Saturday, February 20, 2010

Remembering Gwen Suthers, Arnett Painter, Sculptor, Teacher

You know that sparkle in someone’s eye that makes you want to be more alive? That was always my experience talking to Gwen Suthers. I’ll never forget her zest for life and relentless support for creativity in northwest Oklahoma.  She seemed fearles-- inviting everyone from Louise Nevelson to the Governor to her community.
A long time Arnett resident, Suthers championed the Little Red School House, also known as the Western Art Center, where artists in Ellis County gather regularly for demonstrations, art classes and an annual festival. A painter, sculptor, pianist, unofficial teacher, and arts advocate, Suthers encouraged novice and veteran artists, brought internationally known artists to the area, and inspired others through her artwork.

In 1951, Dord Fitz moved to his family ranch and her art study began in earnest. She studied art for forty years with Fitz until his death in 1989. They created quite a community of artists and the early group traveled to New York City to exhibit artwork in the 1960s. When it became difficult to exhibit in New York, they invited well-known artists to come to northwestern Oklahoma to share their work. They invited artists to hang their exhibits at the Little Red School House and to share their talents in workshops. Consequently, Suthers studied with Elaine de Kooning, Leon Polk Smith, and Louise Nevelson to name only some of the great artists.

When Fitz died, Gwen took over the reins of the Western Art Center as instructor, repairman, fundraiser and publicist. She taught there every Friday for many years, teaching painting and sculpture and offering advice at no charge. Artists come from Woodward, Gage, Shattuck, and towns and ranches beyond to learn from Suthers and share their artwork.

Suthers was honored with a Community Service Award at the 2001 Governor’s Arts Awards. The Oklahoma Arts Council hosted an exhibition of the work at the Capitol in 2004. Also, Suthers served on the Board of Directors for the Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum in Woodward, the Amarillo Arts Foundation, and the Area Arts Foundation. While helping found and serving on the board of the Area Arts Foundation, Suthers and the group amassed an outstanding collection of works by nationally known artists.

In her significant contributions over the multiple decades to the community through her artwork, teaching, and advocacy, Suthers epitomizes the profile of a dedicated arts leader and volunteer. Thank you Gwen.