Artist's Rendering: Taking passion beyond pottery

Carol McGuire
Mortonite Susan Goergen is a member of the ArtsPartners board. She has an interest in pottery and theater, among numerous other art-related activities.

Rural Mortonite, Susan Goergen, is an “amateur” ceramist whose works are inspired mostly by nature. 

Originally from Lincoln, she and her husband have lived in the area for 22 years. 

“I like plants and the earth tones, so a lot of things that I have added or embossed on my pottery will be trees or leaves or handles that look like branches. I like things that are in three’s, maybe because I have three kids.” 

When she was making the camera case shown in the photo (it even has stitching with real thread running though the piece), she had seen in one of her books that they make handbags out of clay that look like real handbags only they’re ceramic.

“I thought this would be nice in my husband’s study.  My teacher wondered what I was doing and was amazed that it didn’t blow up,” Goergen said.

When asked how she became interested in making pottery, she said she liked to play with clay when she was a kid making heads and things. 

“I found out that the Peoria Art Guild had classes, so I took the throwing class. After that, I was hooked. So, after that, my husband bought me a wheel and suggested I might want to take some courses at Bradley. So, I went and took three classes in throwing, hand building, production, glazing and firing. It was fun being around the younger people, too. Those classes were great,” she said.

Goergen is considering buying her own kiln since transporting the fragile green ware to Bradley can result in some broken pieces. 

“It’s a lot of work since you have to vent the kiln. The glazes can be toxic. It’s chemistry and art together because you’re mixing your own clay and you’re working with silica. You have to wear an aerator so you’re not sucking down all this stuff.  You’re using fire and heat to get the glazes to do what you want them to do. It’s not just turning a knob and letting it go. There’s a lot to it people don’t understand. That’s why, when I go see pottery somewhere and I look at it, I am like “wow, that’s amazing.” 

Goergen gives away most of her pottery creations in the hopes that they will bring a bit of fun and positive energy into someone else’s life.

Goergen said she has always been interested in art. 

“I went to a grade school that had 30 kids in the entire grade school. Art was a huge thing in our school, and every year we had different art projects. Her grandfathers were also artists.

“One of my grandfathers painted a full-size elephant on the side of his barn in Logan County, and I had a great-grandfather who studied art in Switzerland. It’s nice to hear stories like this when you’re a kid because it adds to the inspiration that you can do things.”

Goergen also dabbles in watercolors and digital photography.

“I kind of like a smorgasbord of things and I try a little bit of everything. I do craft things, too, like caning. I like making things with my hands and doing creative things.”

Expressing herself through the performing arts is also very rewarding to Goergen. 

As a tribute to her late father, Goergen re-entered the world of community theater in 2007 when she played the role of Sister Berthe in “The Sound of Music.” She played the same part in community theater in Lincoln in 1973.  She jokes that she was a much younger nun then. 

“You’re building a life and building a home and you never have time for it.  Aside from singing solos at church now and then, I just kind of got away from it. I needed something positive to look forward to after my father died so I heard about “The Sound of Music” coming up in Peoria and thought that this might be something that would heal me. It was wonderful. I found out that a lot of people are intimidated to get involved in community theater, especially when you haven’t done it for a number of years. But, most of the people there are in the same boat. The people that were involved in it forever were very kind, very supportive and made you feel so comfortable and it was just so much fun. You didn’t feel like if you didn’t know “stage right” from “stage left” it was OK. If being up on the stage isn’t for you, at least buy a ticket and go see a show and support it that way. Maybe it’s making costumes, helping with make-up, finding props or doing the scenery.”

Goergen attributes her parents' support to her positive attitude toward her pursuits.

“I had parents that always instilled in me that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. I knew that if I was in anything at school, my parents would get out of the field (they were farmers) and come see me. That made it seem important to me and it’s fun to be somebody that you’re not,” she said. 

She is thinking about trying out for an upcoming performance of “Music Man” even if it is in the chorus. “It sounds like fun. The costumes are fun and the music’s fun.”

Goergen became a board member with ArtsPartners in 2007, became vice-president in 2008 and will assume to duties of president this year. Goergen met Suzette Boulais, executive director of ArtsPartners in Peoria, when she was getting ready to do “The Sound of Music. 

“I met (Boulais) through a mutual friend who is also from Lincoln. He knew of my interest in music and pottery and suggested I join ArtsPartners,” she said.

ArtsPartners is dedicated to building awareness and economic growth of the arts in the Peoria area. The group recently hosted the One State Conference in early June, which brought people together from all over the state. The conference focused on the impact of the arts and cultural sectors in building vital, prosperous and livable communities. 

“I led a tour during the conference to Lakeview Museum, as well as points of interest in Peoria Heights. That was a lot of fun. ArtsPartners is a great resource for anyone who would like to know what’s going on in the art world in the Peoria area. A calendar is available on the Web site, We have a great free Public Art Catalog which lists historic tidbits and photos of some of Peoria’s most noted public pieces of art.  An art glass catalog is also in the works for later this year.”

Goergen said she believes everyone has an artistic side.

“A lot of people say they aren’t artistic, but they might quilt or sew or they have gorgeous gardens. They don’t understand there are so many different ways that you can express art. People are doing artistic things all the time. Sometimes they might have beautiful penmanship and you go “wow,” I wish I could do that. Some people may put together a beautiful ensemble and they look awesome but they don’t think they’re artistic,” she said. 

“Some people think it’s something you go to school to learn.  A lot of people say they are not into that kind of scene but if you have children who are involved in school plays or band, then you really are involved in it.  I think people think it’s something beyond them or it’ high society and it isn’t. There’s so much out there and a lot of the things are free.”

A gal with endless energy and enthusiasm for life, Goergen said what she would really like to do is find two men and another woman to form a quartet.

“It’s hard to find people to be in groups. There are a lot of closet singers out there. I always tell my kids it’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone so you can grow. If you stay within your comfort zone, then who knows what you could have done.”