Person to Watch: Susan Beatrice
Sculpting Mickey Mouse
By Terri Akman

Photography by David Michael Howarth

Mickey Mouse, Harry Potter, Cabbage Patch Kids and Jessica Rabbit are just a few of the well-known characters on Sue Beatrice’s resume. The seasoned artist has been sculpting molds of popular characters that kids love from her studio in Washington Township. Throw in some candy creations and an upcoming stint on an artistic reality TV competition, and you’ve got a perfect portrait of this unique artist.

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Photo by David Michael Howarth

“The first big project I worked on was Cabbage Patch figurines, which were at the height of their popularity,” says Beatrice, 51. “I’ve been creating toy products for about 30 years and a lot of theme-park exclusives for companies including Disney, Sesame Street, Hasbro, Fisher Price and Galoob. I’ve worked on everything from Lion King and Pocahontas to the villains Ursula and Maleficent. The Dalmatians were especially fun because it was nice to work on puppies, but it was a pleasure to work on most of the Disney products.

“Right now I’m working on the classic Wizard of Oz series; I received some images and exact sizes, and I have to create them, do portraits and get them approved by MGM or whoever is giving the final approval. I might have to make revisions according to what the company wants. When the pieces are approved, I mold them in silicone, then cast them in resin. I’ll leave a blank one to be used as a super master, but the other copies I will paint. Sometimes I have to paint sales samples for them to take around to buyers, like Toys R Us. There’s one original of each item, one mold, and then anywhere from three to 10 copies.” Beatrice’s sculptures are then sent to a manufacturing plant to be mass-produced.

Although she has created many familiar commercial characters, Beatrice is bound by her contracts to not speak about many of them. “It’s one of the biggest frustrations,” she says.

Beatrice has also dabbled in the candy world, working with Frankford Candy and Chocolate Company since the early ’80s. “The most fun is creating my own line – crazy, goofy stuff like body parts for gummy candies (G-rated only), insects and lots of chocolate Easter bunnies,” she says. “It’s a kick to walk through a store and see dozens of pieces for sale that I’ve worked on over the years.”

Despite a strong reputation in the licensing industry for her work, Beatrice yearned for the chance to be more creative. “The licensing process involves doing a creation according to their specs and then getting approvals,” she explains.

“The faster you can get it through approvals, the more you can save the company money and time. It is stressful in terms of exactness. You have to be precise and match the style guides with exact specifications. That took away from the creative side of things. The truth is, if you do it exactly right, the work is going to look like what any other sculptor working in the business would make it look like.

“I’m a sculptor. If you do a licensed product perfectly, your style is hidden. There’s very little of yourself in that piece.”

Beatrice acknowledges that the licensed product industry has changed significantly since she started. “The type of work I’ve done for the past 30 years is a dying art. I’ve seen the most talented people in the business struggling right now because most of the work is done in China. I used to have a much more elaborate business with a lot of employees, but I had to let them go and downsize, because you can’t compete with factories that will do the sculpting work for free. There are also very few toy companies left. When I started out there were hundreds of them in my Rolodex, and now I can only think of one left – Hasbro. Think about it, there aren’t many toys that aren’t related to a licensed product.”

To put a creative spark back into her art, Beatrice started the company All Natural Arts to market her own personal artwork. “I needed relief from doing the licensed properties. I had worked about three years on a Harry Potter series, and though I enjoyed working on it and getting all the portraits just right, I was looking forward to doing something that didn’t have an art director okay it.”

One of Beatrice’s creations: a face sculpted on the back of a moth inside a pocket watch

One of Beatrice’s creations: a face sculpted on the back of a moth inside a pocket watch. Photo by David Michael Howarth.

Her designs incorporate recycled items, sea glass, old watch parts, wood and other unusual media into art and jewelry. “One of the more popular lines has been sculptures made mostly in pocket watch cases out of antique pocket watch parts, which often have beautiful scrollwork and a weight and patina to them,” she says. “I make all sorts of things from carousel horses to dancing animals.”

Beatrice has discovered new niches to add both work and excitement to her career. She enjoys making large pumpkin carvings, recently for the Bronx Zoo and Westbury Gardens, where she did live carves. One claim to fame is her work on a bust of President Benjamin Harrison for the Congress Hall Hotel in Cape May, which Harrison called his “summer White House.”

“Sculptures can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days,” she explains. “It takes one day for a pound up, which is the process of building a box to tamp the sand down into. You wet it, mix it and pound it down almost like you would concrete. That sits over night, and the next day you carve into it.”

She is also set to appear in the fall on a reality TV show that has already been filmed. She can’t disclose much about that, but it will involve artistry.

With such a varied resume, Beatrice’s life is rarely dull. “Anything I’m working on at the time has to be my favorite for me to put the passion into it that I really need to make it as good as it can be,” she says.

“But I can’t really get attached, because once something’s done, it’s not up to me whether it makes it to production or not. And it can be changed in the process. It would be a mistake if I got attached to something in the commercial realm. I really have to put ego aside. In my personal artwork, I can get a lot more connected to my work. I can be in love with each piece, because it stays exactly as it is.”


Castles in the Sand

One of Susan Beatrice’s favorite projects was a sand sculpture she made as part of a surprise proposal.

ProposalBeatrice and her friend, Andy Gertler, master sand sculptor and host of the Travel Channel’s “Sand Masters,” were commissioned by a young man in Long Island to build a sand castle to replicate the one from “Beauty and the Beast.” Originally, the castle was to be built on the beach, but when the young couples’ families got wind of the project, they want to witness the proposal, so the castle was built in a giant sand pit on land. Luckily, there was a garage next to the sand pit, so the family could stake out and watch the surprise unfold.

“The young man took his girlfriend for a walk through the town, and they came across us working on the sculpture,” says Beatrice. “We asked them for their help holding a sheet that was hiding part of the castle. At one point, we had them pull the sheet down, and they saw their names written on the castle. I had hidden the ring inside a rose I carved in the sand to look just like the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ rose. He got down on one knee, pulled out the ring and proposed. The family came running out. That was a really sweet moment.”

May 2013
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