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The Art of Family

By Melanie Moffett
In Bayou Artist
Apr 25th, 2014
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Mother and daughter connect creatively. Sue and Addie Sartor share a love for art and community.

article by Mary Napoli | photography by Joli Livaudais

The Sartor home on Island Drive is every bit as warm and charming as its Southern architecture implies. It is the kind of home where those who cross the threshold are welcomed not as guests, but as friends. The family inside is genuine in their love for one another and the community they feel fortunate to be a part of.

Sue Sartor is a studied and accomplished artist with a successful career. She is a brunette beauty that exudes grace and elegance, but not any of the supercilious pretension that often accompanies such traits. Her husband, Walter, is an outstanding surgeon, as well as an exceptional musician who plays guitar in multiple local bands, like Code Blue and the Flatliners. Their three children inherited their parents creative genes along with their amiable dispositions and grounded nature. Adelaide, called Addie, is a sixteen-year old budding artist, with extraordinary and instinctive talent. At thirteen, Lucy is a gifted actress and performer who has a contagious smile that lights up her face and the entire room. Walt is quite the charmer, and at ten is a promising musician. The home they share brims with creative energy. The children are encouraged to explore their creative sides in the supportive and nurturing environment created by their parents.

In many ways, Addie is her mother’s reflection. Physically, they favor one another, with their long, dark hair, expressive eyes, and delicate hands that always seem to be reaching for something. They share many similarities, as well as an admiration of and deep appreciation for art. Their walls of their home feature paintings created by family, friends, and artists they enjoy and respect.

Addie’s interest in art most likely began at home, where her mother made it a habit of engaging the children in some sort of craft or art project. But it was her grammar school art teacher, Mr. Jamie Norton, who fostered inspiration in the young lady and encouraged Addie to explore her natural talent. “Norty,” as he is affectionately known by his students and most everyone who is lucky enough to cross this kind and gentle soul’s path, kindled the artistic spark in Addie. In his middle school theology of art course, he motivated Addie to apply for Neville High School’s talented art program, to which she was accepted for her freshman year. Addie’s sincere affection for Norty is evident, and even at her young age, she realizes that his guidance is an important part of her creative journey.

“That was a great haven for you,” says Sue, looking at her eldest daughter. Addie nods in agreement as Sue adds, “All good things are associated with Norty’s art room at Grace.”

Addie continues to study art as a Neville Tiger, a passion she began to focus on more intently after an injury prevented her from continuing to dance with the Bengal Belles during her sophomore year. Her talent has flourished under the guidance of her teachers Patricia Harris and Karen Medley. Her portfolio shows that she has natural ability for many mediums–pen and ink, pastels, charcoal–but when she found a paintbrush, she found her calling. Her first oil painting, a brilliantly colored still life, titled “Vibrancy,” shows incredible potential. Addie’s eye for light and form is breathtaking, and her attention to detail is astounding. Recently, she presented her painting, “Blue Danube,” at ULM’s High School Juried Art Show and was awarded second place overall. She was presented the Department of Art Award, a prize bestowed on the artist that the faculty has collectively chosen as most promising. The still life magnificently depicts a cup and saucer from her great grandmother’s china pattern, Blue Danube.

“I can see her in that painting,” says her mother, contemplating her daughter’s artwork as it sits nearby. “It amazes me that she can do that with such a precise level of detail. And she gets such enjoyment out of it; I admire that in her.”

Addie beams on the sofa next to her. “Thanks, Mom.”

Sue gives her daughter a tender look and earnestly replies, “You’re welcome, Addie.”

Sue and her husband encourage their children to spread their wings just as their parents once encouraged them. Growing up on the East Coast and New England, Sue, like Addie, developed her love of art early in life at Summit High School in Summit, New Jersey under an art teacher, Harry Wilson, who encouraged his students to think “out of the box.” Sue mentions how similar Harry Wilson and Jamie Norton were as teachers.

“Teachers can have a profound impact at such a young age,” she notes. “It is just incredible.”

She was a driven student and pursued her education with vigor. At Tulane, she passionately studied art history and devoted herself to studio art and oil painting. Her time in New Orleans seemed to determine her course in life, and was also the place where she was introduced to her future husband, Walter, who was in medical school at the time.

As an artist, Sue gravitates toward Color Field and Abstract Expressionism. The artwork of Robert Motherwell, Cy Twombly, Helen Frankenthaler, Clifford Still, and Franz Kline resonates deeply with her and continues to provide inspiration.

“I like to think of my work as atmospheric expressionism,” says Sue. “Each piece expresses a certain sensibility of a feeling, time, space or place. However, there is usually no horizon line or literal play on subject matter. The pieces are not narratives and are supposed to hit the viewer all at once…I want for the visual inexperience to be pleasurable and take the minds’ eye away. It is through the manipulation of brush stroke, contrast of mediums and play of color that helps to create this energy.”

Sue possesses a particular talent for incorporating ethereal layers of color and shape to create harmonious compositions. She uses subtle and strong brushstrokes to create texture on the canvas and often experiments with different tones of a specific color within her work. The result is a canvas that invites the eye to travel and rest on different areas in a meditative fashion. She enjoys staining her canvas with ink pigment in the beginning stages and layering different elements–acrylics, oils, charcoal, oil bars and pastels– to create a pleasing composition.

“Although many realist artists stay away from mixing oils and acrylics, I love what happens naturally to paint when the two interact. There is no way to imitate that reaction when they repel one another. The result is perfect for creating interest in abstract work.” she explains.

While she admires the still life paintings that her daughter creates, her paintings are usually more abstract or have a sense of atmospheric landscape.

“My paintings usually start with a feeling or a color based on a memory. It could be reminiscent of a season or the colors I recall during summers of my childhood on the Cape,” she says. “No matter where I begin, it is such a pleasurable experience. Painting is like coming home for me.”

“It is definitely something we bond over,” the younger Sartor adds. “It such an outlet for both of us–a departure from the world.”

Sue does a great deal of work for commission and is represented locally by interior designer and art consultant, Tish Miller of Inside Indigo. Before marriage and children, she worked in galleries located in New York, Monte Carlo and Paris and spent a few years in fashion working for names like Calvin Klein and Escada in New York, Washington, D.C. and Dallas. While her family is her first priority, painting remains her passion, and she is well known to be a champion of local arts organizations. She generously gives her time to causes dear to her heart, and supports the arts with enthusiasm and intensity. As her children grow and begin to find their own paths in life, she plans to continue to pursue her artistic goals.

“I hope I can continue to grow as an artist. Once my kids are older, I would love to do a showing in Summit, New Jersey, where I lived as a child. Some day, I would like to get involved with a nationally established gallery. I feel like there is much more ahead,” says Sue. With such distinguishable talent, it is hard to imagine this artist couldn’t achieve any goal she sets for herself.

As for Addie, the world is hers for the taking, and the opportunities available to this lovely and deserving young woman are endless. With her sights set on liberal arts schools, such as the University of Texas, she prepares to embark upon a bright future. She plans to continue developing as an artist and to possibly study occupational therapy.

“I also just want to be like my mom,” says the teenager with candor.

And in all the important ways, she already is.

    View more of Sue Sartor’s artwork at www.suesartor.com or on her Facebook page, Susan Kelligrew Sartor Abstract Paintings. For commissioned artwork, she can be contacted at suesartor@comcast.net or art consultant Tish Miller at tishmiller63@gmail.com.