Suzanne Thomas is picking up a softer canvas these days. The fine linens, tulles and laces she colors are as delicate as her hand-embroidered designs.
“I am still a painter, but I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was a kid. So working with fabric and needles and color — it just makes sense that I would start doing this [embroidery]. I’ve always liked sheer fabric and lace; I’m such a girl!” Thomas said, with a laugh.
Thomas started creating layered embroidery artwork about five years ago. She was seeking a medium less taxing than painting, one that wouldn’t require her to report to a studio, and she found embroidery to be soothing, almost meditative. After a long day of teaching students art history, painting and drawing at Rose State, she loves cuddling up on the couch with a handful of fabrics and threads.
Though her canvas is soft, the resulting artwork celebrates strong black women. One dons a ballgown. One plays guitar. Another, a cowgirl, rides a horse. Thomas is inspired by vintage photos of black Hollywood actresses like Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge. She also references Jet Magazine’s Beauty of the Week.
“They’re all adventurous, beautiful and glamorous,” Thomas said. “I’ve always found black women the most beautiful women in the world. In my paintings, I would paint a lot with gold. I try to put gold undertones in brown skin because it’s precious. It is fine quality.”
Through a hefty dose of teaching and volunteer work, Thomas strives to make art inclusive and accessible to all. As president of Inclusion in Art, she works to create space and opportunities for artists of color in Oklahoma.
“I want to see everybody,” Thomas said, adding that engaging with the artist community is the most rewarding part of being an artist.
“Even when you don’t agree on everything — whether it’s political or social or whatever — talking about art seems to be one thing we can all come together on,” she said. “Listening to their ideas and being inspired by what you see them do as artists, that’s what’s exciting; because art is not made in a vacuum.
“I tell my students that there’s nothing new under the sun. What you do with something is what makes it unique and different — how you say it, how you approach it.”