Sweet Home Southern Tier: Shannah Warwick
Artist, Fashion Designer and Clairvoyant Enjoys Life in the Southern Tier
Photos provided by Shannah Warwick
Artist, fashion designer and clairvoyant Shannah Warwick moved from Philadelphia to the Southern Tier with her partner seven years ago.
“We came up here for a wedding and had been looking to leave Philly for quite some time — I was there for 15 years, and my husband was there for 10, and we had looked on the West Coast and nothing was really fitting.,” Shannah explained. “Then we came up here for a wedding and started looking around at the real estate and, at the time, it was night and day between Philadelphia prices, and what homes and things were going for. We were like, ‘Wait a second, this is kinda cool. And, we’re not that far from cities. There’s a lot going on here.’”
Although she'd spent a large chunk of her life in the City of Brotherly Love, Shannah grew up on a farm in northeastern Pennsylvania and felt a close bond to the abundant natural surroundings of the Southern Tier.
“We found one property that we looked at — literally one, and totally fell in love with it,’ she says. “It was crazy how it all came together. When I visited the property I … had a moment where I turned around and I felt the trees say, ‘Welcome home!’”
Shannah laughed, “I was like, ‘Oh shit, we’re gonna buy this. This is our home now.’ It was wild.”
Now they live on five acres between Corning and Watking Glen, ”kinda in the middle of nowhere,” as Shannah describes it.
Shannah Warwick at her home in the Finger Lakes. Photographed by Chris Walters.
Although she traded urban living for a more rural existence, Shannah’s slipped seamlessly into Southern Tier life, embracing the region’s vibrant arts community, as well as its spiritual and historical connections.
“I love how supportive our community is. SO supportive, amazingly supportive. The Arts community – we’re so lucky to have it! Not just in artists supporting other artists, but also, just the art organizations, like, finding grants and money and opportunities for us.
That community aspect is also key.”
One of the organizations that Shannah has worked closely with since moving to the region is the Community Arts of Elmira, Inc. She currently has, “Shape of Shame,” a textile-based creation, on exhibit at the Community Arts of Elmira through the end of July.
Photos left to right: “Shape of Shame,” a textile-based art installation created by Shannah Warwick, currently on display at Community Arts of Elmira through the end of July; Artist’s sketch of the “Shape of Shame” dress.
“There was a grant opportunity that came up, and this was the project that we proposed,” Shannah explains. “The idea and the concept were … from me. And this is the second solo show I’ve had at Community Arts, and I just love working with them because of the diversity of the City of Elmira, and also the diversity and what Community Arts stands for.”
“With all the renovations they’ve done to the space, the energy in the building is also really interesting,” she says, about the hard work and dedication that’s been put into the Community Art’s historical home.
“This exhibit lives in Elmira. There’s a lot of shame that lives in Elmira, with the very diverse history, and just what it is now,” she says, explaining the genesis for the creation of this piece. “There was shame around political parties and ideas, and — even the separation that happens, politically, with vaccinations and ‘Who are we voting for?,’ and all that shit.”
Shannah continued, explaining how shame can also arise from allowing politics to color our understanding of differing perspectives, leading to misunderstandings, hurt feelings and shame.
“Working with clients and seeing what that emotion can do to a body and do to a person, you might need to create an entire second body,” she says. “Like, there’s a second torso kind of hanging off of the side of the “Shame” dress. And, maybe, that’s something that you create because you, literally, have so much of that emotion in your body that you can’t just hold it in one body. So, it kind of starts to grow out of you.”
In addition to creating exhibitions and wall pieces, a lot of Shannah’s artwork is meant to be worn. She creates intensely personal, custom-made pieces that involve reading a client’s energy.
“I believe that we have an aura,” she says. ”I’m very visual so when I’m looking at my client I see it as colors and shapes, and … pictures. So, they both kind of speak to each other.”
“Whether it’s creating a story narrative around what I’m seeing in a person, in a client, when I’m looking at them that way. Or whether I’m creating a narrative, a story through the clothing that I’m creating, or even the wall pieces that I’m creating, that are with specific intentions. It all kind of works back and forth.”
“I’ve been an artist my whole life. It’s always been the thing I gravitated towards. It’s always been in my bones.”
Shannah says that as soon as she figured out that one could go to school for art, she’d discovered her destiny.
