About Sue Hoya Sellars
Born on April 20, 1936, in Prince George’s County, artist Sue Hoya Sellars grew up working the cotton and tobacco fields in Accokeek, Maryland. During those times of her youth stubborn dreams and a pointed vision toward the future stayed firmly attached to her creativity, personal expression and her great wonder and connection to the natural world.
Sue began drawing at the early age of four, “to keep her occupied,” as her older sister Eva was given the job of babysitting. Eva would have Sue draw and redraw the same thing with a pencil about two inches long. So began the legacy of learning to see, to really ‘see’ that Sue was famous for in her circle of influence and to take her time.
As a young girl she heard about an artist who lived in a town 7 miles away and she began to work towards building a “body of work” so she could show this artist her intent – to study art. It took her two years to get her portfolio ready and to pay off a bicycle and ride it those 7 miles to ask if she could study with her.
Her rare talent was immediately recognized and she became an apprentice to the famous artist, poet and sculptor Lenore Thomas Straus. It was in 1937, only one year after Sue’s birth, that Straus worked for the U.S. Office of President Roosevelt through the President’s famous New Deal art program. Called the WPA (Works Progress Administration) program for the arts that brought art to public spaces throughout the U.S., it was a time that gave American artists much needed recognition as well as money for their artwork.
Fifteen years following the push for the WPA, Straus officially became Sue’s legal guardian as she mentored and had her trained in sculpting, painting, writing, and clay work, as well as in poetry and zen sumi-e ink technique and found other artists for Sue to study with to expand her talent. An upcoming exhibit in at the Greenbelt Museum is planned for 2015.
“She got on the phone and called local artists that had clout, and set me up with a painter who gave painting lessons in exchange for babysitting, drawing lessons in exchange for doing yard work and sculpting lessons with her in exchange for babysitting”
In 1955, Lenore organized an official position for Sue Sellars where at the age nineteen, she became the youngest person to hold the position of head illustrator for the George Vanderbilt Foundation at Stanford University. And Sue made the journey from Maryland to the Bay Area.
She began a career in art, during a time when most women in the arts who dedicated their life completely to their own artwork were very scarce throughout the United States. Her diverse interest in the arts and sciences brought her many powerful opportunities to share her work and her vision. Sue studied biological illustrating with Jan Roemhild, attended the Corcoran School of Art in Washington DC and the San Francisco Art Institute under the instruction with Wayne Thiebaud. She studied anatomy at the San Francisco School of Physicians and Surgeons while illustrating with Dr. Forbes and biological engineer, Hugh Hinchcliff. She was an illustrator for Janet Bollow and Associates for three decades, illustrating college text books covering Anthropology, Biology, Geology, Psychology, and Sociology. She attended the School of Electronic Art in San Francisco.
Ebony Magazine Article with Zack Thompson and Sue Sellars in her studio
in front of the in process painting of the Drummers.
March, 1958, Vol. 13 Issue 5, p38
Her work has caused ‘stir in the West’… One of Sue’s early paintings, during the Beat period in North Beach recently turned up in Norway as part of a Beat Art Collection at a University, originally owned by Reidar Wennesland. Sue’s painting was part of his collection including Michael Bowen, Arthur Monroe, Jay deFeo. Notes for this painting are in her notebook for this period and was connected with her friend, the legendary dancer, Zack Thompson, called “Frisco’s Joyous Dance Master” by Ebony Magazine in a 1958 article.
Sue Hoya Sellars was part of America’s explosion for independence in the feminist movement of the 1970s. It was a time when she began to open to the great adventures of the world as she witnessed and participated in the beginning of the California revolution through women’s rights, feminism and the legions of activists that began to ‘wake up’ to what needed to happen in the lives of women and their families. Those were the years she lived bringing the issues of inequality and the needs for ‘woman-only power’ to the attention of the women’s community.
For years she was referred to as the “The Separatist”, both fondly and through the criticism of her peers. She worked to define spaces that were only created by women. Hence, her call to work the land with the hands of women from the building of structures to the chopping of wood to the raising and slaughtering of livestock. For her, everything was a part of the creative process – Sue could often be found having tea with the goats with her notebook in hand. She found joy through the eyes of the artist even in the hardest of times.
