Retired GJHS teacher creates art with wax, dye and life memories

Susan Metzger cradles a batik egg in her hands, a tedious and labor-intensive piece of artwork done on an actual eggshell.

Batik artist Susan Metzger adds wax to a piece of batik artwork in progress in her studio on East Orchard Mesa.

Susan Metzger is different from some artists in western Colorado.

For one, Metzger, 58, makes batik, a labor-intensive ancient art using wax and dyes. Batik is often used to create designs and art on fabric and is most popular in Southeast Asia where batik clothes are worn.

And secondly, Metzger finds no inspiration in this area’s scenery.

“I travel to find inspiration,” she said.

She has long been intrigued by travel and foreign cultures, an interest that has resulted in Metzger’s evolution from someone intimidated by art to a working artist.

As a teenager and young college student, Metzger was employed at the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, while pursing a teaching degree from Ohio State University.

After graduating in 1976, and with the goal of learning another language by immersing herself in another culture, Metzger set her eyes on the Peace Corps. She was 27 when she was assigned to Honduras in 1980.

“It was the best job in the best place,” she said.

For nearly four years, two more than volunteers were typically allowed to stay abroad, Metzger lived in Azacualpa, Intibuca, Honduras, where she worked with village weavers.

The Lenca villagers carried water in gourds and traveled miles to cut firewood. It was a more primitive life, and Metzger loved it.

When her time with the Peace Corps ended, Metzger moved to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to teach history at a private school. While there, the school’s art teacher taught Metzger how to batik.

“I hated it the first two times,” said Metzger, who is adamant that she could not draw when she first started. “By the third time, I was hooked. It has been my medium ever since.”

Through batik, Metzger found a way to focus for hours on preserving her memories and old photographs.

Metzger usually begins by taking a photograph and drawing it on tracing paper. Then she irons the pattern onto a piece of fabric.

From there, it’s a time-consuming process of applying wax and dipping the fabric in dyes until the colors and design Metzger wants are achieved. Mistakes must be bleached out and the process started over.

“There are no shortcuts,” she said.

And even then, the artwork’s final look isn’t completely set until Metzger irons the wax out of the fabric.

Metzger sold her first batik in 1988.

After Hurricane Hugo ravaged St. Croix in 1989, Metzger, who rode out the storm on a wooden table in the hallway of her home while the water rose around her, decided she needed to move away from island locations where Category 5 natural disasters could occur.

Less than a year later, she moved to Mesa County where her sister lived and brought her interest in batik with her.

She worked various jobs for most of the 1990s before taking a position with School District 51 as an art and Spanish teacher at Grand Junction High School. The final four of Metzger’s 11 years at the school were saved exclusively for teaching art.

In addition to teaching, Metzger met and married her husband, Gary Hauschulz, also an art teacher at Grand Junction High School.

“We kept it quiet,” Metzger said of the years she and Hauschulz dated. “A lot of people didn’t know. It was amazing.”

The couple married in 2004 on Machu Picchu in Peru and retired together in June to their East Orchard Mesa home where the art studio space is split in two: one side for Hauschulz and the other for Metzger.

Retirement has given both more time to focus on their art and neither has become bored, said Metzger, who shows her work at The Blue Pig Gallery in Palisade, where she also occasionally teaches a class.

Images of buildings in Central or South America hang on Metzger’s art studio walls. The region holds a special place in Metzger’s heart, and the architecture is what inspires her and ends up in many of her batik pieces.

“I really love old buildings, and sometimes the only way you can keep it is through photographs,” Metzger said. “Batik is a way to recreate those memories.”

And there aren’t many buildings in western Colorado and Eastern Utah with quite the character Metzger is looking for, she admitted, shrugging her shoulders and taking a sip of her tea.

For old buildings, she leaves the United States.

But here and now in western Colorado, while enjoying retirement and talking with her husband about what adventures their art will take them on, Metzger couldn’t be happier.


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