Work samples

  • In Bloom, Shall I Compare Thee
    Handmade textile book page inspired by Shakespeare's Sonnet 18. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
  • Soul Check 136
    Inspired by Shakespeare's Sonnet 136. Handmade textile book using traditional and experimental printmaking and fabric manipulation techniques. Turn to any page and the viewer will encounter the powerful poem, "If they soul check thee that I come so near/ Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will." 2022, 9"x16"x5"
  • Wet A Widow's Eye, Book 20
    Original hand crafted book inspired by Shakespeare's Sonnet 9. Red floral cover made with fabric, vinyl, and plastics. 2022, 13.5"x 26"x 6"
  • Gracious Light
    Gracious Light is one of twenty unique books in my Love Sonnets from Shakespeare to Baltimore series. Hand made using repurposed textiles, linocuts, silkscreens, embroidery, crystal beads, and rhinestones, 2020

About Suzanne

Baltimore County

Suzanne Coley is a 2023-2024 Folger Shakespeare Library Fellow and a 2023-2024 Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Fellow.  Her main artistic fields are printmaking, poetry, and book arts.  She has pioneered the style of book making called  "couture textile books," combining precision and intentionality of design with bold experimentation and abstraction.  Over the past fifteen years, Suzanne has merged couture sewing techniques with embroidery and poetry in her art.  Suzanne… more

Love Sonnets from Shakespeare to Baltimore 2023 (Books 21, 22, and 23)

Coley’s art often explores how trauma can materialize in cultural memory; it shines a light on overlooked or forgotten stories.  Her stories are reflections of the physical, moral, and psychological struggles, encounters, and battles that are part of the human experience.  Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Coley continued to create important, thought-provoking art. In addition to designing posters for the 2020–21 season of the Baltimore Center Stage theater, the artist also began a new project, “Love Sonnets, from Shakespeare to Baltimore,” inspired by conversations with Baltimore Public School middle school students. Shakespeare is not taught at many inner-city schools because of prejudicial sentiments that assume the students are not ready for it. 

Love Sonnets from Shakespeare to Baltimore was supported by a grant from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation in 2020.  This ongoing project uses Shakespeare’s sonnets to create a dialogue between the past and the present. Coley juxtaposes a non-elitist approach to Shakespeare’s language with patchwork quilts and fragments from wedding dresses to create  books that give a renewed vitality to the pedagogical approach to the Bard’s works. Coley hopes that the books will serve as both calls to action and symbols of hope for a more equitable world, in which barriers constructed as a result of systemic racism no longer exist.


 

  • In Things of Great Receipt

    If thy soul check thee that I come so near
    Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will

    The book opens with very graphic designs that combine traditonal quilting principles with modern fabric manipulation techniques.  Fabrics are upcycled from 1960s brocade and damask evening dresses.  They are combined with modern embroideries and hand manipulated techniques normally used for couture dressmaking.  By combining book making techniques with couture dressmaking techniques, the final pages have a precise, purposeful appearance.

  • Soul Check 136 by Suzanne Coley
    Inspired by Shakespeare's Sonnet 136, the bright floral cover of this book invites the reader to open it and read the contents. Cover was created with traditional heavy weight binders boards, painted cotton fabrics, and over 60 custom made polyester, plastic, and vinyl florals.
  • Among A Number One Is Reckoned None
    Vintage 1960s damask textiles are combined with muted floral textiles in a patchwork design inspired by "Sharecropper" quilting techniques by African American sewers from North Carolina. The larger damask textile, on the lower right hand page, was handed down to me by a nonagenarian African American seamstress in 2018.
  • For Nothing Hold Me
    1960s gold lame fabric handed down to me from a nonagenarian African American seamstress, was hand embroidered. Other techniques used were broderie perse and appliqué.
  • In Bloom, center page

    Hand carved linocut printed on newspaper and cotton with embroidery. This is a center page from the handmade textile book In Bloom.  This page is in response to the following lines 2-4  in Shakespeare's Sonnet 18:  

    Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

    Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

    And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

  • In Bloom

    Handmade book inspired by Shakespeare's sonnet 18, Shall I compare thee to a summer's day.  The pink floral cover, made entirely from textiles, reminds us of the beauty of Spring and rebirth.  Creating flowers from fabric, although beautiful and meticulously crafted, reminds us of the brief life of real blooms and life.  Like the seasons, nothing lasts forever.  

