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An Artists Trek, Biographical Sketch

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An Artists Trek, Biographical Sketch

Travel Blog

Suzanne Fellerman Giuriati Cerny

I attended the High School of Music and Art which was housed in a Manhattan "castle" a landmark building on Convent Ave and 135th Street from 1952 to 1956. After some consideration about joining the Art Students League, I was accepted to study fine art and design at the Cooper Union Institute. After graduation I worked briefly in an art related business in New York City. I left New York when I was very young, about 21, having decided that I wanted to see and learn more about America. My first journey in 1960 was through the southwest, visiting the Great Smokies national park, stopping in Birmingham, AL., and somewhere in West Virginia. This travel actually extended south west to Texas where we entered Mexico. It was the beatnik era, and there were no barriers to our being on the road with a backpack.

From Alabama we walked, all night, towards Houston, Texas, and then crossed into Mexico through Brownsville. In Mexico, we took a local bus ride down the East Coast and visited Tuxpam and the city of Veracruz. By 1961, after having returned to New York and worked for a year, we decided to go north to New Hampshire, then on to eastern Canada. I thought I had a good idea to travel and see North America. A friend and I hitchhiked across the trans Canada Highway, which had just been newly constructed. I had already seen the central states, having driven out to Sioux City, Iowa, and taken a raft trip on the Missouri River. My friend and I had arranged a river trip in an army doubled pontoon kayak, on the Missouri. We had to get permission from the Sioux City, Iowa Core of Engineers to make that trip.

We hitchhiked out of New York State north to Canada. We e discovered Ontario, Canada, and then dipped down into an area near Lake Superior, entering Ohio and points west. We arrived in Iowa and made our raft trip on the Missouri for 10 days. We camped, kept a journal with sketching and had to watch out for rattlesnakes.We got off the river in Decatur, Nebraska, just before the Missouri entered the wider Mississippi River.
Getting off the river in Decatur, Nebraska, we bought a car for $50 and went to Kansas City to visit a friend. In Kansas City I discovered a big modern library, and I started reading Journals by Henry David Thoreau, and adventures of mountain climbing in the Himalayas, and finally about the North West Passage expeditions, where Sir John Franklin and his successors searched for a passage to India in the Canadian Arctic.

I worked as a waitress in a steak house for a winter, and then returned to New York for a time where I worked in an ice cream parlor, and then I really wanted to visit a Canadian explorer who had written a book about living in the arctic. I had read a lot of books about explorers and I was all synced up to become one myself. Back in New York, I worked on plans for a trip through Canada. I hoped also to see the northern plains states. I went with a friend, starting north from New York City, through New England, and visited a much celebrated author of the Canadian north, in the U of New Hampshire, Villamor Stefansson. I had discovered his book, Five Years with the Eskimos, written in 1905, while in Kansas City.

In the spring of 1961, we went north into Banff, Alberta and hitchhiked up the Al-Can Highway to Alaska. We road in diffderent cars, and slept during the trip, one night on stacks of burlap bags in a burlap factory. People from Ohio to the northwest were kind enough to pick us up and even stay in their houses overnight. We camped in the open campgrounds sometimes.

The event that led us to living in a log cabin on the bank in clearing in the poplar and pine tree forested hills, was a stroke of real advantage for learning about the sub arctic. There were two cabins, warmed by the big 50 gallon sized wood stoves, in this home owned by two older people.They had been trappers, and niners, and now had to take care of an elderly down in Washington state. We learned from this couple, Jack and Hazel Meloy, to survive in the cold winter months. We learned to hunt moose and dress the animal and keep it frozen in the meat house. We learned to pump drinking water from the river even when the river was iced over. We learned to bake bread and cook for the three sled dogs and ourselves. I studied the banjo that my partner had. brought along with him. We were two winters in these cabins, and traveled 12 miles on the frozen river to visit our nearest neighbors. I had a Fanny Farmer cookbook that my mother had given me, and there I learned to bake pies and cakes. I stayed in the Yukon Territory one more year in another cabin upriver, by myself while my partner went into Whitehorse to find work. We had no communication between us for all the winter months that I stayed alone, this time living mostly on oatmeal.In the beautiful northern summer, and the ensuing fall season, I learned the ways of hunting, river travel, and preserving food from the garden. After 3 years of living in wilderness conditions, I moved into the city of Whitehorse. I taught myself to type in the cabin, and secured a job in the local newspaper office. A competition came in for an artist to design a mural, and the newspaper editor told me, don't paint it, design it to be built out of wood, plywood veneer, in layers. That was the genius idea that surely helped to win this contest. It was on a balcony in the new City Hall, the exterior wall were of local field stones.


In Whitehorse, I continued to paint, and found myself teaching an oil painting class adult night school. I was chosen to build the mural through my design. It took some months to build with the help of a local cabinet maker. I was awarded $5,000 in 1967 for my mural design in the Whitehorse City Hall. The mural, executed in wood sculptural relief, was entitled History of the Klondike. It is still in place, 10 feet tall and 50 feet wide. The center panel was a hand lettered calligraphic statement describing an Oath of the Young Men of Athens to the City of Athens, giving the outpost city of Whitehorse a connection with civilization and law.

In 1957 I came to San Francisco. I obtained a life time teacher credential for adult art through the state of California. My former teacher in 3-dimensional design at Cooper Union, Bob Blackburn, urged me to attain that license and it has been my main employment in adult schools throughout the Bay Area. Oils were my main medium and I began using pastels which are very similar to oils in color and effects. While working as a street portrait artist at Fisherman's Wharf for 3 years, the use of charcoal pencils recreated an interest in pursuing more drawing skills.

