KENNETT SQUARE—Award-winning local artist and graphic designer Suzanne Gaadt has been selected by the National Wildlife Federation as their first-ever featured artist. Seven years ago, Gaadt started her small business, Give A Fig, to celebrate nature, create art from the heart, and give back.
Starting in January, the NWF website is featuring a selection of Gaadt’s Give A Fig cards. To “Give A Fig” means to care, and Gaadt’s work, business model, and personal ethos express her care for people and for the world in which we live.
When Gaadt applies ink to a page, her creations refuse to lie flat. Birds, woodland and sea-faring creatures, and even trees, flowers, and mushrooms all leap to life and draw the observer into a world infused with joyful imagination, humor, and hope. Gaadt’s creations reflect a deep knowledge of the natural world and its mysteries, even as they engage in playful possibilities. A great blue whale shimmering with jewel-like swirls bears a jaunty violin-playing penguin through the waves. A cheerful bear rides a bright-red Vespa past the Colosseum. Celtic flourishes express the age-infused wisdom of a tree, tiny hidden creatures burrow, bees buzz.
In her four “Tree of Life” illustrations, for example, Gaadt captures the complex cyclical beauty of the earth and the community of nature gathering in each season around a tree that sustains, and is sustained by, these creatures. In winter, a hare observes a partridge and four calling birds roosting in a pear tree as a deer feeds on fallen fruit. A subtle background of whimsical snow-like swirls and stars provide both depth and further movement. The cool, calm palette is soothing—not the bleak mid-winter that cloaks souls in sadness but rather a natural season of paring down as nature rests. Each of these four illustrations invites, and rewards, a second look to discover more of Gaadt’s whimsical and thoughtful details.
The depth in Gaadt’s works springs from many things—including her insatiable curiosity about, and deep respect for, the world in which we live; careful research and meticulous attention to light, movement, and detail; rich life experiences and relationships; and nature- and art-focused travel around the globe.
Following Nature’s Path
Gaadt, who has worked for years as an award-winning graphic designer while also nurturing other creative projects, has been reflecting recently on this season in her own life. From this present vantage point she’s able to discern the labyrinth-like design in the paths she’s taken to arrive where she is, in a season where her gifts and passions converge.
She grew up walking mountain trails, visiting parks, and identifying birds and wildflowers in her native Bucks and Chester Counties and further afield. “I grew up before smartphones and we only had a small black-and-white TV,” she says. “We read books, and we spent a lot of time together as a family and a lot of time outside as well. And we went to lots of museums, especially fine arts museums and historic sites.”
Her parents instilled in her, and in her brother and sister, the importance of living an authentic life, honestly, and of giving back. All of these experiences kindled her enduring love of history and travel, but it’s her deep connection with nature that brings these other interests together.
As a teen, Gaadt spent a lot of time at a favorite spot by a forest-ringed pond, watching and absorbing, drawing birds, trying to capture the way the light filtered through the trees in her sketchbook and with her camera. In college, she had a summer job at a nature center creating exhibits and leading educational activities. She was involved in an early project to bring back Eastern Bluebirds and eagerly kept tabs on the first nesting pair of bald eagles on the Chesapeake Bay.
Gaadt’s first job after college, at an advertising and marketing firm, was a good experience, she says. But this girl who had been raised to value the authentic life, eschewing the shallow trappings of materialism, quickly realized it wasn’t what she wanted to spend her life doing. After a cross-country road trip with friends, she returned to the east coast and accepted a position in the curatorial department at the Brandywine River Museum. She loved working with their collections, and soon she also fell in love with a senior planner at the Environmental Management Center (now the Brandywine Conservancy). She and John were married, and in 1994 she started her own business, designing for the arts and the environment. Her biggest clients over the years have been horticultural businesses, museums, and nonprofits working at this intersection of art, history, and nature.
