When one thinks of the word "legacy," it is usually associated with a long and accomplished life. My friend, Susan Hodgin, didn't get to have the long life that she deserved, but she left a legacy of gifts that will live on for generations. When Susan died Aug. 22, 2014 of colon cancer at age 36, an age when most of us are just hitting our stride, she was widely loved, admired and respected by her many friends, collectors, colleagues and students.
When I first met Susan just over four years ago, she was teaching at the Indianapolis Art Center. Susan had been at the IAC for several years, and her classes were usually filled with repeat students eager to learn more from this young master. She actively circulated around the classroom giving ideas and inspiration and working through problems in a patient and caring way. I had never had a more positive and gentle teacher. I joined the repeat students for two more classes before Susan departed the IAC to complete her Master of Fine Arts degree. She left a legacy of dozens of appreciative students who will continue to practice art and share their knowledge with others.
By the time Susan completed her MFA, she was pregnant with daughter Anna, and I had heard that she was gravely ill. She had a corner of her large studio space at the Harrison Center for the Arts that looked underutilized so I asked her if she would let me share the rent and use the space for my own work. We became studio mates and spent First Fridays together for more than two years. I got to know her work better than anyone except for her husband, Steve, who impressed Susan by hauling paintings to her van after an art show early in their courtship. Susan built her career the hard way through art fairs and shows selling paintings and prints in the summer heat and rain, traveling thousands of miles each year.
With each work she sold, she touched another life with her unique vision of the world. As her studio-mate I regularly witnessed former customers stopping by to express their appreciation and the list of new admirers growing every month. As she dealt with her illness, a creative surge went into the canvases as if she knew that she had to get the most out of each piece. Some works were somber and even frightening, but in the last year her colors brightened and the joy of living burst from every brushstroke. Almost everything she painted during her last year sold out in her last show at the HCA in May of this year. Her loyal customers and her new fans all wanted to have a part of Susan's world. The legacy of art is now on the walls of hundreds of homes with families, friends and clients who knew Susan and will continue to love her work.
Susan left behind her daughter Anna and husband Steve. Anna is strong-willed like her mother and even at just 2-years-old, she shows signs of growing into an artist herself someday. When our First Friday evenings would get a little slow, I often asked Susan about Anna and her face would change from serious artist to a mother in love, and she would just sigh and say, "Anna." We closed up as early as we could so she could get back home to the family she so dearly loved.
The most important legacy that Susan leaves isn't her teaching or her art. It is Susan. Susan was kind to everyone and wanted everyone to be his or her best. She was a loving mother, a lifelong friend and a gentle mentor. Susan was in her prime. She had strong opinions. She liked to have fun. Susan loved her husband and the great outdoors. She never stopped creating. Susan changed our way of seeing the world and she had so much more to do.
Susan who has left a huge hole in the hearts of all her knew her. But, we all still feel the love.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to Anna's trust fund, BMO Harris Bank 1402 N. Shadeland Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46219. All are invited to visit www.leppertmortuary.com where you may leave a memory of Susan or submit condolences for her family.