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Susanne Williams designs and handcrafts leather handbags to spark an impulsive response. People who see them can’t resist touching and caressing each piece. To inspire touch, she forces the leather to assume additional tactile qualities by scrunching it into crinkled ripples and valleys, ruffling it into pouffy layers, coiling it into tight rosettes, or coaxing it to flow over lumpy shapes. Susanne incorporates the cowhide’s natural scars and markings to add to the texture’s richness. This, combined with her structured, vintage-inspired silhouettes, results in functional, touchable art.   

Susanne was raised in rural Nebraska, where her mom taught her to sew and enrolled her in years of 4-H activities. While Susanne didn’t quite master baking a pie, it was evident that she had a knack for sewing. Every summer she showcased her wearable art at county and state fairs, eager to win a purple ribbon. 

In college, Susanne studied art only briefly before discovering communication studies. She completed a B.A. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (1991), and then the M.A. (1993) and Ph.D. (1996) in communication studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. After that, she was a university professor at North Dakota State University and then Minnesota State University Moorhead, where she was tenured and promoted to associate professor of mass communication in 2002 and was the assistant to the president for nearly 10 years. 

It wasn’t until 2005 when Susanne was rummaging through a storage bin and rediscovered a pile of ribbons from her past 4-H competitions. We’re not sure if it was the vision of purple, but something ignited her right brain and Susanne began madly creating purses and other pieces of art. She hasn’t stopped since. 

Today, she is a full-time artist. Willi Nilli, her Fargo studio and boutique, is filled rolls of necktie fabrics dating back to the Twenties, crocheted laces rescued from antique stores, upholstery and leather remnants, and three sewing machines, including Bella, her industrial Artisan.