Biography of Joe Sutcliffe


I, Joe Sutcliffe, was born in Louisiana, Missouri and grew up in the western Kansas town of Grainfield.  The U.S. Navy during the Vietnam era took me far from my Kansas flatlands roots and gave me the opportunity to experience travel outside of the U.S.  After the Navy, I continued my education and began my career in Information Technology, retiring after 20 years from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas.


Photography had been a hobby since I was a teenager in 4-H, but over the years I developed many other interests including stained glass work, sculpture and pottery. My father was the photography leader the 9 years I was in 4-H. He had installed a black & white darkroom in our basement that allowed us to learn the basics of photography.


I purchased my first 35 mm camera in 1967 while in Japan. I added lens over the years and acquired new bodies. In 2002 I purchased my first digital camera. The camera wasn't as good as I would have liked, it had slow auto focus and other camera specific limitations. I like the digital, though, because it makes it easy to try something and immediately see if, and how, it worked. Compact flash is like a continuous roll of film that I never run out of. I have found the process of developing photos through the digital process not only rewarding but advantageous as well. I have total control over the final image, color correcting and tweaking the photo until I am satisfied with the final outcome. The digital camera and the computer added a whole new experience to photography. As time passed I upgraded my digital camera to a SLR that allowed me to use my old lens.


Ever since my entry into the county fair when I was 8 years old, I love to show my pictures. I have entered many photo contests and won numerous awards.


In my travels thru out the world, I take 2 types pictures. The first is to record a story of the area and people that I see. The other is as seen thru the eye of the artist. Many times they overlap. Photography is truly an art of passion and expression. It provides me with the ability to capture images from around the world on film. While I am photographing, I feel at peace, and it is during these moments that I begin to better understand the world and my place within it.


I have traveled and taken photographs on all seven continents - Africa,  Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America, and  Antarctica. I would love to share all of my images with you.


I started making clay masks as a result of my travels to Africa in 1996 and a fascination with masks as expressive objects. This interest continued to grow after a trip to Brazil and another trip to Africa, and it continues to evolve.  For me the masks have become a commentary on life and the human condition.  Although my masks are not wearable and, therefore, not used in traditional ways, I hope that they have the power to communicate ideas.  I especially like to emphasize feeling, wit and irony in my pieces and I hope that the masks are able to speak for themselves. The ideas for the theatrical masks were formed when I started volunteering at the Topeka Performing Arts Center.


I create each mask with earthenware clay and then form it to bring out and define the details. After the masks have completely dried for one to two weeks I fire them to cone 05. Some of the pieces are painted with glazes and fired again.  Some of my red clay masks are not glazed so that they can be used as terracotta garden decor.  When all firing is completed, many pieces get some type of "mixed media" addition such as jute or bits of wire or leather. Lately, I've been having fun using driftwood and raffia.  I also sculpt many small clay parts to help each mask tell its story.