Our new Get to Know Your A2AC Instructors! series dives into who the amazing A2AC instructors are, what they do outside of the A2AC, their favorite teaching moments, fun facts, and more.
The next instructor in this series is Susan Mankowski!
Click on the Questions to see Susan‘s answers!
“Whenever I have students who get excited about what they’re doing and continue to create outside class, I feel good.”
Tell us about yourself.
I am a woman searching for a deeper connection with others, nature, and myself. Art/teaching is a way I have found to work toward this goal. I was born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit, but I believe I came to life when I discovered Ann Arbor. The minute I first visited Ann Arbor, I felt more alive. This made for an easy decision to attend the University of Michigan School of Art. I spent a couple of years studying Interior Design but found myself each summer working with kids and teaching art. I decided to switch gears slightly and get my BFA and a teaching certificate. I believe teaching was the work I was meant to do. Soon after graduating, I got a job with the Brighton Area Schools. I began my career teaching art at the elementary level but eventually spent a few years at the middle school before moving on to high school. I spent 22 of my 32-year career teaching at the high school level. I taught a variety of media, but mostly ceramics. This was quite a challenge since my first loves were drawing and watercolor, but I jumped in, taking workshops and learning from a colleague. Now I can’t decide which I enjoy more, watercolor or ceramics. I’ve even combined them in my work on occasion. Before retiring, I had a studio built onto my home with space and equipment to do both. Since retiring from public schools, I have been teaching and creating in my studio and teaching at the A2AC. You can usually find me outside when I’m not in my studio. I enjoy putting around my yard, and long walks through my neighborhood or in one of the Ann Arbor parks. I enjoy spending time with my 2 young adult children or visiting my sister “up north,” where we walk, bike and kayak.
What does your creative practice look like?
Having been an educator my adult life, I have had to work in many mediums, and I still enjoy playing in a variety of them. Mostly I create watercolor paintings or ceramic pieces. My artwork usually is inspired by the natural world. I enjoy painting outside or taking pictures on walks to paint once back in my studio. My clay work is often a combination of wheel-thrown and manipulated or handbuilt pieces. I enjoy adding texture and relief sculpture to pieces. In my studio, my time is spent painting in watercolor, working in clay, or preparing for my students. Sometimes my approach to my work is to play and see what happens. Other times I start with a specific idea. Sometimes I enjoy just jumping into the process and creating without much planning. Other times I am more thoughtful and have more of a plan. Most of the time, my inspiration comes from the outdoors – whether it’s the light, color, textures, contrasts, etc., that get me going. I enjoy the sculptural aspects and creating depth in both my watercolor and clay work.
What is next for your artistic career?
As much as I enjoy teaching, I need to allow myself more time to continue to grow and develop as an artist. My goal is to become more disciplined in carving out time to explore and create.
What are your favorite teaching moments?
I have been teaching my entire adult life. What brought me to A2AC was the desire to continue to teach, even after retiring from the profession! My children and I have taken classes here over the years and always had good experiences. It’s lovely to teach smaller groups of people and not have to grade and do report cards! My favorite class to teach varies. So much is determined by the people that make up a given class. It’s more about the interactions with the students in the class than what I’m teaching that makes a class special.
I can’t name any specific project(s) I’m most proud of. Whenever I have students who get excited about what they’re doing and continue to create outside class, I feel good. It gives me such pleasure when students come in and are eager to share what they have created since the last time we met. Teaching classes continue to challenge me to find new ways to present material and create projects to inspire and meet students’ needs.
What would you say to someone interested in art but nervous about taking a class?
To anyone nervous about taking a class, I often feel nervous about teaching a class, even after all these years! But once the activities begin in the room, the joy of discovery and creating takes over. The classes I’ve taught usually have students of a wide range of knowledge, ability, and experience, from no art experience in adulthood to those who have taken several classes. If your soul is whispering to let your creativity out and take a class, listen!