Art Explorations with Susan Burton
Fifteen years ago, Susan Burton departed on a life-changing journey. Led by therapist Edward Tick, Burton explored Greece. The experience moved her to explore sculpture and mosaics. Soon, her farm in rural Marseilles transformed into an open concept “Art Farm” where people can create everything they can dream up.
Yet, Burton realized that even an art business needs a plan. At a gathering organized by Christine Coughlin, then the Executive Director of NCIartworks, Burton connected with Amy Lambert of the Illinois SBDC at the Starved Rock Country Alliance. Lambert challenged Burton to seek the higher end of the art business.
“One of the big things Amy taught me was how to analyze my revenue streams and choose more profitable avenues for my business.” Susan shared. “ I had a lot of things going on with my business. Amy helped me organize a business strategy with laser like focus. The SBDC taught me search engine optimization, helped redo my website, and begin applying for grants. Without the SBDC I would not have the clarity I have now.”
Burton invented the concept of community build arts programs. For each build, the community gathers to fundraise and develop art materials. Under Burton’s guidance, everyone can participate. Even children can break china into “tesserae,” small shards for mosaics. Local supporters often donate ceramics to break.
Burton began small. In the Fall of 2017, she led a team of grade school children at Grand Ridge Elementary. The team created a thirty-inch sphere decorated with colored and glass fragments. Called "Sphere of Spirit," the project engaged all the students.
With the elevation of Burton's ambition and goals raised, her commissions soon blossomed in scale. For Summer 2019, Princeton Public Arts asked her to transform the Mary Uthoff Memorial Walkway. She delivered Prairie Dreams, a prairie parlor of mosaic sofas and armchairs.
This year, Womanspace of Rockford, IL commissioned Burton to create a sculpture honoring Kate F. O’Connor and Dr. Connie Goode, famous feminists of that city as well to suffragettes who paved the way for women voters. The three-panel obelisk set on a ten-foot round base required a year and a half of volunteer work to bring to fruition, and a crane or two. This work serves as the only sculpture in Illinois dedicated to women.
After the dedication in Rockford, Burton reflected upon her mission. "Every time a major project is completed, I find it to have a physical effect. It's a little more of myself shared with the world."