Dropenling

Artistic Collaborations

Susie Vickery has as a gift in the way she turns an image or idea into a multilayered, magical piece of art. She tells a story through the combination of embroidery, graphic narrative and animation. International lifestyle is the source of her passion as she divides her time between Mumbai, London and China. Susie’s professional background in costume design has opened many doors, allowing her to help out with various development projects. Dropenling, a Tibetan social enterprise located in China, is a prime example. Here they host annual workshops, inviting Susie to help develop new designs, creating handicrafts that encompass humor, charm, character and play. She says, “My work in the region is the inspiration for my embroidered textile pieces, which draw on issues of iconography, identity, gender, and Asian art.”
 
Since 2008 Susie has been traveling to Tibet, working closely with Claire Burkert who has been closely connected to this organization for over six years and is responsible for product development and sourcing, working with leatherworkers, weavers and wood painters. Claire noticed Susie’s talent and was excited to see how she not only taught technical design skills, but how she encouraged the artisans to be designers themselves.
 
Susie’s first project was the creation of the beloved Snow Lion, Tibet’s national emblem which symbolizes fearlessness and unconditional cheerfulness. She designed a Snow Lion glove puppet that was highly admired for its detail and decoration. Burkert says, “I have a particular affection for them--I love Snow Lion carpets and their depictions on furniture and murals. With her sense of humor and her skills, Susie was the perfect person to translate the images of Snow Lions into a toy that charms everyone. For instance she could take two-dimensional images of the Snow Lion's flames and curls and figure out how to make these features beautifully stitched and three-dimensional—they became works of art. They were so novel and so wonderfully made—we then felt pushed to make new products—puppets, bags, jackets and slippers.”
 
When working on designs it is a collaborative effort. Susie, Claire and the design team at Dropenling spend days working back and forth, relaying and exchanging ideas. They would send Tibetan imagery, photos and temple paintings to one another, igniting new ideas and techniques. Susie is gifted in the way she can look at an image, develop a prototype and turn it into a three dimensional product. One of her newest designs is the toy sheep. Working off of a photo, she used the Tibetan style curves and curls to create the wool of the sheep in order to give it a stylized look. She says, “I was inspired by the Tibetan paintings, incorporating coconut buttons on the legs and bell shaped decorations around its neck.”
 
During Susie’s free time, she explored remote villages and visited various Tibetan tailors. She loved hearing their stories and witnessing their lives. One tailor, Wangdu, was particularly magnetic. “He lives in a beautiful valley on the side of the hill where he grows oranges and grapes and makes his own wine. He has such a characterful face and a wonderful laugh.” Inspired by his story and charisma, she created a personal art piece where she replicated a three-dimensional feeling like those in old toy puppet theaters.
 
Dropenling is precious and important because it the only craft outlet in Lhasa that strictly sells crafts made by Tibetans and is helping to promote and protect their culture. Tibetans are facing huge competition with Chinese mass product products and to keep these crafts alive within Tibet, the artisans need the kinds of support Dropenling gives. Susie is humbled by the opportunity to play a part and grateful for the artistic exchange in skills and ideas that always takes place.
 
For more information about Dropenling and Susie Vickery’s work please visit: www.tibetcraft.com or www.susievickery.com.

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