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Look for her designs on Mikasa

Sherman artist
gambles, wins

By Jon Chesto
SHERMAN - Susan Steinberg sees the world differently.

When she looks at nearly everything a flock of birds, a necktie, a rust-colored carpet, even a Mississippi Mud ice cream package in a vending machine - Steinberg often watches designs unfold before her eyes.

"I just observe everything I can and I try to be a channel for it and grab some of that freshness and put it on paper," said Steinberg, a 40-year-old artist who works out of her home in Sherman.

Steinberg's eye for fun and lively patterns and combinations is getting noticed, particularly in the last two years since she quit her job as a school teacher to focus on her graphics business.

Linens & Things sold seder plates she designed earlier this year, and Mikasa will be releasing a line of dinnerware this summer that features her drawings of Parisian scenes.

"She's got a very unique style, very fresh and very original," said Alfred Blake, chairman of the Secaucus, NJ.based Mikasa Inc. "Everything we've done with her has been successful,"

Steinberg attributes her own success to deciding to take a risk by leaving a relatively secure teaching career and following her longtime dream of becoming a full-time artist.

"I guess I wasn't prepared to do it 20 years ago," Steinberg said. "I didn't know when I got out of school about marketing myself and I didn't have any business experience."

Ever since she was a young child, she has been interested in art. Steinberg, whose father opened Martin's clothing store in Danbury in 1954 and whose mother was an artist who helped start the local Galleri 7 in the 1970s, remembers draw ing before she was old enough to read.

Growing up, she knew she wanted career that would enable her to further explore her passion. But she wasn't sure how to proceed by the time she graduated from college.

When she left the Art Center College of Design in California with a bachelor' degree in 1981, Steinberg tried traveling and creating three-dimensional paintings by using leaves, branches ai other materials.

Eventually, she returned to the Danbury area and took a job teaching art in the Bethel school system.

"I needed the security where I coull get a paycheck that I could depend on." Steinberg said.

Her school year in Bethel started a 13 year career in education. Steinberg taught art at a variety of local schools - Henry Abbott Technical School in Danbury, Bethel High School and St. Margaret's-McTernan School in Waterbury. She also taught in Surrey, England and Laguna Beach, Calif.

Throughout her years as an educator. Steinberg tried to balance her teaching with her artwork. But she found it was a continual challenge to find enough time and energy to focus on her designs after devoting so much to her classes.

"I was putting out so much energy, but I didn't have enough time to do my art," Steinberg said.

That began to change in 1995, when Steinberg received the phone call that changed her life.

Someone from James River Corp. in Norwalk was on the phone, asking Steinberg if they could buy her floral patterns for Dixie cups and paper plates, she said. Apparently, the person had seen her business card and had been impressed with the artwork on it.

That call helped cement Steinberg's decision to venture out on her own. After teaching a year at Bethel High School, she opted not to return for another school year.

"That was the hardest thing, to leave the safety of a teaching job, to just jump off the edge," Steinberg said. "But I felt like it was time to see if my art was going to sell. I knew if I didn't try, I would regret it for the rest of my life."

Steinberg's gamble seems to be paying off. The bold, colorful drawings on the plates, bowls, place mats and other household items she paints are catching the attention of an increasing number of clients.

"Her graphics are fun and kind of airy, a little bit whimsical," said Beth Merrill, president and owner of Acorn Placemats Co. in New Canaan. "She's very upbeat (and) a lot of fun."

Acorn's place mats, coasters and trivets emblazoned with Steinberg's designs were featured in last month's issue of the Saks Folio Home Catalog.

"We've had some good success with the graphics that we've done with Susan's art," Merrill said. "I'm sure she'll be doing more for Acorn in the future."

Steinberg's own future likely involves promoting many of her newer designs - such as a pattern inspired by the finches that flock to the birdfeeder at her home - as well as heading overseas to see if she can incorporate what she views in different cultures into her art.

Steinberg said she is hopeful that her work with everyday objects can help make art more meaningful to people.

"I'd like to break through some barriers and bring acceptable fine art to the general public," Steinberg said. "I try to reach as many people as I can with my products because I want to bring joy into their lives through my designs. That's what creating them does for me, and I want to pass it on."