A work of heart: Brick sculptor takes talents to new heights

Published 12:10 am Sunday, June 11, 2023

SALISBURY — Ninety feet above the street at 889 Broadway in New York City are 14 classically-designed brick panels that, over time, have been worn down, but with the help of her Salisbury studio, one woman is replacing every one of them.

Down a gravel road with tractor-trailers leaving in and out is the Taylor Clay Products factory. Past the forklifts running to and fro and the roar of loud machines is a purple door with three letters on it — S.U.E.

Inside, 85-year-old Sue Landerman is steadfast at work, carving away at the brick panels that will soon adorn the top floor of a building constructed 150 years ago.

Landerman’s work speaks for itself, but the artist has a lot to say, too, and she’s quick to admit that brick sculpting was something she came into later in life.

“I never had any training in art,” Landerman said. “I was just kind of handy.”

Tragedy befell Landerman when she was 50, losing her 26-year-old daughter, Trina.

“It did quite a number on me,” Landerman said. “I felt like I lost me for a while.”

She had been painting some with her other daughter Ginger, an artist, and realized she found relief through artistic expression. However, she met a stone carver, and it piqued her interest. Something about the stone resonated with her.

“I went to a studio, picked up a hammer and chisel, and it was just like I had come home,” Landerman said. “I tore into stone, and it was just wonderful. I felt something in the stone, and you know, you gotta let it out of there.”

Landerman did not start working with brick, but she was hooked as soon as she discovered the medium.

“I was smitten and thought, how can I get my hands on this,” Landerman said. “I decided that this is what I want to do the rest of my life.”

Landerman acknowledged that it breathed life back into the one she thought she had lost.

“It’s a gift that God has given me, and it turned my pain into beauty,” Landerman said. “It brought me alive. I kicked off my high heels, got rid of the Cadillac, bought a van, and went off to brick factories around the country.”

Brick sculpting is an art form that dates back millennia, but according to Landerman, it is fairly rare in the United States as a medium. As such, Landerman has found her way into some exclusive brick-sculpting circles.

“I did three unusual pieces and was accepted by the Brick Institute of America as a brick sculptor and got on their mailing list nationally,” Landerman. “I started going to every convention and offered to do a demonstration or exhibition and offer the pieces as door prizes for free, to make myself known.”

Having been in sales most of her life, Landerman knew the name of the game, and her self-marketing got the attention of some big names that led to even bigger jobs.

“I’ve worked at a lot of different factories and have had the privilege of carving the crest for West Point Academy in New York City,” Landerman said. “I have sculptured a wall at Clemson University at the National Brick Research Center.”

Her latest gig, carving the panels for the Gorham Apartments in New York City, she owes to Linda Evans, a Tennessee-based sculptor who matches new brickwork with the original shade of buildings for restoration work.

“She comes to Taylor Clay a lot,” Landerman said. “I met her, and we have done quite a few jobs together. She heard about the (New York) job and thought it would be the perfect match for me. She hooked me up with it, and here I am. I just finished carving the last panel … There are 14 panels for the building.”

Gorham Apartments was constructed in 1883, with apartments on the upper floors and the 19th-century Gorham Silver Company on the lower floors. One of the first apartment houses as well as one of the first mixed-use buildings ever constructed, Gorham Apartments was designed by architect Edward Hale Kendall, whose commissions included the Washington Building, the American Express Building on Jay Street and the Navarre Hotel.

Landerman called the project an honor, expressing excitement over having a part in architecture history.

Although Landerman is from Portsmouth, Virginia, she is leaving her mark in Salisbury, too. She has created brick sculptures that can be found at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and a memorial panel for the Korean War Veterans display at the concourse in the park.

Conceiving her next work of art is as simple for Landerman as getting up in the morning.

“I wake up with a dream of something and can’t wait to get to the studio to carve it,” Landerman said. “Anything can be done, just like this building. Those are designs they created. I just use a little more of my technique than the original carvers.”

In a few weeks, Landerman will be back in New York, 90 feet above the street, to see her work join a piece of history. The location of the building is not lost on her either, and she can’t wait to formally celebrate her latest achievement, “Sue Landerman does Broadway.”