Suzie Zuzek was an American from Key West who is best celebrated for her watercolors and ceramic tile creations, as well as works in ancient, reclaimed drift wood, centuries old glass from Bottle Beach, wire, and most things she could get her hands on. Zuzek has also recently gained recognition for creating the signature colorful and whimsical prints used for the successful ‘Lilly Look’ Lilly Pulitzer clothing in the 1960s and 70s. Over 2,500 drawings for Lilly Pulitzer of Zuzek’s, once thought lost, are now being archived and restored. Cooper Hewitt, the textile curator, told Susan Brown, “Suzie Zuzek is somebody whose work is familiar to millions of people, and who had a major impact on the social history and the material culture of the 1960s and ‘70s, but most people have never heard her name.”
Suzie was born Agnes Zuzek in 1920 on a farm near Buffalo, New York to Yugoslav immigrants. She served in the Women’s Army Corps with her sister during World War II. After the war had ended, she attended Pratt Institute for illustration and design on the G.I. Bill. She also took classes at the Art Students League in New York. She met her husband John DePoo and both moved to Key West in the 1950s. It was then that she worked for the Hand Print Factory, subsequently working for Lilly Pulitzer designing landscape, seascape and floral patterns. Whether it is her patterns, ceramic tiles or glass sculptures, Zuzek’s work is vivid in color with expressive distortions that remind us of what it takes to make fine art.
In her mid-sixties Suzie gave up textile design to focus herself on painting and sculpting. “Work is your salvation,” said Suzie in her late 80s and still rising to daylight savings time. “It really keeps you going. I like hard work, any kind of work. Any physical labor charges up your batteries. I haven’t got the energy I used to, you know. But, I’m lucky to have lived so long and have something I enjoy doing. Age shouldn’t be a dirty word. Don’t waste your time worrying about it.”
Zuzek died in 2011 at the age of 90.