North State Creatives Jack and Susie Burgess
● By Jon Lewis
Story by Jon Lewis
Photos courtesy of Jack and Susie Burgess
From the moment she first picked up a brush and began to create, Susie Cooper Burgess had a love affair with painting horses. Her husband, Jack Burgess, grew up in the bluegrass horse country around Lexington and developed a passion for painting Kentucky landscapes.
Imagine their pleasant surprise when they arrived in the North State, found themselves driving north on Interstate 5 near Cottonwood and saw horses grazing in pastures and barns dotting the rolling countryside.
For artistic inspiration, it was a two-for-one deal they couldn’t pass up. “It felt just like home,” Jack says. Art has remained at the center for the couple and their two daughters, Abigail and Eloise, since their arrival in the summer of 2011.
“My first love was horses,” Susie says. “I drew them all the time. Horses, then people.” As a child growing up in New England, she says cramped quarters and limited resources kept her from keeping a horse; once in Redding, she acquired a Morgan horse from a friend and boarded it in Millville.
Susie continues to paint horses. Their size and intensity fit nicely with her penchant for large-scale, high-contrast paintings. One of her latest projects caught the eye of Jean King, executive director at One SAFE Place, and it’s now prominently displayed at the entrance of the organization’s new shelter and office complex on Benton Drive.
“She was super moved by this painting and she wanted a powerful, safe, beautiful horse for women to see when they come into One SAFE Place,” Susie says.
King says she was searching for a piece of art that would inspire a sense of comfort, confidence and power to victims of domestic abuse who enter the Sierra Center seeking services. “It really struck me. Not only the beauty of the horse but the strength. It has a power that speaks to me and I hope it will to others.”
Jack’s art leans to the more nonfigurative side of the ledger, thanks to an affinity for abstract expressionism he developed while studying drawing at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. “I went back toKentucky, took those forms and tied it to nature,” Jack says. Tobacco barns in particular caught his fancy.
It was later, as a young art teacher at the Dublin Christian Academy in Dublin, N.H., when Jack took note of a promising student who shared a love, and a talent, for drawing. That teacher and student relationship became a husband-and-wife situation a year after Susie graduated from the academy.
“Jack was an amazing art teacher,” Susie recalls. “He was the first teacher to do oil paintings with me.”
Jack then branched into his current field as a graphic facilitator—“using images to help people see their ideas and what they’re talking about”—and began working with The Accelerated Solutions Environment in Cambridge, Mass.
The couple relocated to Chicago, where Jack continued with his graphic facilitator work before returning to the classroom in 2004 as an art teacher at Wheaton Academy. Susie, meanwhile, completed her degree in studio art at Wheaton College.
Redding beckoned in 2011 as a chance to attend Bethel Church and also to delve back into their art careers on a more or less full-time basis, although Jack’s work as a graphic facilitator still requires some travel time each month and Susie has settled in as an art teacher at the new Redding Montessori School. “I’m really trying to make a shift where I’m painting more,” Jack says.
Now established in Redding, Jack has also found a way to satisfy his love of building things through the World’s Greatest company, a collaboration he launched with his friend and former Redding resident Brent Van Auken. Jack specializes in making custom skateboards while Van Auken focuses on the renovation of classic motorcycles.
Even the humble skateboards, fashioned from locally sourced red oak, are works of art. “It harkens back to the old days of skating,” Jack says of the decks’ simplistic design and reliance on American-made components.
Susie had done the bulk of her painting, including commissioned portraits, in her kitchen but had to stop when Eloise, 2, grew tall enough to reach the paint. She subsequently created a studio at her friend Katie Walden’s flower-arranging shop called The Floranthropist. •