In addition to her artistic inclinations, she was also able to tap into her sixth sense at an early age.
“It all blends together,” she explains. “I’ve had intuitive dreams my whole life. That’s how it came through. Once I, literally, came to a place that I could open up and just have space, both energetically and physically … and I really started working on this side of myself, that’s when everything came in and the spirit guides that I work with are, like, ‘Hey, you know that thing that you do in the dream space? Here’s how to do it in waking life.’”
“With that happening, I’ve had to train and go through certain processes and teachers to just really hone that skill and have control over it.”
“It all tends to blend together. There've been various points in my life where I’ve tried to separate things and it really just all blends together ... with the spiritual work that I do, the energetic work that I do – it all works into my art, my fashion. There’s definitely been a time when everything that I was making I wanted to put on a body, whether it was myself or other people, and fashion has taken me pretty far,” Shannah said.
“Fashion has always been an expression for me. It’s always been the way I expressed myself. I did a lot of costuming. I worked in fashion when I was in Philly for a long time. It’s always gonna be something that’s there. Whether or not it shows itself in the art that I produce to bring to other people or it’s just the way that I decorate my body and express myself that way, with style, it’s always kinda been there.”
The name of her company, BlckBts, has been with her since before she went to college. It was her first email address.
“The concept behind it being that, it’s clothing or pieces to wear or enjoy while wearing your favorite black boots.”
Shannah thought it looked cool to leave the vowels out of the name and she’s ok with people not understanding the concept.
“You know, I’m a little Goth girl at heart, just in a grownup 45-year-old body now. Still rockin’ my big, black Doc Martens and my all black clothes, for the most part,” she laughs.
Shannah describes her fashion clientele as people who don’t mind being noticed.
“My fashion is definitely for someone who doesn’t like to see themselves coming and going. They are expressive in their own style. They enjoy some of the darker sides of life. My color palette tends to be a lot of blacks and purples and reds – so, darker colors. A lot of firing. A lot of things that can just be flowy and comfortable. But, also just looks like more of a statement,” she said.
Top, left to right: Artist, fashion designer and clairvoyant Shannah Warwick wearing a BlckBts snood; some of the haute couture fashions that Shannah Warwick has created; a BlckBts creation as worn by model Nina Kate, photographed by Ashley VonHelsing. Bottom, left to right: BlckBts Fire Dress worn by model Kylie Baker; photographed by Sarah Flenders; Shannah Warwick working on one of her creations; BlkBts space set up for farmers markets and shows.
Since moving to the Southern Tier, Shannah says she’s been able to tap more easily into her clairvoyant gifts, which has only enhanced her fashion sense.
“I read for clients and I read their energy. I had a moment where things kinda really came in, once I was living up in this area … about six years ago that everything just sort of dropped in and all of a sudden there were these clairvoyant GIFs and things that had always been there, but more so in the dream space,” she explained. “But now they, sort of, were part of the healing. So, being able to see things energetically, like the Shape of Shame dress, is, literally, like when I look at some of my clients through that energetic lens and I see the way that different emotions or feelings, or how other people’s energy, manifests within their space.”
“I like playing with the materials and allowing them to tell me what they want to do.”
“These days the fashion tends to be a little more conceptual, and has been turning into installations, and that feels really good. But I think there’s always going to be a part of me — I’m a 6-foot tall Glamazon ... and I wear all black, and I have long black hair. There’s nothing small or … meek or … ‘normal’ about me.”
“So, it’s people that like to collect the clothes, rather than just wear them because, you know, I’m a higher price point, so they appreciate that because they appreciate the handmade quality, and they also appreciate the natural fibers that I work with.”
Shannah also doesn’t spend time behind a sewing machine.
“I do some hand sewing,” she said. “But the idea of being behind the sewing machine and not being able to constantly have my fingers right in there on the fibers, just never resonated with me. And when I found the felting techniques – it’s more like sculpting the clothes rather than sewing them – so there’s that, really literal, handmade quality because everything is my hands creating it. Laying out the fibers, create the fabrics, create the shapes.”
“I work with wool and silk for the most part,” she says. “I use a felting technique of combining the two fabrics together to create a new, sort of, textured fabric.”
“I love the idea of sitting down with materials and playing with them, and just asking the materials … ‘OK, this is what we’re going for. This is the intention that I’m holding for this piece. This is what it’s about. What do you want to do?’”