  • In Bloom, page from textile book

    Hand painted wedding dress with silkscreen.  Hand painted cotton page appliquéd with embroidery and postage stamps.  This page is in response to Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, lines 8 and 9: 

    By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
    But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

  • The Fragile, pages

    Inspired by Shakespeare's Sonnet 85, "My tongue-tied Muse," explores the literary devices of alliteration and enjambment with textiles and texture.  This is achieved through subtle tonal changes in the fabrics.  Historically, the muses were the one of the goddesses that personify the arts.  Here the Muse is language (poetry) and her eloquence and harmony are captured in the meticulously sewn complex patterns throughout the pages of the book.  

  • The Fragile

    Handmade textile book with more than 50 handmade fabric flowers that decorate the cover.  This is book number 23 in the series "Love Sonnets from Shakespeare to Baltimore." Inspired by Shakespeare's Sonnet 85, "The Fragile," explores the literary devices of alliteration and enjambment with textiles and texture.  This is achieved through subtle tonal changes in the fabrics throughout the 16 pages.  Historically, the muses were the one of the goddesses that personify the arts.  In The Fragile, the Muse is language (poetry) and her eloquence and harmony are captured in the meticulously sewn complex patterns throughout the pages of the book.  

Love Sonnets from Shakespeare to Baltimore, 2019 - 2023

Love Sonnets from Shakespeare to Baltimore is a project using  Shakespeare's sonnets, recycled wedding dresses, quilts and original printmaking to create finely crafted couture art books.   The primary inspiration for this project is literary: I am fascinated by the fourteen-line structure of  Shakespearean sonnets.  Composed of three quatrains and a couplet,  the poems are structured like logical arguments about emotions influenced by love and hate. 

The secondary inspiration for this project is fashion history: I am interested in historical textiles and their social, economic, and cultural significances.  Through the re-fashioning of wedding dresses from the 1930s to 1970s into new book pages, I re-examine how we experience textiles.  Through the convergence of  literature and fashion, the project is both a multi-sensory response to Shakespeare and a contemporary social commentary.

The artistic style of the work can be described as deconstructionist couture.  The fabric of wedding dresses is cut, dyed, painted, manipulated, and collaged with other historic textiles into new patterns and designs that allow the material of the pages to speak.  The final look of the pages is very clean, purposeful, and has a fit-to-measure feel.  The connection to my community is emphasizd through the use of traditional Baltimorean quilting, embroidery and intricate needle work techniques.

The carefully screen printed sonnets gain additional layers of meaning on the book pages.  The text is complemented by my linocut prints and screen prints.  The pages move from one voice to many, offering multiple readings to a wide range of audiences. 


  • Sonnet II: Forty Winters
    When forty winters shall besiege thy brow. Textile pages made from repurposed wedding dresses. 16.5" x 24", 2019
  • Dig deep trenches in thy beauty
    handmade textile book using repurposed wedding dresses, 16..5" x 24", 2019
  • Thy youth's proud livery
    Textile book using repurposed wedding dresses. Hand dyed, hand painted textiles, 16.5" x 24", 2019
  • Sonnet II: So Gazed on Now . . .
    Deconstructed wedding gowns, handprinted, hand dyed, vintage quilt fragment. 16.5" x 24", 2019
  • All thy Beauty Lies
    Repurposed wedding dress, hand dyed, hand painted, hand beading, embellishments, vintage quilt fragment. 16.5" x 24", 2019
  • Treasure of thy days
    Repurposed wedding gown, deconstructed vintage quilt fragment, printmaking, fabric painting, printmaking. 16.5" x 24", 2019
  • Sonnet III: Look In Thy Glass
    Hand painted on repurposed wedding dress and Baltimore duck cotton fabric, 6.5" x 9", 2019
  • Cover: Look In Thy Glass
    Cover of book: Hand embroidery, fabric painting, 6.5" x 9", 2019

All I Have

All I Have is part of a larger year-long project that was inspired by African textiles I received from the National Museum of African Art Library.   While working on this project there were multiple news reports about hundreds of migrants traveling  in unsafe, overcrowded rickety boats in the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.   A few strong winds, bad weather conditons or strong currents could easily capsize these boats, drowning everyone on board.  One survivor of these "death voyages" described the ordeal as "it was our only hope."   
One of the textiles I received was a woman's garment from Northern Africa.  I imagined her story based on these news stories and "it was our only hope" and created All I Have.   

