Susan Armington

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HomeArtistsSusan Armington

From tiny Japanese slippers to a gigantic map of the Twin Cities (made of words and languages of people who live there), Susan’s art reflects the world she sees and feels. Her works are maps of imaginative geography, paintings and 3-D collage sculptures which she exhibits locally and nationwide. Her art and community work deal with telling our stories and connecting across differences. She teaches students to make art about themselves and their world, then speak and write about it. They use 2-D and 3-D materials- drawing, papers, fabrics, beads, wire, boxes, sparkly Mylar, wood bits, hot glue, suitcases and more.

Susan holds degrees from Brown University and Cornell University. She has led art workshops statewide, as well as at the Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Minnesota History Center, and Walker Art Center. She has received grants from the MN State Arts Board in 2004, 2009, 2013. Her project “Talking Suitcases” turns stories of immigration, memory, love and loss into unique 3-D story objects in suitcases. She won the “Changemaker of the Year” award for this project from the MN Women’s Press, honoring her “impact on the lives of women and children.”

More About the Artist

Check out an example virtual residency from Susan to find out if a remote program is right for you.

Program Offerings


Talking Suitcases

In a Talking Suitcases residency, participants create mixed media objects about their lives. Susan Armington is a painter and community artist who works in 2-D and 3-D collage. She has received numerous grants for her art and for her community project “Talking Suitcases.” In this project, people of all backgrounds gather their life stories and turn them into 3-D art objects which they display in suitcases and share with the community. Susan has led the project often with elders, including groups from the Jewish, Korean, Hmong, and Vietnamese communities. People reflect on their life, give shape to important memories, and then share their stories and art with a wider public. The aim is both for people to reflect on their experiences, and also to listen deeply and discover depth and similarities in others’ lives.

In a Talking Suitcases residency, I lead participants in creating mixed media objects about their lives. Each session focuses on a question like:
What is precious to you?
What is a favorite childhood memory?
What is a struggle you experienced in your life, and how did you handle it?
Who inspired you in your life?

I demonstrate a technique or structure for easy art-making and supply materials (fabrics, papers, hot glue, beads, wire, wood bits, etc.) to help people get started. Then each person develops her/his own artwork to tell a personal story that would be placed in their suitcase. We share our Talking Suitcases in a final event with the group and wider public.

Note: Materials and mileage costs may also apply.

Drawing Nature

This residency uses shapes and lines to train the eye and moves from copying simple drawings to real-life insects, creatures, and yes, even classmates.

Maps/Map Boxes

This residency creates small boxes that open and unfold a long flap with a miniature 3-D world on it, complete with moving pop-ups. Map boxes bring to life a place or time.

Nature & Japan

Students create Japanese-style art that connects them to nature through heart and imagination.

Talking Suitcases

In this residency students fill suitcases with handmade objects that tell stories – personal, family stories, history & fiction.

Note: Requires five 2-hr. sessions, Ideal for grades 6 and up.


“Susan was very kind and patient, and she was very flexible and willing and able to adapt to each Residents level. One of our Residents stated that he absolutely loved Susan’s class, and that it has made a difference in his life, and helps him to talk, express and remember different experiences that he has had in his life.”

Activity Director, Older Adult Care Center

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COMPAS is an arts education nonprofit that puts creativity in the hands of Minnesotans, regardless of their age, background, or skills. Based in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area, COMPAS teaching artists deliver creative experiences and arts programming across Minnesota.

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This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.