Susan Heller

Walnut Creek, CA1


Artist Information for Susan Heller


As far back as I can remember I was always sewing something—making things. I think Iwas born with “busy hands”. So it was inevitable that as an adult I would find my way toquilt making.

I use many of my quilts to explore states of mind – how different experiences make me feel. Through the mask quilts I can delve into the spiritual and inner worlds of others— how people have the need to align the spirits and their gods to keep them safe. Although re-imagined, many appear to have come out of Africa. Others interpret the mysterious spirit boards that the New Guinea tribesmen used in their ceremonial invocations to their spirit protectors.

My work falls outside of the traditional function of a quilt. Most have been released from the confinement of the customary background. Others have had their background removed to a second layer, creating a level of dimension not typical of quilted works. In fact, added dimension has, over time, become of increasing interest to me. Each piece has been appliquéd, lightly quilted and either embellished with hand-embroidery or beading or both.

I use a variety of materials including cotton fabrics (both purchased, home-dyed or printed), raffia, ribbon, and beads. Most have been embellished with hand embroidery and beading. Some recent pieces include photo images transferred onto fabric. Although I generally assemble most of my pieces by machine, many are done partially by hand, and several are completely hand-made. I am enamored with appliqué as my technique of choice because of the extra dimension it adds to a quilted piece.

Picasso said one should be radical in her art. I translate his thought to mean— experiment, try a new way of looking at things, break out of the proverbial box.

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Zero Gravity Dreamscape

Zero Gravity Dreamscape42”W x 19”H  

This fantasy piece features two 3-dimensional figures delighting in their exploration of their weightless environment. Floating above the earth and near the moon they are surrounded the planets of our solar system and nearby galaxies. Zero Gravity is a commissioned work made with cotton fabrics and embroidery floss. Techniques used are: appliqué, quilting, hand embroidery, hand-painting, and stuffed figures.

Asleep in the Universe

Asleep in the Universe36.5”W x 31.5”H  

The sensation of drifting off into space is something I often feel when I’m at peace with the world and sleep comes gently to end my day. The figure, headboard, sheet and bed quilt are 3-dimensional elements that rise above the background quilt. It was constructed with cotton fabrics, then appliquéd, quilted, hand- embroidered and layered in a quilt-over-quilt method.

Log Cabin in the Woods

Log Cabin in the Woods33" W x 35” H x 2.5” D  

A play on words for quilters. A traditional quilt block, the log cabin, hides behind a forest of trees. The cabin’s roof is formed by the negative space above it. The woods are back lit by a golden sun. All together, a peaceful place to retreat to. Appliquéd, and quilted, cotton fabrics form the trees that hang forward of quilted background using my quilt-over-quilt layering technique.

Out of Africa

Out of Africa 64” W x 47” H  

A profusion of masks inspired by the many different tribal masks found throughout the African continent make up the foreground of this layered wall hanging. Each mask is a separate mini-quilt joined to another with a variety of beads and all together form the top layer of this 2-layer wall hanging. The second layer, visible through the top layer, creates the background. Both layers hang from fabric-covered slats that are separated by wood blocks. The mini-quilts are made with cotton fabrics that have been appliquéd with both traditional and reverse techniques, quilted and hand embroidered.


Harvest 15” W x 22.5” H  

This mask takes its inspiration from the round-faced Baule masks used by the farming tribes in Ivory Coast and Ghana. Harvest has been quilted, beaded and adorned with raffia to represent wheat from the fields.