Her fashions are also sustainable.
“It can be ethically-sourced. You can get it from certain farms or mills where the animals are taken care of,” she said. “That’s a big part of the way that I choose the fibers I work with, as well.”
Shannah is hopeful that her clients have an awareness of eco-fashion and how much the fashion industry has been polluting the planet. She taught a Sustainability and Fashion course with GST BOCES students a few years ago, and says she strives to be a zero-waste studio.
She repurposes scraps, smaller pieces or projects that don’t work out, either into wall pieces or another project.
“My environmental impact is really important. Especially living here in this beautiful place in the woods. I don’t want to have any more waste if I can help it.”
When working with her clientele, Shannah creates a base pattern for each client with their specific measurements, and that pattern becomes the foundation for the custom pieces she creates. “That just adds another level to the one-on-one custom piece I can create for them,” Shannah says.
She dyes all of her fabrics so she can play with color schemes and provide clients with very specific and customized color palettes.
“Everything’s done in house.”
Shannah also often uses her client’s readings to collaborate on the creation of altar pieces that meet the spiritual and energy needs she sensed from their reading.
“So, being able to see things energetically, like the ‘Shape of Shame’ dress, is, literally, like when I look at some of my clients through that energetic lens and I see the way that different emotions or feelings or how other people’s energy manifests within their space, within their body, has really talked to the way that I create work based on something like an emotion of Shame. Or, like, last year I did a piece based on vulnerability.”
In addition to reading auras, Shannah reads energy using tarot cards, which also factors into her custom fashion creations.
During the pandemic, she lost her side hustle in the restaurant service industry. Shannah decided to sell her fashions at the Corning farmers’ market to replace the lost revenue, and she offered a free tarot card reading with every purchase to interest potential customers.
“When I read tarot I tell people, I read by the energy and the pictures on the cards more than by the archetypes of the cards. But people got really into it and really connected with me through tarot.”
This will be her third year working at the farmers’ market.
At the farmers’ market, customers started asking Shannah what the intentions were around the fashion pieces she created, so she began writing them on the tags for her clothing and wall pieces. Once she started being more intentional about the work she was creating, more people seemed to want to buy her pieces, connecting with her on a deeper level.
“People were connecting to it and they were like ‘Yeah, I want this because it means "this". And I connect to you because I enjoy the way that you’re able to perceive me and read my energy and talk to me through the tarot.’ It all kind of grew from there.”
In fact, the experiences Shannah was having through her energetic work led to her expansion to an office space in Corning at Root to Rise Wellness Center on Market Street. At the wellness center she offers guided meditations, personal readings, and other energy work. The women’s health and wellness center offers integrative primary care, naturopathic and herbal medicine, alternative therapies and more. Shannah’s typically available two to three times a week for sessions. When she’s not in the office, her space is available to anyone interested in finding a quiet space to mentally and/or spiritually rejuvenate through meditation and mindfulness. In addition to a chair and warm lighting, Shannah offers some recorded guided meditations for those interested.
Shannah still gets her taste of big-city life, traveling frequently to cities throughout the country for work. In addition to being at the Corning farmers’ market in July, she’s heading out on the road in August, traveling with the Oddities and Curiosities Expo to Buffalo.
“I’ve done New York, I’ve done L.A. I’ve done Chicago, all the big ones. There’s just something about coming home to this particular area that still just feels so good to me,” she said.
“I lived in Philly for 15 years but I did grow up in northeastern Pennsylvania. I grew up on a farm,” Shannah continued. “Some of this does feel like my life has come full circle. We have five acres of land now, coming from a south Philly row home. Huge difference, but also, it was, like, ‘Oh, I know how to do this.’ And my husband got to see this other side of me.”
He was impressed with Shannah’s ease at adjusting to country living, including her gardening and food-preserving prowess.
“I love the beauty of it. I love the nature connection. I love that I’m still discovering these little pockets of interesting things.”
Her latest intrigue is the restoration of The Seth House.
“I’m constantly discovering new interesting things about this area. There’s so much history here that I feel like it’s never ending,” Shannah said.
About this feature:
Sweet Home Southern Tier is a feature that celebrates those who have returned or moved to the region. If you'd like to be featured or know someone who should be, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connect with Shannah, check out her fashions and her art, and learn more about her guided meditation and energy practices through her BlckBts website.