All I Have 

My seventh son is all I have.
We must go to land that doesn't 
birth grenades. What good is fertile
soil when Earth knows only graves.

Blessed is the garden of Eden
Our Eves are kidnapped
before they know apples.

My seventh son is all I have.
We must go to land that is dry and calm.
They burn our breath as we pray.  

Gorillas teach apples the secrets of war.

We heard the crash, then the waves.
Please blow air into his lungs,
my seventh son is all I have.
- Suzanne Coley


  • God has left us
    God has left us. Gorillas are spooked.
  • All I Have
    mixed media fiber arts, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • All I Have
    Wooden cover for handmade textile book: All I Have
  • My Seventh Son
    My seventh son is all I have, we must go to land that is dry and calm.
  • Alive
    Nothing is alive.
  • Magical Rainforest
    Our magical rainforest lost its power.
  • Spells
    Spells no longer work.
  • Rebels
    They say rebels put poisoned gun powder on roots.
  • Metal Reflections
    Metal reflections send them into violent dances like our boat had in the ocean.
  • Blow Air
    We heard the crash, then the waves. Please blow air into his lungs, my seventh son is all I have.

Primary Lessons

A work of art is a refined and intensified form of experience.  Working with African textiles from the National Museum of African Art Library allowed me to use finely hand-woven and hand printed fabrics of the past and turn them into new stories.   All of my books contain stories or information that I believe are culturally and socially significant.  Marrying the book form to textiles as page material, elegantly argues that fabric doesn't just have to be wearable, but that it too has stories to tell, and has a past worth sharing.  The history and stories behind the vintage textiles are essential components of the handmade books.  They  add extra layers of meaning that can be quite personal: Using fabrics that are personal to the author, unique to a particular culture, and/or relatable to the reader again fuses the material form of the work to its meaning and adds complexity to the work.

During my year-long project working with African textiles from the National Museum of African Art, I had the opportunity to speak with scholars from the Congo, Benin, and Nigeria.   It was one of the most amazing experiences as an artist to see how art historians view the artistic process and the final art piece.   

Poem for Primary Lessons
New primary school curriculum
lots of biology lessons.
Last week we dissected spinal columns
24 true, 9 false vertebrae.

Cicadas, he said, so many of them come out
at the same time that all the birds eating 
them get full and leave the rest alone.

"Predator satiation," my teacher explained.
A defense mechanism.

Doesn't work with all predators, I guess.
Today they opened my teacher's throat
for all to see.  The whole school was
commanded to come out at the same time.
All the guns shooting us never stopped.
Play dead.
- Suzanne Coley

Please visit my blog for details.
  • Scream
    A defense mechanism.
  • PrimaryLessons
    mixed media fiber arts, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • Bones
    Today they opened my teacher's throat . . .
  • School
    The whole school was commanded to come out at the same time.
  • Primary Lessons
    New primary school curriculum.
  • Primary Lessons
    mixed media fiber art, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • Torn but Not Broken
    Cicacadas, he said, so many of them come out at the same time that all the birds eating them get full and leave the rest alone.
  • The Shooting
    The shooting
  • Play Dead
    But all the guns shooting us never stopped. Play Dead.
  • Defense Mechanism
    A defense mechanism. Does not work with all predators, I guess.

