Have you met Susan Larson Fleming, our new Weavers Guild of Minnesota president? If not, it’s surprising, given her many work and community and WGM ties.
You might have met her while learning a new weaving skill, since she is a long-time Weavers Guild member, and has taken classes intermittently over the years. Her first class was a rigid heddle class, over twenty years ago, and her most recent class was this year, a nalbinding class with Melba Granlund.
Maybe you have seen her at the Guild on a Friday; for the past few years she and Donna Gravesen have been organizing and pricing all of the equipment donations—a volunteer activity that helps the Guild’s bottom line. She is active on the Board of Directors. She attends the meetings of a planning committee at the Textile Center dealing with building renovations, to help the board track discussion that is relevant to our space and planning.
Susan was born in Sweden and grew up in Chicago. After completing her undergraduate degree at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, she took graduate courses in Scandinavian Studies while getting her masters degree in Library Science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She also spent time at a Husmorsforening, a neighborhood cooperative weaving center in Munkfors, Sweden. In the late 1980s she studied design in the graduate school at the University of Minnesota.
Her work life has been varied. She worked as an archivist at the American Swedish Institute (ASI), and after that for the national YMCA, whose collection is at the University of Minnesota. She helped found Svenska Skolan, a weekend Swedish language school, first located at Augsburg College and now at ASI.
She was once an apprentice to Cathy Ingebretsen, a prominent local weaver who made large commissioned wall hangings in Theo Moorman inlay technique. Susan would work on preparing the Cranbrook loom. The studio also produced baskets and baby blankets, and even a giant puppet for the Heart of the Beast Theater, for one of the early May Day parades.
She worked for the Weavers Journal from 1984-1987, when Sue Baizerman and Karen Searle were the editors. She was the calendar editor and wrote articles and pitched in as needed. The first office was on University Avenue, near Hamden, in a building now torn down. She recalled the most interesting call she received during her time at the magazine, when a woman called with a concern after the Chernobyl explosion. “Do you know if yarn from that part of the world is radioactive?” She left the Weavers Journal in 1987, just before her daughter was born. As a special surprise, her colleagues wove a special overshot blanket for Grace.
If you’ve spent much time in the Creative Activities Building at the State Fair, you may have run into Susan at another one of her jobs; she has worked for the State Fair for over 20 years. It’s a real community. “When you get there, it’s all fair, all the time—all the little tragedies, seeing the regular contributors. It’s touching, lovely.”
Since 2000, Susan has been the Archivist for the Hennepin History Museum, which is housed in the historic Christian Mansion, just down the block from MIA. It has a wonderful, eclectic collection of artifacts and documents. Boxes of materials are stacked on bookcases in the former chauffeurs’ rooms and kitchen of the mansion.
Prospect Park, the neighborhood she shares with the Weavers Guild, has been an important part of her life since she and her husband Frank moved there following graduate school in the late 1970s. It’s a National Historic District, filled with arts people, a great place to raise their two daughters, Thea and Grace. “It’s a real community within the city,” she said. They have been in their second house, built in 1904, since 1984. She has done community organizing, is a past president of the neighborhood association, and served on its board until last year. She was also president of Southeast Publications, which published the Southeast Angle and The Bridge newspapers.
Susan is settling in to her position as the president, and is thankful for the supportive staff and especially for the people who have been so helpful with accounting and finance tasks, including the new treasurer Nancy Gossell, former treasurer Karen Hovermale, and Geri Retzlaff.
Finally, Susan may be the only Guild president to have ever been thrown out of the Guild—twice! Once, back when the Guild was still in the Chittenden Building in St. Paul, she went to a member meeting to cover it for the Weavers Journal. Except it didn’t happen, because she asked to leave because she was a “member of the press.” Another time she was denied entrance to a meeting when she brought her young daughter — no children were allowed.
You’re sure you haven’t met Susan? Take your next opportunity to get to know her!