At first glance, it’s tempting to assume that artist Suzanne McDonnell and her Border Collie-Australian Shepherd mix, Adelaide, are a bit on the posh side. Both of them being ridiculously photogenic tends to make us mortals think as much. But the truth is that these ladies are a lot tougher than you might think. From living alone in a cabin in Maine to moving Suzanne’s woodworking studio down to the mean streets of New Orleans, both gals are here to tell you: building a business takes a lot of work.
We sat down with Suzanne at her studio in the up-and-coming neighborhood of the Bywater, a 10-minute walk from the French Quarter, to talk art, business, and dog companionship.
WAGGLE: First off, how old is Adelaide? She looks great, but we’re pretty sure she just threw some shade at a Labrador that walked by.
SUZANNE: (Laughs) She’s 12, and a lady who knows what she wants. It’s hard to tell how old she actually is because a lot of her grey fur blends in with the light. As to the shade—it even comes my way on occasion. We’ve been together since I was a sophomore in college.
WAGGLE: You’ve had her that long? How’d you both meet?
SUZANNE: Yeah, 12 years. Hard to believe at times. I got her when she was six months old. She was a stray at my rival university (Texas A&M in College Station; I’m a Longhorn) and a friend of a friend picked her up knowing I’d be a sucker (I actually wanted a rescue greyhound). She had two different kinds of worms and fleas and was extremely gun-shy.
WAGGLE: So what was it, or when was it—the moment when you realized, “this is my lady now, we’re in it together”?
SUZANNE: Honestly? When I got a photo texted to me of her. I drove three hours that night and picked her up and that was it. She peed on me on the drive home to solidify the start of that relationship.
WAGGLE: Okay, so from there, you moved from Austin to Maine. Why Maine? And how’d you end up living alone in some cabin with only your dog and a shotgun?
SUZANNE: I had decided to go to a woodworking school up there, Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, so we packed up and drove. It was more of a cottage than a cabin, but it was set deep into the woods, nothing but trees, and Adelaide and I just spent the days playing fetch, going on walks, chasing turkeys (her, not me). Had it not been for her, I don’t know if I could have been able to live there. She was my buddy and my alarm system. But yeah, like you said, that didn’t stop me from buying a shotgun just in case (laughs).
WAGGLE: Let’s get into your work. We’ve interviewed artists before, but have never seen such intricate work. It’s absolutely gorgeous—especially this piece. How did you do that? And how long does it take?
SUZANNE: Thank you! I use a process called “marquetry,” which is basically an inlay technique in which I hand-cut each piece from veneers and create an image. This box was early on in my exploration of this process, so it took me longer than it would today…a couple of weeks.
WAGGLE: From Maine to New Orleans, how did Adelaide handle the massive change in weather?
SUZANNE: She loves any weather in which she can swim. Same for me, although we both enjoyed the snow, but that never stopped her from jumping in the ocean when it was 30 degrees.
WAGGLE: And finally, what are her (and your) favorite dog friendly spots in NOLA?
SUZANNE: Oh wow, okay…walking in the French Quarter is always great—everyone has a dog. Cabrini Park is also a local favorite that was actually a tough battle for dog owners (they tried to make it leashed), but a local judge helped us out, and I’m guessing you all want a place to get a drink, right? (We do.) Okay, I’d say Bacchanal. Big outdoor space, nice quiet area, and good music.