Susan Bickford MFA '01

At MECA, I was more ready; every moment was like being inside a diamond—it was synergistic.

Susan Bickford often works in digital media, creating installations that utilize video, animation, sound and theater. She is an Adjunct Professor of Visual & Electronic Art at the University of Maine at Augusta besides teaching at MECA&D and the University of Maine at Orono. Her practice has a strong emphasis on collaboration, as evidenced by the Collaborative Portrait Projects: Farmers Edition exhibit at UMA’s Danforth Gallery, which featured 10 large-scale portraits of local organic farmers produced collaboratively by 200 students from 10 area schools. Susan was a driving force behind the project and the opening featured an actual farmers' market. Each portrait began with a photograph of a farmer that was enlarged and divided into a grid of 36 squares. Individual students used a variety of techniques to interpret each square before reassembling them to create the final portrait. “The project allows students to experience the transformative power of assembly and offers an opportunity to incorporate civic lessons into art techniques and vice versa,” said Susan.

“The MFA program at MECA&D completely reinvigorated my art practice. I turned 40 while I was at MECA&D, and had a three year-old and a metalsmithing business. The MFA program taught me to devour art history, to read and write as an essential aspect of my practice. I was reimmersed in the contemporary art world and exposed to a method of expeditionary exploration and art making. I don't think I ever recognized the preciousness of ‘studio time’ when I was an undergrad at RISD. At MECA&D, I was more ready; every moment was like being inside a diamond—it was synergistic. The MFA gave my practice and teaching a whole new life. Now I am not afraid to take on any kind of project, large or small, community-oriented or very personal. I make whatever the moment calls for: interactive immersive video and sound installation or apple pie.

Growing up in Maine, I have always been involved in the community and with the environment. But working as an artist-in-residence at Rippleffect and teaching and working on these community projects have deeply invested me in a much larger community. I have touched thousands of people —it is a privilege. And they have touched me.

Right now, I am working on five collaborative portraits of notable UMA alumni to celebrate our 50th anniversary. I had spent a whole day putting filters on a portrait of Mary Herman [a prominent businesswoman and the wife of former Maine Governor and current Maine Senator Angus King]. Out at dinner I ran into her, and because I had spent the entire day looking at her image, I felt as if she was an old friend. I was connected. I know that the energy spent on her portrait in some way drew us together. After you experience this kind of synchronicity enough times, it is clear that it is not simply coincidence. I think that most of the 36 people that worked on her portrait will have the same kind of feeling when they see her at the opening. Making art is energy, it is powerful and it is magic, especially when we do it with intention and love.”