Susan Clausen’s Endangered Species

Susan Clausen has been a presence in the Providence art scene since 1985 but it wasn’t until 2021 that I first glimpsed her work through the half open door of her studio. I was on assignment to interview her husband, well-known artist Umberto Crenca, and I was intrigued by this unexpected find. Why hadn’t I heard more about this talented woman?


“There’s a lot of reasons for that, and it’s not just because we live in a more male-focused society,” Clausen told me. “I have been making art my whole life and it’s always been a critical part of my life and identity. I have never pushed my art career though – I didn’t want financial pressure on my creative process. I am a helper, a worker bee sort of type; that’s just my nature. I like working with people, I like teamwork. I wouldn’t call myself a visionary, but when I believe in an idea, I get behind it.”

Clausen’s hands-on attitude played an intrinsic part in driving the vision behind AS220. She was there when it opened its doors in a single room above the Providence Performing Arts Center. “I was at every show, whether it was working the door, sweeping up, taking out the trash, whatever, just to help it function.” As AS220 grew, so did Clausen’s role. When AS220 acquired the Dreyfus Building in 2005, Clausen became the property manager, a position she held until 2020. She did the compliance work for affordable housing, fixed what needed to be fixed, and knew everyone who came in. “I really cared about the buildings and the people in them.”

She puts that same energy into her art. In creating her current collection, Endangered Species, she thought about the personality of each animal and the stories that needed to be told. These fantastical sculptures, which represent rare creatures at the brink of extinction, are the result of both eclectic craftsmanship and sheer imagination. They are the reflection of a life spent exploring the endless possibilities of creative thought.

Before coming to RI, Clausen earned a BFA from the University of Illinois in light metals and jewelry, then began putting her skills to work. After graduation, she was part of a grassroots recycling collective. Next came a scholarship to the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina where she worked with glass artist Richard Ritter and helped build his studio. She was a non-degree graduate student in glass at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. She was just warming up.

After moving to RI, Clausen worked at the Weinberg Glass studio and as a model maker in the jewelry industry, then honed her carpentry skills in Bill Crozier’s wood shop in 2001, and became a teaching assistant in carpentry at the RI Detention Facility from 2004-2006.

Every skill Clausen learned gave a personal twist to the projects she took on. Sandblasted panels and stained glass find their way into wooden cabinets and human prosthetic eyes stare out from the disembodied head of a green giraffe, its mane constructed of painted nails. “I often use found objects for making parts – each of those parts have a dialogue with the others and then I create something around that conversation. That’s always been the way I work.”

When asked about the process of creating Endangered Species, Clausen explains, “It takes months because I tend to work on a handful of them at the same time,“ Clausen said. “It’s because of the different types of processes it takes – there’s a papier-mâché base, so I might pull everything out of my studio and set it up for that process. I used three different kinds of papers and it’s messy, so I will do a number of them at the same time. Then I’ll get to a different set of problems – dealing with how they will move and what they will finally look like. I might attach the ears on four of them at a time in order to deal with the mechanisms, and then I skin them.”

Fifteen of these pieces were exhibited in 2022 at Galerie le Domaine on Providence’s East Side. There are no plans yet for a second showing, but the collection continues to grow while Clausen puts in a grueling 40-hour week as director of facilities for Farm Fresh RI.

Clausen admits that she is looking forward to a time when she can be more focused on her own work. “You know – when I get old and retire,” she laughs. In the meantime, she somehow finds time to play bass with the Gillen Street Ensemble.

For Clausen, creativity is simply a way of life: “I’m a multidisciplinary artist and musician, I’m a maker. I consider working in the kitchen and making something fabulous to eat a creative process.”