You can tell a lot about a person from his or her front porch.
A floral welcome mat makes you think of a cheery household inside. Loud barking keeps you away from the porch altogether! But an eclectic covered porch with a casual arrangement that includes a child’s chair complete with a ragdoll, a grouping of apples in a tin pail and a little hide-away house that’s now home to a stray cat, you know this is the home of an artist.
Susette Gertsch, of the truck seen on Homestead Drive which has the sign proclaiming “Midway Artist,” is proud of her lifetime’s work. The sign on the truck invites visitors to stop by in the afternoon to tour her gallery — a gallery alive with splashes of bright colors, intimate paintings and the feeling that there is always a work in progress.
A Life of Art
Snuggled into the end of her sofa, light streaming in slightly across her hairline, Susette projects an air of self-confidence as she talks about her life’s story. An insightful comment of “creativity connected me to me” tells all.
Susette recalls that art embraced her as a five-year-old sitting in a bunk bed drawing on herself. She had created her own personal playground, and she has not stopped creating since.
Her story takes a few twists and turns before landing in Midway. A Californian by birth, there was a stop at Diablo Valley College where she sold her first painting and realized, “I could do this.” With one child in tow, Susette then relocated to Australia with her husband. They next moved to Utah — “one country, one God, one brush” she asserts — and raised five children over the years. Along the way, she secured a BA and MFA from Brigham Young University.
It was as a teacher for 19 years at Skyline High where Susette made her most measurable impact. She is clearly proud when she says, “I’ve started so many people on their first involvement with painting.”
Before retiring in 2005, Susette was called on to teach art and painting, and eventually taught photography. Without traditional equipment available, she introduced her students to pinhole photography. That interest in photography led Susette to participate in the Sesquicentennial wagon ride for the church, of which she took 150,000 photographs!
Creating in Plein Air
Susette smiles broadly as she says, “The Midway Art Association is one of my greatest joys in life.” The MAA, as it is known, is the best-known visual arts group in the county. Started in the early 2000s in the Gertsch living room, the organization’s mission is to encourage amateur and professional artists alike. Susette served on the board until October 2018.
An idea person — a BIG idea person — Susette made her mark on Midway with Wasatch’s Plein Air Paradise. Working in the early 2000s with the Midway Boosters and Midway attorney Randon Wilson, Susette secured the Midway Town Hall as a venue for a plein air exhibit. And now, 14 years later, the Wasatch Plein Air Paradise is the largest painting event in Utah!
Most in the Heber Valley are now accustomed to seeing the roadside painters set up to depict our wonderful landscape. Keep an eye out this
June 22 — July 4 for the plein air painters as the valley hosts this highly-anticipated and well-attended event.
Susette’s paintings hang in many of the homes in the Heber Valley. Midway residents Bill and Carolee Kohler, who consider Susette a very close friend, have quite a lot of her paintings. They say she’s “amazingly gifted, not only at painting but as an angel.” Carolee laughs and describes her as “driven and never stops.”
That drive took her far beyond her own very active imagination. In 2009, Susette started her “Limness Project.” It would change her life.
Susette’s “Limness Project” was a contract with herself. A contract to paint 300 paintings in one year. Outdoors. No matter the weather. Taking Sundays off.
She made it through with an incredible body of work but admits, “I got tough in a number of ways.”
Talking to Susette, there are countless stories about her trips through Europe: living in her car, staying at the home of a Russian painter and getting locked into the grounds of Giverny (Monet’s home). Stories about her “Limness Project” and her days teaching. With Susette, there are always stories — and usually a painting to match.