In the early 1990's, inherited a beautiful modern home in New Canaan, Connecticut, designed after a work of Mies Van de Rohe, from my Italian born father and his Norwegian wife. I lived in New Canaan for four years. We had three acres of beautiful forested land, that held some really big boulders, typical of New England terrain. I painted some local landscape, and became a member of the esteemed Silver Mine Art Association. I studied oil portraiture with Joann Roy in Norwalk. (If anyone knows the whereabouts of JoAnn Roy, a fabulous portrait painter from the Frank J. Reilly teachings, please contact me). I decided to leave, so worked on selling the house.

My father, Lionello Giuriati, had come to America from Naples, Italy in 1925. He was an artist and painted many beautiful paintings from the impressionist painters, and later from the expressionist era in Europe and America. I was inspired that my step mother had a broad interest in American culture. There were many biographical works and art books in my new home. She furnished her home in contemporary art deco style, and had an original Al Hirschfeld print of Judy Garland.

My father had painted a wide collection of oil paintings for their restaurant in Ohio. The restaurant, called Leonello was well known, and besides the continental cuisine and fine wines, displayed early Picasso's, some French Impressionists as well as interpretations of contemporary artists.

There was an opportunity, I realize now, to be an artist in the art center of the US which was New York City. This was a home left to me for the remainder of my life, and I gave it up. The wanderlust never left me. I couldn't settle down. My father warned me about this. He knew that as a child I had been moved about a lot with my parents. My mother moved us kids from town to town, as my step father who raised us had been discharged from the army, and was pursuing his future, and so we followed me. My birth father cautioned me about taking my first child on a trip, when she was only an infant. He said she would not be able to settle down. Apparently he was so aware of things that affect people all their lives, from childhood, but I didn't obey. I was almost 60 years old and I gave up a home that had no mortage, three acres of woodland, in a wealthy part of Connecticut called New Canaan. I had studied a massage therapy course before I went to Connecticut from San Francisco, and a woman in New Canaan had studied at the same school as I did. She started me with a practice there so I could make a living. I advertised in the New Canaan newspaper, and David Letterman, who lived nearby, called me and I became his therapist for a year.

Leaving this house, I did nothing to purchase another. I continued following my interests, and this time settled in the Arizona desert, a few miles south of Tucson, Arizona. I asked my kids if they would share a multi unit building with me in San Francisco, that I would purchase and each one would have their own home and inherit it after I passed on. But they were not interested either. It seemed none of us had any sense of the coming changes in the economy.

In 1994 I moved to Santa Barbara where I became a member of the Santa Barbara Art Association. There I studied more in the Frank J
Reilly method of painting. I learned to use the Munsell Scale in traditional representative oil painting, from a Manual by Apollo Dorian.

On the California Central Coast, I painted mostly plein air with artists of the O.A.K. Group started by Michael Drury and Ray Strong. I became a sketch artist in a small Jazz Club in Santa Barbara, and started sketching the jazz musicians live, and then did some drawings from historic photos of jazz legends; later making paintings of the players who came from Los Angeles to play at the club. I received a commission from saxophonist Ravi Coltrane to paint a historic family portrait featuring his famous father, John Coltrane, which was given to Alice Coltrane for her 60th birthday. Seven family members were included in the 3x4 foot canvas. My portrait was well received, and I was granted a session with Alice Coltrane as she had me do a few corrections for the various members.

In Santa Barbara I entered a national mural contest, and won the Master Muralist Award which was to be located in Lompoc,
CA. I designed and executed the 500 sq. foot mural there which is a History of a Local Blacksmith Shop.

During this period my son was building a small strawbale dwelling in Tucson, and so In 1999, I moved permanently west to Tucson where I lived and helped to develop this desert land, for 6 years, until the land and building were sold.

I was impressed by the excellent painting happening in the city of Tucson including including my peers at the TPAP art society, and knowing that members of the Cowboy Artists of America also reside in Tucson and populate the Southwest Galleries there. I became a docent at the Tucson Museum of Art and learned about the history of the region and connections with Central and South American art. I belonged to the TPAP plein air artists which increased my interest in the intrinsic value of plein air painting. I took advanced drawing with Paul Tebo in Tucson, in 2003-04 at the Drawing Studio, an organization dedicated solely to traditional and contemporary drawing.

In January, 2005, I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Regarding my painting mediums, I prefer oils for brush stroke control. I like the odor of the linseed oils, and I like to pre mix my colors. Acrylics were on the market when I was in Cooper Union in 1957 but I have not used them very much except for murals. For murals, I prefer to use acrylics called Nova Color, or if obtainable, Politec Acrylic Paint in jars. I like the ease and complexity of layered computer painting. I like photography as a fine art expression.

At the time of this writing, I am an art instructor for seniors in residence homes. It has been very rewarding and inspiring to see men and women who are upwards of 80 years, who didn't think they could draw to turn out very accomplished and interesting art works.

From 2009 to the present I pursued painting for a gallery in Oakland, CA;, painted expressive images of jazz artists at the 57th Street Gallery and at the Jazz Heritage Center on Fillmore St.

At the present time I am working in oils concerning mythological and legendary literary ideas on large canvases, conceived of and laid out in fundamental Sacred Geometric design. The Golden Mean was used for the initial layout. My son and partner James Water also paints in these canvases.To create a vision of someone else takes a bit of study, and since it had always been my way to copy what I was looking at, this is a good adventure ito the unknown.

Updated March 3, 2018