“My Separatist is gentler now in her sharing than she was years ago, but she was fierce back then for a good reason. When I was 5-years-old our family was part of the first group of pioneering women that started Women Against Rape of Sonoma County, now known as Verity, in 1974. As part of the group my family would open their homes to those women who were suffering from violence. Later in 1975, the YWCA Sonoma County was founded by a group of local women who volunteered their own homes as an underground network of safe houses. Two years later the YWCA Sonoma County opened the YWCA Safe House, which housed the first 15 domestic violence shelters in the United States. It was a time of empowerment when women were being encouraged to press legal charges when they were violated.” Excerpted from WNN Article by Shiloh Sophia McCloud
She invited, and at times schooled, her community to redefine thinking, language and images of women and family through art and history. Her move to the Anderson Valley in 1975 was a chance to put her vision into action through co-creating sanctuary and ‘safe space’ for women as well as the building an art studio to produce work for sale and teach others. Here members of the women’s community were harbored and protected – Sue would have them chop wood and carry water – and milk the goats. Working hard, and working your body was a part of Sue’s teaching for women to find their footing in a dangerous world.
When asked about her stand regarding woman only spaces, she said:
“no one is standing here, so I am going to, someone has to stand here regarding women – lots of others are standing in other places, I will stand here.”
Expanding the freedom that came with the women’s liberation movement in California, Sue’s professional work in illustration made its mark and could be seen throughout the country in academic and biological publications like McGraw Hill publishing, among others. One of her many accomplishments was illustrating a book by Rita Mae Brown, A Plain Brown Wrapper in 1976. Bringing image to the political climate brought Sue’s work into the forefront – if we were going to redefine women, image had to be a part of that movement.
Image above: They Swat Flies with That by Sue Hoya Sellars
Skilled in all mediums of working the land, and in art, she was a frontier woman in another surprising way. In the computer era of the 1990s, Sue brought her brilliant and mind expanding work into the digital world as a demonstrated innovator with the use of a Macintosh computer in ‘fine art painting’ through MacWorld expositions in San Francisco and the new online dictionary called C-Bold. Printing some of the first large-scale fine art giclées in the world from her mountaintop studio in Anderson Valley California, Sue knew that the power of digital image was here to stay. She later began showing and selling her digital artwork to the public in Sonoma, San Francisco and Mendocino.
Sue’s next evolution as an Artist was to become the Art Matriarch for a woman and girl owned tribe, gallery and school, Cosmic Cowgirls, where her art proudly hangs today.
The lineage that began with Sue’s mentorship by Lenore Thomas Straus continues through Shiloh Sophia McCloud with whom she has worked on a weekly basis for close to 15 years, but has co-parented since birth. Together they co-founded the Intentional Creativity Movement reaching over hundrends of thousands of people over the past 25 years, based in the root of Sue’s teaching, which she learned from Lenore. Tools, idea, philosophy passed down from generation to generation.
In Lenore’s writings she refers to a pivotal concept employed in the Intentional Creativity Movement: “What ancient knowing lives within these hands?” That the artist comes with her own information and by creating, releases it into the stone or canvas or art medium. And here how she indicates that the art also informs the artist – it is a mutual relationship and collaboration: “again and again the hands are formed that carve a stone.”
It was essential for Sue that her art mentor was acknowledged as a part of the gift she was passing on to her family and students. And so we continue that acknowledgment in the way of the Masters – to show were we have come from and where we are going. When asked what would she like Lenore to know after she passed – Sue was heard to say: I just want her to know I am doing the work.
Living on her land since the 1970s, Sue was as powerful in 2014 at the age of 78 as she was in her younger days. When she wasn’t at her easel on the mountaintop, she was still chain-sawing a fallen trees on her property and helping neighbors slaughter animals for food. Just this summer she was also teaching her approach to art in Paris and got to realize a life long dream of visiting the Mona Lisa.
Some of Sue’s luckiest and accomplished students learned one-on-one from her in her northern California home called ‘Terra Sophia’. Sue’s land of rolling hills, and beautiful redwood trees and oaks helped art students gain an appreciation of ‘being on the land’ of deep listening, watching, seeing and integrating art with every aspect of life. Along with this came her sharing of quantum physics, human understanding and biology; and the importance of the work of opening the heart ever wider to compassion and love.
Sue taught us how to see, to truly see with the eyes of the artist. And to honor the gift of being incarnate in a physical body. She taught us how we were ‘sacks of cooling stardust’ with a choice of how to use our precious energy. She told us the best way to use what we had was through expressing it in art, with an intention to heal. And we listened, and were transformed. ~
Sue truly believed in the power of art to heal and was featured at the United Nations in 2013 as a part of an exhibit demonstrating how art could serve women post-trauma.
Sue encouraged everyone she knew to ‘commit art’. With a groundbreaking futuristic, classical and anthropological approach to art, the work of Sue Hoya Sellars is the work of an American Master. Musea Intentional Creativity Museum is privileged to be honoring her unfinished works and paying tribute to her mastery, methodology, and enduring legacy within our Intentional Creativity Community.
This article sharing the life of Sue Hoya Sellars is written in collaboration between the Cosmic Cowgirls and Musea Co-Curators.