Gaadt’s husband John runs Gaadt Perspectives, an environmental and land use planning firm in Chadds Ford. The Gaadts have passed their love of nature, art, playing music, and world cultures on to their children as well. Their daughter Giulia is studyingHistory and International Relations at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, and their son Ian is a freshman at Rhode Island School of Design.
Giving A Fig
Gaadt started Give A Fig because she wanted to move away from doing everything on a computer and get back to doing more by hand, like drawing and painting. She loves the tactile experience of writing and sending personal cards, and the ways that cards connect people and bring joy and comfort. Gaadt has designed her own Christmas card each year since she was in high school. Like a seed planted in rich local soil, Give A Fig has been growing over the past seven years. Gaadt started with cards in a few shops and gradually expanded her local and regional market as well as her product line, which now includes stationery, textiles, and home decor.
Give A Fig products are beautiful and joyful to look at, but they’re also a pleasure to hold. Being as environmentally conscientious as possible is key to the Give A Fig mission. Every card, notebook, tea towel, and pillow is produced in the US using high quality FSC-certified recycled paper, soy-based inks, and 100% cotton fabrics and beautifully presented without excess packaging, and Gaadt’sstudio is powered by wind and solar. Gaadt gives the same attention to the detail of her production as she does to her designs. She has her cards printed in a way that minimizes the amount of paper that’s cut off, for example, and in a necessary COVID concession she packages cards in a sleeve but inserts four cards in each instead of just one.
Give A Fig is a homegrown labor of love that’s grown recentlyas a result of the National Wildlife Federation honor as well as hiring a salesperson to represent her work throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. “I try to stay balanced and optimistic,” she says. “It’s very important to me to stay true to my mission and continue to source really good quality materials that are also environmentally sustainable.”
A consistent practice of gratitude is evident in Gaadt’s life and work. She cheers on other artists, friends, family, and change-makers and gives back whenever she can.Giving a percentage of Give A Fig’s profits to organizations that support the arts and the environment completes this circle of caring—for nature, for those who appreciate her work, and for generations to come.
This year, she was delighted to be able to give back to Anson B. Nixon Park’s riparian buffer project, which is part of the park’s ongoing stream restoration efforts. Her husband John serves on the Kennett Area Park Authority (KAPA) Board, and the park is a local treasure where Gaadt finds peace and inspiration year-round.
Locals have an opportunity to enjoy Gaadt’s work at local artisan fairs including the Kennett Holiday Village Market and KBC’s Holiday Art Shop. Her cards are available in Kennett Square at Mrs. Robinson’s Tea Shop, at Harvest Market in Hockessin, and at Newark Natural Foods and the Newark Art Alliance. Gaadt was also delighted to be able to add Give A Fig tea towels to Ann Vaughn’s Taste of Kennett holiday gift basket, a creative COVID-friendly pivot that supported multiple small businesses and artisans. “We were so lucky to have Suzanne’s tea towels included in our holiday delivery box. Her unique designs added a personal, hometown feel. She’s participating with us again for our February Community Love box, offering a notebook designed with one of her love themes. She is so talented and we are so excited for her selection as a featured artist for NWF!” says Ann Vaughn, founder of Taste Kennett.
Mrs. Robinson’s Tea Shop carries almost a full line of Give A Fig products, including her newest design, “Tea for Two.” And that design is the perfect example of how the characters she brings to life often come into being.
“I wanted to design something special with tea,” she says, “but I wanted to mix it up and make it my own. I didn’t want to do the typical mouse in a teacup.” Inspired by the Peter Pan quote “Would you like an adventure now, or would like to have your tea first?” Gaadt brought two adventurous little mice to life, one swinging from a branch while pouring tea for the other, sitting primly on a mushroom. “When I showed the design to Marlene Robinson, she christened them Teacup and Saucy.” Gaadt laughs. “It was symbiotic—a very cool collaborative effort. It’s so much fun when people get what I’m doing and love it too.”