Capturing the Bronze: Sculptor Susan Read Cronin Brings Whimsy to Montecito
Whether it is painting, sculpting, or writing, the creative arts offer an opportunity to express oneself.
For Susan Read Cronin, or Susie as she prefers to be called, her extensive body of whimsical bronze sculptures have led to a lifetime of play. She was born on the north shore of Long Island, and her parents bought a farm in Vermont, where the family would spend summer vacations and ski in the winters. While the farm life was never quite Susie’s style, the influence of spending a childhood around animals is apparent in her bronze work. Susie left for boarding school at The Madeira School in Virginia before attending Williams College in Massachusetts, where she majored in English and studied art design. It was during her senior year at college that she met her husband, Ted Cronin, and has been with him ever since.
Throughout the next 40 or so years, they raised their family and moved between several villages in Vermont. Susie and Ted spent 30 years in Manchester, where Ted founded Manchester Capital Management, a wealth management firm that offers family office services with a real estate component. The firm has offices in Manchester, Vermont; New York City; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Montecito. Ted would come out to visit the local office here and fell in love with the Central Coast. Each time Susie would visit Montecito, the gentler winters and sunny beaches warmed her up to the area as well and they decided to move here full time in 2016.
Of course, this was just before the Thomas Fire and subsequent debris flow. While these experiences illustrate the danger of nature, since moving to the area Susie has also found inspiration in the splendor of her surroundings.
It was another fire that originally prompted Susie to pursue making bronze sculptures. In the mid-1990s, their Vermont home unfortunately caught on fire. After a year of working with insurance companies, sorting through belongings, and rebuilding their home, Susie needed a creative outlet. She decided to take a sculpture class being taught by an esteemed local sculptor, Jane Armstrong, and learned about the process of turning clay models into bronze. Sculptures being transformed into bronze by going through a process of fire seemed like a fitting medium to work in after her recent experience.
It took her about three years to build up a body of work of 12 pieces for her first solo show in 1999. Since then, making bronze sculptures has become both passion and profession with her work being featured in solo and group shows throughout the country and at institutions such as the Copley Society of Boston and the National Sculpture Society in New York. Her solo exhibit, “Fables, Foibles and Fairy Tales,” has traveled to 18 museums and many of her pieces are in collections countrywide.
There is a nuanced gestalt in her sculpture, with the subjects being light and joyful on the surface, yet darker elements and themes come out as one spends more time with the piece. Susie wants her work to celebrate the levity of life while acknowledging the challenges that accompany it. Her range of sculptures dance from whimsical animals like elephants and pigs to more eccentric subjects such as running noses to a series of Jacks from a deck of playing cards.
Finding Her Magic
In “Looking for the Magic,” a rabbit sits on the edge of a diving board on top of a spindly ladder, looking down into a worn magician’s hat. As Susie was working on the piece, she wondered what the rabbit was looking at in the hat. Then it came to her to fit a mirror into the bottom of the top hat, so the rabbit would be reflecting itself in the mirror. This showed the rabbit that the magic it was searching for the whole time was itself.
Because most people are unaware of the months-long process and team effort that it takes to produce a bronze sculpture, Susie decided to write a small handbook that could give the reader insight into the complicated process in simple terms. Her 15-page foldout book, Bronze Casting in a Nutshell, is suitable for third graders and up. Her father A.D. Read, a cartoonist, illustrated the book.
During the pandemic, Susie has turned her creative hand to poetry. Having always had a love of words, she has been writing a range of poetry drawing from her childhood and daily life. She published Notices, a chapbook of her poetry, in June of 2020. It includes left-handed drawings, paper cuts, and monotypes that she has done over recent years.
Whether it is crafting quirky bronze sculptures or constructing meaningful poems, for Susie it is just another day in a lifetime of play. For those interested, Tecolote Book Shop has Notices available. And for more info about her sculptures, Susie welcomes people to visit her bronze menagerie at her website: www.susanreadcronin.com