I found Etsy shop Sudie’s Corner through the Auction for Aspen small shop fundraiser. The shop’s painted peg dolls resembling the female Supreme Court justices were incredibly life-like and detailed, down to the tips of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recognizable dissent collar. I reached out to artist Susana Barnreuther to learn more about her craft.
Susana started painting wooden peg dolls almost five years ago. “They were a birthday present for my almost three year old and, after having so much fun and seeing how my daughter loved them, I moved on to create a nativity set,” she recalled. “I loved the idea of basic, wooden toys that would be durable and spark the imagination. Also, a nativity set that a child could play with ‘hands on’ and that would still look cute displayed. After posting photos on Facebook, I started getting orders from friends and Sudie’s Corner was born.” The shop name originated from her family nickname “Auntie Sudie” (“When my nephews as toddlers weren’t able to say Auntie Susie, so they called me Auntie Sudie”). Susana has painted famous movie and television actors, musicians and politicians, like characters from The Big Lebowski and The Office, the Beatles, Prince, and even Bernie Sanders. “Often scrolling through Instagram or sometimes leafing through children’s books, I will find inspiration by seeing an image of a magnificent animal that I then want to try and paint. Or when someone mentions something funny or makes some pop culture reference, I immediately wonder how that can be made into a peg doll,” she said.
Many of the wooden works of art offered by Sudie’s Corner are custom orders. “I usually base my design on the meaningful outfits that the customer has chosen. If I ever paint something else, I usually look up Google images, cartoons or illustration to help me define what features I will capture in the peg doll.” Customers can request that Susana paint family portraits (including pet portraits!) and the peg dolls can also be made into Christmas tree ornaments, key chains and magnets. “I think it is always a very exhilarating experience when someone finds your Etsy shop and buys one of your products. Even more rewarding than that is communicating with customers and creating something unique for them,” she shared. “I often offer customizations that are my suggestion and the customer hadn’t even thought of. I love that part and I think it stands out. Many of my customers are return customers and knowing that they love what I created for them is an amazing feeling.” Bringing a customer’s vision to fruition is one of Susana’s favorite parts of the design process. “I think it is the part when someone says, you couldn’t fit that on a peg doll right? It is the world of possibilities that lay right at your fingertips; imagination, creativity, plus some crafting materials and paints, and you can somehow make it happen.”
Beyond the peg dolls, Susana hand paints coordinating shadow boxes to display in the home as well. “I started to add wooden shadow boxes to my peg dolls that have their own custom painting on it. I began taking a photo that is meaningful to the customer, like a proposal photo, a favorite wedding photo or a special vacation memory, and turning it into three dimensional art,” she explained. “The background of the shadow box is painted like the background of the pictures and then I paint the peg dolls to look like the people in the picture. Up till now, and probably not for much longer, I am the only one doing this as far as I know.”