Suzan Heriot Sturgeon (1944 to 2018)

Reflections: A special tribute to Suzan Sturgeon

A self-taught artist who lived in the Lacombe and Ponoka area is recognized

By Inge Sybrandi and Mike Rainone for the News

Suzan Sturgeon was a self-taught reality artist known for her detailed bronze sculptures.

She was inspired by the everyday cowboy lifestyle, horses, cattle and her intimate familiarity with her beloved subject influenced her work. Her style was traditional and without any sense of grandiosity. Because she had little schooling in art she was forced to experiment and gained the technical knowledge on her own. At the height of her career, she sold and showed her work throughout western Canada and the United States. She received many commissions by various cattle and horse associations, the Ponoka Stampede and the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. A rare breed, Suzan was not only a master technician of her craft, she also possessed the true soul of an artist.

Suzan immigrated from Scotland with her war bride mother (Margaret) in 1945, joining her father (Louis). The Reid Family moved to their farm west of Bentley. Suzan’s upbringing reflects in her subjects, where her focus is almost always on the simple attainable moments in life. She felt her subject strongly, her art was her release and was shaped by her own experiences and emotions from her upbringing.

She spent the majority of her life living around the Lacombe and Ponoka area where she raised her children and began her career as a freelance commercial sign painter. At one point in the 1980s three quarters of the advertising signs commissioned by the Lacombe Curling Club were made by Suzan. Her design sense came naturally and she was also a gifted illustrator. Her experience in illustration reflects in her bronze work, which has a crisp realistic style, simple and to the point. A trip to the Charlie Russell Art Show in Great Falls, Montana, was the unforgettable inspiration of her life and she travelled back often. It was there, in the mid-80s, when she met a bronze artist named Bill Rogney. He introduced her to sculpting using the lost-wax casting process (also called investment casting or cire perdue). This process is over a thousand years old where a duplicate metal sculpture (bronze in this case) is cast from an original sculpture. It is slow and laborious work, highly intricate works can be achieved using this method. Bill’s mentorship and encouragement helped realize her dream to make a living at fine art. It took her several years to master sculpting in wax, which she did on her own, with the exception of Bill giving advice on the telephone when she needed it. She created wax moulds and established her own foundry with the full support of her family and friends. Having access to her own foundry was instrumental in her career, because it allowed her the time she needed to refine and perfect her work and gave her complete artistic control in every stage of the process. After she finished her first casts she took to the road to sell her art. At this point in time, the western art world was thriving and these were to become her most productive years as an artist.

Suzan was acquainted with many of her fellow artists from all walks of life, yet she remained individualistic and developed her own unique style. She did not join gallery exhibits or artist group shows of any kind. Her creative life was mostly isolated and she made the conscious decision to forgo participating in any kind of politicking in the artistic community. When asked about her process she would answer bluntly “You just do it, you feel it, pure and simple”. Nevertheless, she could explain clearly about the struggles that come with ‘living the artist life’ and painted a realistic picture for anyone aspiring to begin a career in the arts.

She devoted her life to her work, family and friends and another deep loyalty she had was for the young ones in 4H and Pony Clubs. Her door was always open to anyone who was willing to learn about her work and she appreciated enthusiasm, a no-nonsense attitude and a strong work ethic. Her ability to find common ground with individuals from different backgrounds, ages and cultures, paired with her supportive nature, had a positive impact on countless people in the community. She paired her love of history and horses and left behind an impressive collection of horse brass and bits. Her painstaking research helped her categorize each single piece into its own time period, its previous owners and uses. She continued recording and categorizing up until her death and left her collection in trust of her husband.

As a professional artist, Suzan struggled to gain wider recognition for her work with the added challenge of living in a small community and her desire to reach more people led her to co-found the Ponoka Stampede Art and Gift Show. She was instrumental in its organization for six years and following her retirement she remained involved behind the scenes as an advisor up until 2015.

She had a clear vision for the show as demonstrated in her welcome letter to the first participating artists in 1993; “To the Artist: The idea behind starting this show is to make it an annual event that will grow and become an acknowledged show of quality. Also, to give the artists that work in the field of realism the opportunities to gain exposure and recognition for their works of art. Thanks for your cooperation and participation in the making of the show a reality and hopefully a success.” Suzan.

Her personal artistic goal, she explained, was driven by her desire to stir emotion in people. To her personally it did not matter if people were interested in purchasing her art or not, she felt a clear sense of purpose to connect her clients with their past. Her natural empathy for others would sometimes lead her to impulsively give away a piece of art for little payment. She stated that it was important to her that her artwork found a home where it would be appreciated and treasured and that everyone should be able to own original art. Suzan created close to 100 bronzes while simultaneously showing her work and raising a family. At times she did admit to feeling discouraged by the increased commercialization of the ‘Old West’ combined with the receding public interest and respect for the traditional methods of creating fine art. Today, Suzan’s work stands as an achievement of artistic skill. Her bronzes are a testament to our heritage that otherwise would be lost and now, Suzan herself belongs to the vintage of yesterday.

Suzan is survived by her husband, Eddie Jackson; sons Sandi and Roy (Christina); grandchildren Barret, Call, Corbin, Austin and Hunter; siblings Joan Watt (John), Lewis Reid (Lupita), Heather Reid, Margo Reid (Harvey) and Robert Reid (Lynn). She was predeceased by her parents, Louis and Margaret, brothers Ian and Jim.

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