This month, a collection of works by local artist and retired librarian John Suess are on display in the art gallery at the Wauwatosa Public Library.
In my opinion, it’s a can’t-miss show – but I’m probably biased because I know the artist personally. John Suess (pronounced “cease,” NOT like children’s author Dr. Seuss) just so happens to be my dad.
My dad’s passion for art predates my existence. Born and raised here in Milwaukee, he began drawing and painting at the age of 3. After high school, he pursued a degree in commercial art at Milwaukee Area Technical College, but fortunately for me, you’ll see, he realized he was more interested in fine art instead.
He eventually transferred to UW-Milwaukee where, after a brief stint in the Army Reserves, he continued his education, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in ancient history and a master’s degree in library science.
My dad spent the next 34 years working in the Milwaukee Public Library system, with the majority spent at MPL-Central in the science and business department. There, he met and eventually married my mom, Mary, who is also a retired librarian. Thus, if my dad had continued to pursue a career in art, I very likely wouldn’t be here today and you wouldn’t be reading this article.
Growing up, I remember my dad creating a few drawings and paintings for our home, or as gifts for others, and also expressing his creativity in other ways, such as woodworking, gardening and photography.
As an example, here’s what our garage door looked like at our first home:
He also encouraged me to explore my creative side as well. We created this abstract painting together when I was just two years old:
It still hangs in my parents' house to this day.
However, since retiring in 2007, my dad has focused a lot more of his attention onto his own art, in addition to playing golf and working in his award-winning garden.
Over the last decade, the walls of my parents’ home have become covered with his work and my own house exclusively features John Suess originals. I have at least one painting from him in every room; he’s indulged me by painting my cats multiple times upon request, as well as a couple of bloody marys, too.
And, when I got my first office, which I think was originally a closet, he gave me a window with a view:
Eventually, we all started running out of wall space. So, being in the communications and marketing field, I encouraged my dad to showcase his work online, helping him create his website and setting up his Etsy Shop and social media accounts.
At last tally, he has produced over 150 works of art since his retirement, many of which he has sold, or gifted to family and friends.
He works primarily in acrylics and occasionally oils, and describes his style as impressionist, tonalism and color field, with some realism.
His favorite subjects are landscapes, especially local scenery.
“I find my inspiration outdoors. While working in my garden, playing golf, or taking a walk or drive, I will often be captivated by the beauty of nature and stop to capture it with my camera. Then, I’ll make it come back to life on canvas,” he explains.
The pieces included in the show at the Wauwatosa Library reflect those inspirations. Visitors will see a selection from his “Road Trips” series, which features rural scenes from locations around southeastern Wisconsin such as Hartford, North Prairie and Kettle Moraine; a grouping of landscapes, many of which are also based on local vantage points; and a wide variety of florals.
Other recent displays were with the Milwaukee County Parks, where a selection of his work featuring local golf courses was showcased in the clubhouses of Dretzka, Currie and Hansen. Not to mention, Redline Milwaukee, where he was featured as part of the Modern Landscape exhibition in 2018.
Since sharing his hobby with others, my dad has also completed several commissioned works. He’s been asked to produce paintings of everything from children and pets, to homes or meaningful photos from trips.
In 2019, he was especially honored to be commissioned by his parish, Christ King, to produce works in celebration of its 80th anniversary. The largest of these paintings – "Christ the King," a 30-by-40 inch acrylic on gesso board – is on permanent display on the southeast wall inside the church. Additionally, four other works capturing the local church’s iconic steeple as viewed during each season are on display in the vestibule.
“For me, it’s more than just selling my work,” dad says. “I love to connect with other artists and fans and get feedback from people on what they like or don’t like about my work. When I do sell or give someone a painting, I’m always happy because then I know more people are enjoying my work, rather than it just being displayed in my own home. I had a successful career with the Milwaukee Public Library, and while I don’t really consider my painting a second career, to use a book analogy, it’s my next chapter. I am grateful for the opportunity to do what I love and to share my talents with others.”
For my dad, this show at the Wauwatosa Library is kind of like coming full circle – a 73-year-old retired librarian-turned-artist, now showing his work at the library. It’s a neat story and one I’m happy to help tell, both as his daughter and his "publicist."
And while unfortunately, my dad’s talents for art were not passed down to me, I have inherited a lot of his creativity and ingenuity, channeling that same energy now through writing and running my own company
I’m extremely proud of his work, and I think he can be an inspiration not only to me, but also to many. His journey teaches us all a lesson in continuing to pursue your passions, regardless of your stage in life.
“I’m grateful to the Wauwatosa Library for giving me the opportunity to display my art for the community to enjoy. This show was originally booked for last summer, and after the year we have all had, it is nice to be able to visit places and interact with others again. It’s long overdue, and I hope many will check it out,” Dad said, interjecting a little of his dad/librarian humor.
My dad’s show marks the first time the Wauwatosa Library’s art gallery will be open in over a year due to the pandemic, but hopefully you’ll find that his collection is worth the wait. Over 30 of his works are on display now through July 31 in the art gallery, which is located on the first floor of the Wauwatosa Library, past the circulation desk.
The exhibit is free of charge and is open for viewing during regular library hours (Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; closed on Sundays).
His complete collection can be viewed on his website at JohnSuessFineArt.com and fans can follow him on Instagram and Facebook. Many of his pieces are available for sale on Etsy and visitors to the library’s exhibit will enjoy special pricing on the works included in the show. Commissions are available upon request.