When Sue Baer’s husband, Bill, labels his wife as “compulsively creative,” it is meant as a compliment – not a disorder! Although she is known locally for her contribution to the art program at the Chariton schools and near and far for her beautiful watercolor paintings, Sue also creates by making cards, drawing page after page of intricate and colorful mandalas, filling jars with her button collection, making doll clothes and even painting rocks. If that doesn’t keep her hands busy enough, there is always a puzzle on a nearby table to occupy her. She will never find herself in a state of boredom!
When did you first discover that you liked art?
-I was always a creative kid. I liked to cut paper, and my mother said she could always find me - “just follow the pile of scraps!”
When did you decide you had a talent for art?
-It was at school when I began to be recognized by classmates as being good at art.
What were some of your first attempts at art?
-I made a mural of a scientist in 6th grade for a teacher’s bulletin board. In high school I painted backdrops and illustrated posters for the shows of my synchronized swimming team. (Interesting side note: our high school in Boone was the first school in Iowa to have a swimming pool and my father was our swimming coach!)
Were you inspired by anyone?
-My junior high and high school art teacher, Darlene Frazier, encouraged me and made me feel like I was an artist. We had an art show every year. She was very organized, and we learned a lot of art history. She made it easier for me to enter the art program at college with the background in art she instilled in us.
-My art professors from Iowa State like Richard Haggen and Elizabeth Miller.
-Workshops in watercolor I took from Richard Dutton (retired from Indian Hills).
-Mark McWhorter, who is still teaching art at Indian Hills, has been a good supporter of mine.
-Paul Jackson, from Columbia, Mo., who is an internationally known watercolorist.
What mediums have you worked with over the years?
-I taught art for 37 years so I’ve tried about everything! Besides the usual drawing and painting etc., when we had sheep I taught myself how to knit using yarn from their wool that I had spun on a spinning wheel!
What medium are you using now?
-I’m working mostly with watercolors although I do use ink to draw individual, unique mandalas (Indian word for “circle”) that I then color in. I also make jewelry and collage-type greeting cards to mostly give away.
What project are you currently working on?
-I just finished a few paintings for the Iowa Artist Show. One is a landscape from Red Haw with light coming through the trees. I usually take a few photos and also do a little sketch before beginning to paint.
What is a special piece of yours and why?
-A special painting of mine is a portrait I did of my mother when she was 90 years old. She will be turning 100 on July 2nd! I also treasure a painting I did of my daughter when she was little. Some others that I really like (I don’t know if anyone else does!) are just designs that I have come up with in my head. A favorite piece of my husband’s is one I painted for him entitled “The Peak.” Bill’s uncle had a ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo., that he liked to visit and he would climb the small peak nearby.
Did anyone mentor you, or did you get your training elsewhere?
-All my art teachers at Iowa State. I started out in Advertising Design, learning lettering and calligraphy, but then switched to Art Education.
-I learned from Wendell Mohr, a well-known watercolorist from Van Buren County, who taught classes at a workshop at The Amanas.
Have you ever mentored anyone else?
-Well, all the school children over the years; those I taught in Adult Education classes through Indian Hills Community College and our Art council; and, informally, through our weekly gathering of artists here in Chariton. Right now they’re interested in drawing instruction.
Has your work been published or displayed somewhere?
-I’ve had paintings displayed at The Iowa State Fair, the Iowa Watercolor Society, and our own local art festivals. Currently my paintings hang in Dr. Rip’s office, Lucas County Health Center, local individual’s homes, and even in a friend’s home in Ireland.
In 2018 and 2019, my husband and I went on medical missions trips to Belize. While the medical team did their jobs, I painted two 30-foot religious murals in the sanctuary of their churches on their rough brick walls.
-Book wise, I illustrated an art education manual for Iowa State and a gifted and talented manual for the AEA. I also wrote and illustrated a book about using space in the environment as an element of art in drawings as part of an art series. I used two cartoon characters to get the concepts across to the reader.
Have you won any awards or been honored for your work?
-I won a blue ribbon at the state show for Iowa Artists. I received 2nd and 3rd place recognitions at the Iowa State Fair. I’ve had pieces accepted for display at the Iowa Watercolor Society’s Annual Shows, which made me a Signature Member.
Do you see yourself doing the same work in the future?
-Yes, painting is a deep well that one can never master; I am always learning. I find it relaxing yet challenging at the same time.
Is there anything new that you’d like to try?
-I just want to keep getting better at what I’m doing.
What other artists do you admire?
-There are so many that I admire! Many are from the Watercolor Magazine I subscribe to and others are from art history.
If you could meet one artist back in history, who would it be?
-A cave artist!! What were they thinking when they drew on those cave walls using burned sticks (charcoal), colored clay, and white powder?
How long have you lived in Lucas County?
-I moved here after college in 1976 and never left. I met my husband Bill, and we married in 1977. He came to Chariton as a pharmacist-practicing part time on the square and at the hospital, and then full time as director of pharmacy at the hospital.
What do you appreciate about the art environment here?
-I think that there are a lot of people here that have a desire to do art, especially as they grow older and have more time.
What would be one place where you’d like to live or visit that inspires you?
-San Diego! We stay at an RV park right by the harbor. There is a painting depicting this in Dr. Anderson’s office at LCHC.
What is your studio like if you have one?
-In my basement I have an artist table surrounded by a myriad of art supplies and books and art!
What would be your idea of a dream studio?
-A place that has light, plenty of storage space, and is clean and dry. Most of all I would want a space for a classroom where I could teach and see people have those “Aha!” moments – where others could find out that art can be fun and relaxing.
What/where is a favorite art gallery you’ve visited?
-In Iowa: The Des Moines Art Center
-In the United States: The Getty in Los Angeles, Balboa Park in San Diego, Kansas City Art, and galleries in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Phoenix.
-Internationally: The Louvre in Paris, The National Gallery in London, and the art museums in Hamburg, Germany.
Do you have a website/Facebook page where people can view/purchase your artwork?
How can people contact you?
-Through the above or call 641-203-1356
Sue is 68 years young. She grew up in Boone, but both her grandmothers lived in Chariton. She taught art in the Chariton School District (as well as in Williamson and Lucas) to grades 5-12 for 37 years. She loved teaching children how to draw and seeing them experience that “Aha!” moment when they caught on to something.
Sue and her husband Bill have two children – Kristin (lives in Carlisle) and Scott (lives in Des Moines) – and two grandchildren. She is a signature member of the Iowa Watercolor Society but still feels that she has much to learn in the area of painting with watercolor. With that humbleness of mind, others could learn a lot from her!