist Susan Swartz, visit susanswartz.com.