By Nathan Ham
If you have been to Beech Mountain recently, you have probably noticed the wild and imaginative artwork along the side of the road featuring people stuck in trees, working in the garden and walking on a tightrope.
Susie Knepka has been doing contract work for the town of Beech Mountain for around eight years now and has been a permanent resident for 15 years. One of the things that she does is decorate the town with seasonal artwork. It just so happens that autumn features some of the most entertaining work of the year.
“I love autumn, it’s my most special time of the year. I just love the change in the seasons, the weather, the leaves, the greenery; I just like to do something that’s fun and make people laugh,” Knepka said. “I think that’s part of my job just to make people happy. I try to express that in whatever way I can.”
Along the Beech Mountain Parkway, numerous fabric stuffed mannequins and dummies are depicted in many different scenes.
“I have two favorite displays. I really love the harlequin jester tossing the flowerpots and the other one I really love is the tightrope walker in the circus bed. She has an umbrella and a hula-hoop around her waist and she’s walking on a tightrope,” says Susie.
Some of the other displays include a mannequin in a tree with a ladder fallen over, one sitting at a picnic table, a clown on a bicycle and someone losing their pants at the watering hole.
Susie says she makes her characters with a lot of recycled fabrics, clothes and other items.
“My big thing is recycling. I go to the recycling center and pick up whatever I can find that I can use throughout the year. I go to Goodwill and Salvation Army and buy the clothes for the dummies. I use whatever I can find,” she said.
When she’s done with the dummies at the end of each fall, she says she makes a home for them in her “she-shed” and will wash them and wash the clothes. If the clothes are unusable for the following year, Susie says she makes sure to donate them to a local animal shelter and then they can use them for bedding. She certainly has a big heart for both people and animals.
“If I could have 20 animals at my house I would, but that’s not feasible with my husband,” Susie laughed.
The display will be up through this weekend and into next week before she will begin taking the autumn display down and begin planning for the Christmas decorations that will be put up. All of the Christmas decorations will be put up and the Christmas lights will be turned on the day before Thanksgiving.
“We are always excited to see what new ideas Susie will come up with relative to the season we’re in. It has added so much to the town with the decorations whether it’s springtime with all of her flowers and sculptures to Christmas time with the Christmas lights. Fall is one of our favorite times because there’s always something new that she does, not just pumpkins and corn stalks and Indian corn but all kinds of flowers and scarecrows,” he said. “There is excitement around every curve in the road in Beech Mountain this fall thanks to Susie and her work. She deserves a lot of credit and people love it. Sometimes we forget who does it and where it comes from. She’s the one that does it and the town is a big supporter of her efforts.”
Beech Mountain’s Mayor, Renee Castiglione, continues to be awestruck with Susie’s creativity as every season rolls by through the year, especially with the roadside scenery this fall.
“Everyone loves it. It’s so creative and this year she has really gone above even what anybody thought she could do because she has been so creative before,” Castiglione said. “The circus theme is just awesome and people are getting such a big kick out of it. It’s so unique, where else are you going to go anywhere and see something like that when you’re going down the road? It’s just wonderful.”
Susie and her husband Bernie have brought so much to the Beech Mountain community and have made such a big impact for both residents and visitors to the area.
“Susie is a gem on Beech Mountain and everyone just loves her. The way she does flowers throughout the spring, summer and fall and the decorations she does during winter. We’re so lucky to have her,” said Castiglione. “We all dread the day when she decides she needs to retire because that’s going to be a sad day on Beech Mountain. She’s irreplaceable.”
For now, Susie says she will keep at it until it’s time to pass the decorating traditions on down to the next generation of Beech Mountain residents.
Photos by Ken Ketchie