Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg was born in western South Dakota. Via a circuitous route that included Kentucky and Puerto Rico, she earned an MBA, worked in the pharmaceutical industry, and finally arrived in Washington, DC, to a job in the United States Senate. For balance, she volunteered with the terminally ill.
She accidentally discovered she was an artist during an adult ceramics class. Unable to center her clay, she watched as the bust of a woman emerged at her hands. She immediately began learning materials and methods—painting, drawing, welding, neon-tube bending, stone carving—taking classes wherever she could.
In 2016, she added ice sculpting to her skill set as she and a fellow sculptor represented the United States at the Harbin International Ice Sculpting Competition (China). They were awarded the Creativity Prize.
She returned to the United States to install at American University’s Katzen Museum in the run up to the 2016 elections, 10,752 red and blue paper airplanes folded from a year’s subscription to The Congressional Record.
Firstenberg created an opportunity for teams of ceramics students from 15 area high schools to create and semi-permanently install their sculptural totems at the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station. She has been a guest lecturer at George Washington University on drug addiction and drug policy (2018). At the Smithsonian Museum (2015) she gave a talk about using art to defend the dignity of Native Americans. Other artworks have been exhibited in shows from Maryland to California.
While she was the resident artist at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, Washington state in 2017, Firstenberg began a project to decrease the stigma of drug addiction. She travelled thousands of miles and interviewed hundreds of people suffering or recovering from drug addiction. Entitled The Empathy Fix Project, the series of seven large-scale installations suggests why many become addicted to drugs and promotes a more empathetic response.
In Autumn of 2020, Firstenberg created an installation, ultimately composed of 267,000 white flags at the DC Armory Parade Ground, to make visible the human toll of the continuing pandemic.