The first time I saw Susan Seddon Boulet’s artwork, I was hunting for unicorns in the public library. I was all about faerie creatures at 11 years old, and had gotten pretty good at spotting them in the stacks.
My favorite librarian was really old, maybe like 35, and knew I’d read all the unicorn books in her area. But children weren’t allowed in the general section alone, and librarians couldn’t leave their own section unattended. So we agreed, as long as I kept the rabble-rousers at bay, she would set forth to find me something new.
What she returned with, smart cookie, was a fat hardcover from that magical call number of 398.2/Folklore. It was an oversize book, auspiciously titled The Unicorn, and had clearly been mauled by a toddler, then run over by a truck and dropped in the rain. Dog ears for days and published before I was born.
That book, which I so eagerly took home, was an illustrated compendium – a glory of unicorns galloping across time and culture on every page. And one image struck me as a favorite, a 1976 pastel etching by Boulet. The piece was called “Mer-unicorn.”
Rendered flowingly, purple and blue scales blend confidently into the orange-tinned fins of the etching. The mane of the subject is white, gleaming against the darkness of an interior world. I was in love, and I distinctly remember the temptation of keeping that book forever (this temptation happened to occur a lot).
As the years have passed, I’ve learned a lot about Boulet. Like Sulamith Wülfing, Boulet’s art contains the biographical elements of self-soothing. Like Remedios Varo, the distinction between subject and object is often blurred. Spectral auras permeate the landscape and implore us to look closely. Boulet’s work in the Visionary Art Movement embodies her identity as a woman of curiosity and spirituality. She lived a cosmopolitan life of immense privilege, and she also endured intense trauma. To view her art is to view her autobiography.
I wish for her name and work to be more widely known. Today I was surprised to find, although she is in the footnotes of many others, she has no Wikipedia page to herself (yet). Still, you may have encountered her art in a wide range of spaces – from metaphysical boutiques and crystal shops to book jackets and album covers. You may have even spotted her art in the background décor of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One of her most recognized partnerships was with Ursula K. Le Guin, when Boulet illustrated an edition of Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight. In this printing, Le Guin dedicates the book to Boulet as a “sharer of visions.”
If you’re attracted to Boulet’s visions, I recommend browsing here to see some paintings. If you’re in the mood to read about Boulet’s journey as an artist and human, I absolutely encourage you to check out Susan Seddon Boulet: A Retrospective by Michael Babcock. This book, written by a dear friend after her death, includes over 200 chronologically displayed pieces of art and, I promise you, unicorns.