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 Suzanne Stupka Wilson  (1940 - 2003)

About: Suzanne Stupka Wilson


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Lived/Active: Michigan      Known for: landscape, regional scene watercolor painting, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information is courtesy of Scott Wilder, Art Researcher from Olathe, Kansas.  The source is the Glen Arbor Sun newspaper, Glen Arbor, Michigan, 5/29/04; Written by Jacob R. Wheeler - Sun editor

State of the Arts: Suzanne Wilson was a visionary and pioneer

In my apartment in far from northern Michigan, is a postcard-sized Suzanne Wilson watercolor of the lighthouse on South Manitou Island.  The old white tower looks down on a serene beach setting.  Spruce trees creep up to the water's edge, and I can almost visualize Suzanne filling in the foliage with quick brush strokes while she sits in a folding chair yards away.

Mine is not the only home graced by Suzanne's immortal art.  From Florida to the American southwest: from sunny France to interiors all over northern Michigan, her legacy will prevail long after those who knew her cease sharing their memories and anecdotes.

To many, Suzanne Wilson was a great artist and a wonderful friend. To some she was the "heart and soul" of the Glen Arbor artist community. But anyone lucky enough to spend time in our neck of the woods this summer will undoubtedly notice the void left at the Lake Street Studios where she used to wallow away the hours, brush in hand, under a shady tree - just steps away from bustling Cherry Republic and the pedestrian mayhem at Art's Tavern.

Suzanne passed away early on the morning of December 9, 2003 after a bout with cancer, leaving behind three daughters, a couple grandchildren and countless friends who are more alive for having known her. She died as she had lived - on her own terms. During her final evening, those with her moved her bed to a window so she could see the full moon out in the crisp winter sky above Elberta,  MI. She had been giggling a couple days before, remembers daughter Amy Stupka.

"It was important to us to know that she was fine with dying. Her spirit really did light up the room that last night, and every time I've seen the moon since, I've felt her presence."

Suzanne was born in 1940 in Iron Mountain, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, whose wild and free spirit never left her, many would attest. She began painting when she was a tender four years old and attended the prestigious John D. Pierce high school in Marquette, which had a profound impact on her. She often summered in the cultural meccas of either Ann Arbor or Interlochen, where her father Raymond played trumpet. Suzanne met her first husband, Daniel Stupka, while studying at Northern Michigan University, and together they had three daughters: Allison, now living in Ann Arbor, Amy, in Asheville, NC, and Andrea, in Elberta.

Her first full-time job was as art director at The Leelanau School, where she lived in the rustic Bourne Cottage and directed the Deertrack Art Workshops. There she met Norm and Mimi Wheeler, whose names are nearly synonymous with that of the school. "[We] were drawn to and strengthened by her incredible creative spirit, her laugh, and her wisdom," remembers Norm. "She could see the light and shadows in people as in a landscape.

Despite [second husband] Don and I finding frequent evidence to the contrary, Suzanne always said that things had a positive way of working themselves out, so when she moved into Glen Arbor and got the Lake Street project going with the Brickers and Midge on sheer will and
artistic determination, she showed us that she was right."

To be a Glen Arbor local is to have a story of Suzanne, and many tales were shared at a memorial service last Sunday, May 23. After all, Suzanne's name is firmly imprinted in the annals of this town's history. More than two decades ago she was integral in pioneering Glen Arbor's art movement along with several others. As Beth Bricker Clark, daughter of fellow pioneers Ben and Ananda, documented in the memorial edition of the Glen Arbor Art Association newsletter:

"In 1983 Becky Thatcher and Ananda Bricker invited all the artists they knew [including Suzanne] to a potluck at Ananda's beach. This group, informally organized, then met every Thursday morning at the Soda Shop [now the Western Avenue Grill] to discuss plans on how to market their art. The following year five studios opened, with several artists exhibiting at each place. Between 1984 and 1986 a Co-Op Gallery was established, first at The Homestead in a seasonally empty ski warming house, and two years later in the Arbor Light Building (where it remains) - becoming, I believe, the first art gallery in Glen Arbor."

The story of the precious Lake Street Studios is also a tale of Suzanne's vision, passion, and ingenuity. Beth Bricker Clark continues: "When the Wescott property on Lake Street was offered for sale, Ananda, Suzanne and Midge Obata were captivated by its central location and by its majestic trees. The trio bought four of the lots offered - Midge bought the house and the building that became the Thread Shed, and Ananda and Suzanne formed a partnership and together bought the garage, which became the Lake Street Studios. It didn't take long for them to realize the remaining lots were ecologically valuable with the wetlands, swales and some of the oldest standing white pine and oak trees in Glen Arbor.

They asked the newly formed Leelanau Conservancy to help purchase the property." As Ben and Ananda Bricker can attest, things were far from easy in the early going, and the existence of the Studios and the Association today is a testament to the perseverance of Suzanne and her friends. "When we bought the Wescott property it could hardly be called an art studio. It was an old car repair garage with the roof fallen in, dead porcupines and other long forgotten
residents, piles of rotting bags of hazardous materials, and junk scattered about. The porch roof had fallen in and a year's worth of trash had been tossed atop it. We remember taking at least 13 truckloads to the dump. There were some good things we salvaged but most of it was wet and rotting. We went to work on it and slowly people started to volunteer to help. Don Wilson assessed that the beams could be restored. Eventually there was a monetary gift that had nowhere to go. Thus the Glen Arbor Art Association was born to receive this gift."

Midge Obata remembers Suzanne as "the guiding inspiration in the foundation of the Association.  Because she loved music, originally the association was called 'Music around the Lakes'. "[In 1986] we started art classes for adults and children in a classroom that was donated to accommodate the increase in students. She also started a Sunday lecture series. She had a special desire for giving migrant children art classes . She also was strongly in favor of the Artist in Residence program because she believed in communication with artists
all over the world through an international artist exchange."

Even after establishing the Studios and the Art Association, Suzanne worked hard for Glen Arbor. A passionate environmentalist, she served on the Township Planning & Zoning Commission to help control development in a time when Glen Arbor was becoming a prime, and crowded, tourist destination during the summer season. Margaret Marchand remembers a eulogy Suzanne wrote when a large white pine was cut down for a strip mall in town, adding that, "She had a loving sense of place. We can honor her vibrant life by caring for the land and the water":

Suzanne Wilson: "When Beethoven was writing his Pastoral Symphony that tree was putting out its first roots. While Cezanne was painting the pines of Provence that tree kept growing, so that when the first settlers sailed into this beautiful bay, that tree was tall enough to be seen standing over the fragile strip of land to be named Glen Arbor."

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