Burgundy Lives

Why make books?   I love books!  The oldest known printed book was discovered in the province of Kansu, China in 1900.  That handmade, wood block printed book was dated May 11, 868.  Books were expensive, highly coveted possessions of wealthy collectors, monasteries, and aristocracy.   If you were somebody, you owned a beautiful, well crafted book!  Maintaining the high quality traditions of handmade books of the past is important to me.   In recent years, I've replaced handmade paper with hand-woven and luxury textiles.  These textiles are innately tactile and relatable: Fabric pages are not flat and completely blank.  Each stitch adds texture and dimension. The fabric moves and molds itself in the hands of the reader.  Even people who never or rarely work with paper will recognize the textures of fabric from their own experiences.
  • Torn But Not Broken
    Unbound page, 22 x 24 inches, 2017
  • Silence
    mixed media fiber arts, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • Treasures
    Stripping wombs of precious treasures
  • Treasure Maps
    handmade textile book: mixed media fiber arts, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • Green Paradise
    Green paradise hides truth
  • Watching
    Burgundy lives in the land of green. Handmade textile book page.
  • Mystical Beliefs
    mixed media fiber arts, 2017
  • Torn
    Handmade textile books
  • Far From, detail
    Far from journalists' eyes
  • Far From
    mixed media fiber arts with hand embroidery, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017

See Us

The fine vintage velvets and rare hand-loomed linens in See Us are innately tactile and relatable.   The fabrics move and mold themselves in the hands of the reader.  Even people who never or rarely work with paper will recognize the textures of fabric from their own experiences.  It was important to preserve the history and story behind each piece of fabric while creating new stories.  Please read more about the project in my blog.

Poetry for See Us
Doctors who crossed barbed wire borders
told me to write my story.  Perhaps if others knew
what was going on here I . . . we would get help.
Help.  Ease.  Alleviate.  Assuage.

I search for the right words with my limited 
vocabulary.  How do I say, "Take that 200lb
man off my 12 year old body without that 
gun breaking my front teeth?"

How can anyone undo the damage.
Fix all of these broken bodies.
Revive souls already in Psychopomp's arms.
Palliate.  Temper.  Diminish
- Suzanne Coley

  • Assuage
    Doctors say 12 year old girls in America have birthday parties with lots of pink balloons . . .
  • Assuage
    They try to make us laugh and dance. mixed meida fiber arts, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • Crossing Barbed Wire Borders
    I want to write about delicate butterflies.
  • Crossing Barbed Wire Borders
    I want to write about lovely blue feathered parrots who live in the majestic Congo rainforest.
  • Promethean Bound
    The open sores are healing but the pain is still here.
  • I Carry
    I carry too much weight and fall over with this balloon inside of me.
  • Mask
    My ankles can't bear the load. They made sandals from plastic water bottles and string.
  • See Us, Soothe
    mixed media fiber arts, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • Blue Feathered Parrots
    I want to write about delicate butterflies and lovely blue feathered parrots who live in the majestic Congo rainforest.
  • Blue Feathered Parrots, detail
    I want to write about delicate butterflies and lovely blue feathered parrots . . .

Asymmetrical Zeal

Asymmetrical Zeal is part of a larger year-long project that was inspired by African textiles I received from the National Museum of African Art Library.  One of the textiles I was given was beautiful, but couldn't be printed on.  It resisted every paint, ink, stain, and dye.  I was amazed at its durability and strength.  During one of my visits  to the museum I explained that I couldn't really work with the fabric, and it was different than anything I had ever seen.  One of the curators told me that it had been woven with the thinnest strands of copper.   Copper gave it its beautiful shine and made it tough.  

With this in mind, I created Asymmetrical Zeal.  I wanted to show the strength of the textiles.  Please read my blog post for more information.
  • Hammering
    Hammering metal sentiments into carved wooden statues.
  • Artemis
    Artemis: handprinted cotton textile page
  • Asymmetrical Zeal, Cover
    wood, ink, polyurethane, 2017
  • Forcing Spirits
    Forcing spirits past caged lines, across arid lands.
  • Motherhood, detail
    Motherhood gives birth to new vulnerabilities.
  • Motherhood
    Rapscallions stalk under thick sentimental canopies.
  • Criss Cross
    Sun scorched metallic hopes melt before dawn.
  • Metallic Hopes
    Winds howl fiercely
  • Emotions
    Removing emotions from mass graves
  • Gold Squares
    letting them flow with the river's current.

