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Susan Sutton, inspiring high school art teacher, dies at 77

Known for pushing her students to appreciate and pursue careers in art, she spent 26 years at Great Valley High, and all of them in the same classroom as Bart, her husband of 53 years.

Mrs. Sutton was an expert in creating weaves, jewelry, and ceramics.
Mrs. Sutton was an expert in creating weaves, jewelry, and ceramics.Read moreCourtesy of the Family

Susan Sutton, 77, of West Chester, a longtime art teacher at Great Valley High School, died Thursday, July 29, at ManorCare Health Services-King of Prussia. She suffered a traumatic brain injury after a fall at home in May.

Known for inspiring her students to appreciate and sometimes pursue careers in art, Mrs. Sutton spent 26 years at Great Valley, and all of them in the same classroom with Bart, her husband of 53 years. She specialized in ceramics, weaving, jewelry, and sculpture, and he taught painting, sculpture, ceramics, and graphics.

The couple worked together in a large art room at the high school, and students moved among the specialties.

“The kids always wondered how we worked together,” said Bart Sutton, who retired in 2001. “They were fascinated, always watching us. It was the best situation in the world, and it worked because we had a common interest.

“We didn’t fight, and when we went home every night we just carried on with what we were doing. We knew what had happened that day, so we didn’t have to explain anything.”

Naturally humble and shy, Mrs. Sutton became gregarious and outgoing in the classroom, her husband said. She reveled in showing her students the finer points of creating, especially jewelry, and her smile “could light up the room,” he said.

Several former students expressed their gratitude for her friendship and attention in an online tribute.

“She was a very special lady who helped develop me into the woman I am today,” one woman wrote. “I was always inspired by her go-get-it spirit, and by the love shared between her and Bart.”

Another wrote that Mrs. Sutton “will always be remembered so much for making me who I am today in the jewelry world.”

Author Alice Sebold was a student in the Suttons’ classroom at Great Valley in the 1970s, and she recounted in her 2017 best-selling memoir, Lucky, how Mrs. Sutton and her husband encouraged and supported her creative impulses, which helped keep her focused on school.

“I love the Suttons,” Sebold wrote.

Born April 15, 1944, in Marion, Ind., Mrs. Sutton earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Ball State University in 1966 and a master’s degree in fine arts from Ohio State University in 1968.

She and her husband met at Ohio State, married in 1968, and she taught high school art classes in Columbus, Ohio, and then Mount Kisco, N.Y., from 1968-73. The couple moved to West Chester in 1973 after getting substitute-teacher jobs at Great Valley that turned into full-time positions.

“I asked her to address me as Mr. Sutton in class, never Bart or Honey,” Bart Sutton said. “She may have slipped and called me Bart once but never Honey.”

Mrs. Sutton worked on her own art outside the classroom, and the couple created a home studio. An intellectual as well as an artist, she studied art nouveau and devoured crossword puzzles.

She traveled to Europe and around the United States with her husband, and wrote detailed personal newsletters for more than 150 friends and family. She retired in 1999.

“She was always there for me,” her husband said. “She always inspired me with her talent and originality.”

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Sutton is survived by a brother and other relatives. Another brother died earlier.

Services and interment were private.

Donations in her name may be made to the Brandywine Valley SPCA, 1212 Phoenixville Pike, West Chester, Pa. 19380, and the American Parkinson Disease Association, P.O. Box 61420, Staten Island, N.Y. 10306.