Vancouver is both a literary hotbed and a doggy delight.
Artist and illustrator Sue Clancy, who moved here in 2011 and still feels like she’s learning this town, said a couple observations keep sticking with her: people bent over novels at bus stops and coffee shops, and people bent over their beloved pooches, offering that same kind of care and devotion.
Somehow those disparate details merged in the artist’s mind, as you can see in the charming exhibit “Dear Readers,” which is up on the walls of the Burnt Bridge Cellars wine tasting room in downtown Vancouver through the end of this month. “Dear Readers” brings books and dogs together in funny, whimsical ways.
That’s exactly what Clancy said she’s after: smiles. If you grab a glass of wine, wander the exhibit and enjoy some chuckles, she said, she’s done her job.
Generating smiles may seem like an easy goal for an artist, but it’s a hard-won mission for Clancy. When she was 5 years old and growing up in Oklahoma, she said, she was pushed down a flight of concrete stairs. That severely and permanently damaged her hearing, Clancy said.
“I landed on my head. That managed to do it,” she said.
Why did such a thing happen? “Things are hazy. I don’t remember. I just remember, not long after that I was living with my grandmother,” she said.
That was a kinder, stabler household, but Clancy didn’t get hearing aids until age 8. Before that, for three years, she was stuck in a world of silence, bullying by peers and no accommodation from uncomprehending teachers.
“I would get in trouble with the teachers because I wouldn’t respond,” she said. “I learned pretty quickly to amuse myself by drawing. It amused the other kids around me, too. Some of the teachers liked it, some of them didn’t.”
Drawing became her constant companion, she said, and a way to generate smiles in her peers rather than mockery. Her kind grandmother “kept a steady supply of paper, pencils and crayons for me to use,” she said. That grandmother died when Clancy was 13, and she went back to living with her parents — but not for long.
“I was kicked out of my biological parents’ house because I was gay and unrepentantly college bound. Typical homeless gay youth, that was me,” Clancy wrote in an email. “So I made any extra money I could by doing illustrations for businesses.”
She drew menus, florist advertisements, storefront window images. She became her town’s go-to commercial illustrator; she even put herself through the University of Oklahoma by working as a graphic designer and illustrator for the Center for Economic and Management Research there, she said.
She also met a faculty couple who became her de facto parents, she added; her new “dad” was a psychiatrist who “really helped me learn what’s most important is not what happens to a person, it’s how you respond to it,” she said. “That’s been my guiding star ever since.”
Clancy met her partner (now spouse), Judy, at the University of Oklahoma but planned a move to Oregon or Washington, where acceptance of same-sex relationships was growing quickly in the early 2000s. They settled on Washington because it already offered civil domestic-partnership unions (otherwise known as “everything but marriage,” Clancy said) and visited Vancouver thinking it would be a convenient way station for trips to visit family in Beaverton and Idaho.
But then they did what people often do when they discover Vancouver: they fell in love with the place.
“Because of its friendly people primarily, as well as the arts, the downtown, the newspaper, the views … the hiking, and much more,” Clancy said. “We … threw our stuff in a moving van and arrived on this happy Vancouver planet in June of 2011.” They formalized their domestic partnership immediately, and got married as soon as that was legal.
Clancy’s hearing aids haven’t been a whole lot of help to her over the years, she said. But when The Columbian called her up to talk about this story, it was no different than any other telephone conversation.
“Hearing aids are bigger and better now,” she said. “Talking to people like this — it’s a new experience for me.”
Today, Clancy makes a living as an illustrator and author. “Being an artist can be a feast-or-famine business,” Clancy said.
She notes that she has the luxury of being able to fall back on her wife’s income.
“Even so I have the ‘no art-y, no eat-y’ perspective and I hustle. Boy, do I hustle,” she said.
She’s published several books of her whimsical works accompanied by poetry and other writings. A big spread of Clancy’s lighthearted, cartoony drawings called “Sketching the Coast” appeared earlier this year in Oregon Coast Magazine.
“I love doing words and illustrations on the topics of tourism, food, recipes and pets,” she said.
Clancy also does commissioned portraits of pets and their owners, and you’ll catch her artworks on the walls of pediatric and law offices — “anyplace that needs light-hearted or kid-friendly artwork,” she said.
Such a place is the Arthur D. Curtis Children’s Justice Center in downtown Vancouver. In 2016 Clancy was happy to donate a big, funny, dog-and-cat mural to the site where young crime and abuse victims connect with investigators, social workers, advocates and others.
Now, in the “Dear Readers” exhibit, she said she wanted to echo the feeling she gets when watching dogs charge around local parks — finding joy and real magic in the most mundane activities, like chasing Frisbees and meeting doggy peers.
All of which fits her mission of promoting compassion and kindness in a world that can be pretty cruel, she said.
“My hope is that, if people are amused by artwork, perhaps they’d be a little kinder to the people around them,” she said. “I still want to contribute to the amount of kindness in the world today by making artwork that is amusing, light-hearted and kind.”
• Burnt Bridge Cellars is open 1 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays at 1500 Broadway, Vancouver.
• On the web: https://sueclancy.com