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Island artist’s talent blossoms anew

To say that artist Susan Schrott is part of the fabric of Shelter Island may sound like a cliché, but in her case it’s pretty close to the mark. The art she’s created, for more than three decades, is produced by dyeing fabric, sewing and painting until a one-of-a-kind work emerges.

In 2019 she inspired and involved more than 170 Islanders, including school faculty and administrators, students, friends and family members, in the creation of a “Tree of Life Quilt,” in memory of victims of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting in October of 2018. Hand-dyed by Ms. Schrott, the design included leaves filled with messages of hope, healing and personal thoughts written by the students and members of the community. It would eventually be sent to the synagogue as a gift from Shelter Island to help congregants in the healing process.

Susan Schrott in her Island studio with many of her recent watercolor paintings. (Credit: Lorin Klaris)

She also took up her needle this past year to be of service to her neighbors in a time of need. Many Islanders will easily recall how difficult it was, when the COVID pandemic rapidly changed life on the Island, to find masks for protection against contagion. Ms. Schrott was one of the first of a small number of Islanders who took it upon themselves to sew masks and fill an urgent need.

“I wound up making more than 1,100 masks,” she recalled recently. She gave the masks away, setting them out at sunrise on a table in her driveway alongside an elephant statue to help people find them. “I was able to use my art,” she said, as each mask was an individual design, “and it brought me closer to so many people on the Island.”

She worked late at night on the masks, since her days were filled with her profession as a psychotherapist, ministering through online sessions to patients in record numbers, trying to cope with the health crisis.

Over time, she found herself channeling her creativity in a new direction, teaching herself through YouTube videos and her own experimentation, to paint with watercolors. She produced hundreds of watercolor paintings, painting while her favorite music — ranging from Chopin to Stevie Wonder ­— played in the background. In contrast to her textile works, which she acknowledges are made with a “self-imposed perfectionism” working with needles and sewing machines as well as fabrics and dyes, the watercolors offered her “an element of surprise. And in that joy, and spontaneity, I found it restorative.”

Some of Ms. Schrott’s watercolors are shown in the photo alongside her in her studio. They are also on display at Marie Eiffel’s.

Lest there be a waking hour in her day that’s not filled, Ms. Schrott also pours creative energy into her garden, a work of art that won’t be on display in the ArtSI studio tour this year, as pre-wedding festivities for her daughter will pre-empt her participation.

She is carving out some time, though, to fashion a new installation she plans to enter into an exhibition focusing on themes of spirituality, grief and joy. Because she saved one of each design that she made for the masks, they will form the nucleus of the work she plans to enter. Thinking about the message she wants her installation to send, as a social commentary piece, she hopes to convey a sense of “community, of being of service,” which those masks represent.