Sussy-Rose Shields

Sussy-Rose Shields -- Silversmith

Sussy-Rose ShieldsThe Riverview Mill, formerly the Abbott Machine Company at the end of Howard Street, is home to a variety of retail shops and small businesses. The white clapboard building closest to the Souhegan River, which once housed the company offices, is now the location of many artists’ studios since 1990.

Silversmith Sussy-Rose Shields isn’t quite an original member of the group, but she has been there the longest of the current residents.

“I think I was number four,” Sussy said recently. “I’ve been here for 29 years.”

Artists and craftsmen have come and gone over the years, she said, and there are currently twenty-four. Residents have covered a wide variety of arts and crafts – fine art painters, jewelers, photographers, wood workers, glass blowers, potters, musicians, a few massage studios and offices.

The Abbott Machine Company was incorporated in 1931 but had been producing textile machinery since 1926. Turning part of the complex into studios for artists was the brainchild of the late Kay Roedel who always stayed in the background saying she wasn’t an artist, just a supporter.

“Kay became more than a friend over the years,” Sussy said. “She was like a mother hen to all of us here at the Mill.”

Most of the studios are only ‘open by appointment’. Open studio weekends have been held over the years, watch for them in May and November. The buildings retain much of that previous use in their old wood floors, exposed beams and brickwork, and original windows, many having a wide view of the river.

Sussy is a native of Oklahoma, child of a military family that traveled world-wide.

Receiving her degree in housing and interior design from Oklahoma State University, she set out for California to be an architect, not a silversmith. “I took a job selling jewelry supplies to Bay Area craftspeople, took a class and that’s where the bug bit me.” But having spent almost half my life in Wilton, I consider it home.

“I’m pretty much self-taught,” she said. “I wanted to be an independent artist.”

She became a juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsman in 1988 and has been involved at the Sunapee Craft Fair as a vendor of her craft, the original manager of Craftwear and five years as Shop of the Fair manager. In 2016, her design of an Elf Boot was chosen by the Craftsmen League for their annual Christmas ornament.

Along the way she followed another path as well. In 2000 she graduated from what is now Antioch University with a master’s degree in Environmental Education.

“My job as Director with the non-profit Barakat, based in Cambridge, MA., lasted eight years. We provided education for Afghan refugee women and children living in Pakistan. It also involved pure-water projects in places such as India, which I  visited several times, and distributing grants to small non-profits worldwide that were environmentally oriented.” Sussy also worked at Environmental Centers in Manchester and in Amherst, NH.

Environmentalism has influenced her art as well. “My designs draw inspiration from nature and world cultures” she said, “like using textures from volcanic leavings or images from cave drawings.”

Sussy-Rose JewelryIn her studio, Sussy does custom work and repair as well as original pieces in silver, gold, and other metals. She also holds classes in metal work. Asked the length of time it takes to create a piece, “It depends on the design,” she said. “I can spend days or months on one piece.”

“I feel honored to be supported by the Wilton community,” she said, but noting, “people haven’t come to fully realize the artistic gem of the Riverview Mill. There are only a few such artist communities in southern New Hampshire. Being in a community of like-minded people is fantastic. There is an energy that flows through the building. Art isn’t just about making a living, it’s about your passion. We’re all looking forward to having visitors in our studios again -- check with the studio for more information. Masks are required.”

Sussy’s passion is displayed in her one-of-a-kind necklaces, earrings and bracelets.

She can be reached in her studio at 654-5310 or [email protected].

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