Goats

This mixed media textile book project was inspired by African textiles I received from the National Museum of African Art Library.  Goats is an exploration of the inextricable ties between man and the environment. In desperate times, how do people find hope and inspiration? For more information on this project please see my year-long blog posts.


  • Lions
    Lions learned from your courage. **Mixed media fiber arts, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • Monkeys
    Monkeys basked in your splendor.
  • Goats
    A thousand shades of green was your kingdom.
  • Burning Air
    Wet wasteland, with your burning air, we inhale suffering
  • Bellies Bloat
    Wet wasteland, our bellies bloat.
  • Goats
    Green wetland, hot tempered and feisty, your rugged terrain we roam.
  • Goats: Roots
    mixed media fiber art with hand beading, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • Goats:Roots
    detail
  • Billy Goats
    Billy goats don't eat roots.
  • Morning Dew
    Our children's last tears make your morning dew.

Exodus

(Mother and daughter are on the side of a road cleaning windshields.)

Don't spray so much cleaner!  I pay money for it, you know.

Why do dragonflies come out of mudbugs, uh, you ask?

Because they think they are better than everybody, that's why.  Because they don't want to be working at this truck stop cleaning windshields all their lives like us.

I told that boy: Nothing good will happen if you try to make it to Europe.  But no, he wanted "normal life."  He wanted Sweden.  So he spread his wings and made it all the way to Algeria.  Was beaten and robbed three times along the way.  All so that he could drown in the sea.

At least they don't send dragonfly mothers pictures of their squished son
- Suzanne Coley
  • The Sea
    mixed media fiber arts, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • The Sea, detail
    Crossing the sea . . .
  • Migrants
    mixed media fiber arts, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • Migrants
    handmade textile book page. hand embroidery. 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • Barbed Wires
    I told that boy: Nothing good will happen if you try to make it to Europe.
  • Exodus
    But no, he wanted "normal life." He wanted Sweden.
  • Exodus
    So he spread his wings and made it all the way to Algeria.
  • Exodus
    mixed media fiber art (with hand embroidery), 16.5 x 25.5 inches, 2017
  • Exodus
    He was beaten and robbed three times along the way. All so that he could drown in the sea.
  • Exodus
    At least they don't send dragonfly mothers pictures of their squished sons on Volvo trucks.

King

King is part of a larger year-long project inspired by textiles I received from the National Museum of African Art in October 2016.  When I received the textiles I did a lot of research on the origins of each textile.  During my research I came across the Mende of Sierra Leone.  I became fascinated with the Mende helmet mask and the ideals this mask conveys.  Worn by only women, this mask has a broad forehead representing the sharp, contemplative mind of the ideal Mende woman.  The mask also has a bird on top that symbolizes a woman's ability to see and know things others don't.  I visited the National Museum of African Art to see the Mende helmet mask in their permanent collection.  The story of King is inspired by my visits, the textiles, research, and current events:  What if a little girl dreamed of being King? 

Please read my blog posts for more details.

Poetry for King
when i grow up i want to be king
with body guards dressed in red
on horses with royal names
shielding me from bullies
no more broken bones

when i grow up i want to be king
like the one on postcards my teacher
sent me: King Goerge VI
i don't care about castles, a mud brick 
house will do.  i don't need electricity
i see through darkness

when i grow up i want to be king
to have a team of doctors, 
to take care of my whole family.
to stop my brother from throwing up red.

when i grow up, i want to be king
when people see me, they will say hello
even if the sun isn't shining.

when i grow up
     tell them to water
the hurt
       grow i,
                        girls can
be
            girls can
be
          i,  kings
                                  when
- Suzanne Coley
  • Girl Kings
    when i grow up i want to be king
  • King
    Title page of handmade book King, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • King George VI
    mixed media fiber art, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • King Georg VI, cover image
    when i grow up i want to be king to have a team of doctors to take care of my whole family to stop my brother from throwing up red
  • Chartreuse
    when people see me, they will say hello
  • Feathers to fly
    Girl King
  • Fractured Shadows
    mixed media fiber arts, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • Fractured Shadows
    King George VI stamp
  • The Sun
    handmade textile page, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017
  • The Hurt
    mixed meida fiber arts, 16.5 x 25.5 x 2 inches, 2017