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Conversation with Susan Gallacher

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Some artists, especially those who are starting on this path, complain they can’t seem to find time to create. If ever there was a role model for fully living the creative life, it is Susan Gallacher – painter, teacher, and owner of King’s Cottage Gallery. Though much of Susan’s time is filled with the business of art and its myriad administrative details, her compass is set to painting, her true north.

Early mornings and late evenings; in her home studio and during spare moments in her studio at King’s Cottage; most weekends in Spring City and on plein air paint-outs every other Thursday – Susan paints consistently and is highly productive.

“My number of paintings per week or month is hard to calculate,” says Susan. On a recent trip to Mt. Carmel for the Maynard Dixon Paint Out, she did about twelve paintings and plans to complete about eight of the best ones. To do so, she’ll have to find time between her teaching responsibilities, both in Salt Lake and Spring City.

The Artist as Teacher
As a teacher, Susan holds Monday afternoon and Wednesday evening classes in oils or watercolor in her King’s Cottage Gallery, located in Sugar House. She also invites students to drop in on twice-weekly figure drawing sessions (Tuesday evenings and Friday mornings for just $7 per session), where she doesn’t instruct, but joins participants in painting the models. She also teaches painting classes for the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning program. But to really experience Susan at her best and learn her specialty – plein air painting – you need to go to one of her weekend classes in Spring City, which she holds three to seven times a year.

Soon after Susan began escaping to Spring City to paint she fell in love with the place. She purchased the old granary, built in 1874 for the Relief Society, and restored it as a second home and studio. After she began holding classes in Spring City, she purchased another historic building and turned it into student housing. There, students can live as a community, sharing meals and drawing inspiration from each other as well as from the lovely antique furnishings Susan has carefully selected.

One of the reasons Susan feels compelled to teach is that “my students become friends,” she says. “As they learn to paint, they also learn to appreciate artwork. Even if students never continue their studies and become artists themselves, they gain an appreciation and are more apt to become collectors.”

Art instruction can also turn communities into artist-friendly places. Back in the 1950s, dynamic Utah artist Max Blaine used to teach classes in Spring City. “Today, many of the adults living there studied with Max and support artists in where and when they choose to paint, even in their own front yards,” Susan points out.

Family Influences
Susan says painting is one of the first things she remembers doing as a child. When older siblings went off to school and Susan had to entertain herself, she drew and cut out paper dolls and their clothes. Though her parents never envisioned her having a career as an artist, both supported her artistic interests. Her father had been an artist and there were art books on the lower shelves of bookcases where young Susan could reach them.

From the time she could pick an elective in middle school, Susan took art classes. Over the years, her instructors included some of Utah’s best – Paul Davis, Ed Maryon, Doug Snow, John Ericson, and Dave Dornan, to name a few.

Susan never expected to make a living at art, yet she found herself teaching art classes in her basement when her sons were young, and she invited artist friends to teach there also. Eventually, she moved out of her basement and began teaching in other artists’ studios.

In 1984, Susan moved into the unused upstairs space in a building owned by her father, and she’s still there today, atop a furniture store. The warren of rooms houses gallery space, a shop for painting supplies and framing, Susan’s studio, a teaching studio, and living quarters for visiting artists or for Susan, if she works late and wants to crash.

State of the Art in Utah
While some artists complain that it’s difficult to sell original art in Utah, Susan disagrees. However, if she could wave a magic wand and improve the Utah arts scene, she would somehow increase the population of art collectors.

On the whole,” says Susan, “art is too inexpensive and collectors have gotten used to it. So if you want to charge more for your work, you have to go out of state.”

She notes that some Utah painters sell only out of state, for that very reason. As a result they are little known here but well known elsewhere. At the same time, Susan believes “Utah has, collectively, some of the best artists in the United States. There is a greater number of truly fine artists here than elsewhere.”

Susan also credits state and local governments, as well as citizens, for being strong supporters of the arts, noting that the state commissions public art pieces, especially around the Trax stations and in other public places.

Living Creatively
Though some people might wonder if Susan “has a life,” given the amount of time she spends with paintbrush in hand, she would say she does what she loves with people she loves.

What could be more fun than painting with my artist friends?” asks Susan. Or, could life be any more fulfilling than making new friends with the people for whom she is teacher, mentor, and gracious hostess?

With painting in the center of Susan’s busy life, everything else falls into place.

Kings Gallery and Academy of Art is located at 2233 S. 700 E. SLC. 801. 486-5019. For a schedule of classes and workshops and to view work by Susan Gallacher, visit www.susangallacher.com. Susan’s work can also be viewed at Williams Fine Art, David Ericson Gallery and Sego Gallery.

This article originally appeared in the September 2005 edition of 15 Bytes

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