The Joy of Art
By Tracey F. Johns
Photos by Maire McArdle and Stephen Walker
Nothing makes Susan Chaires happier than to be surrounded by original artwork
Susan Chaires says she can’t imagine ever saying “I’m never going to collect another piece of art again.” That’s because of the immense joy and excitement she finds in the beauty of art. The avid art collector and intellectual property lawyer says her private collection has been gathered from all over the world and covers more than 50 years of collecting.
Many pieces are tucked away or are on display in her Easton, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. apartments. Her collection includes drawings, prints, etchings, lithographs, photographs, oil paintings, and more. Art from Chaires’ collection has been exhibited on loan at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., The Museum of Art and History at the Customs House in Key West, Florida, and The National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana.
Chaires discovered the Eastern Shore and its artists while visiting St. Michaels, and began living in Easton as a part-time resident in 2009. She’s been extending her time on the Eastern
Many Plein Air artists are represented in her collection, including Nancy Tankersley, Tim Bell, Ken DeWaard, Camille Przewodek, Zufar Bikbov, Hiu Lai Chong, Diane DuBois Mullaly, Stewart White, and Betty Huang. Works of other locally represented artists include Raoul Middleman, Jorge Alberto, Chris Wilke,
Bill Storck, Julia Rogers, David Plumb, Jim Plumb, Laura Era, Nanny Trippe, and Matthew Hillier.
“This is a really beautiful, aesthetic place, and it’s also a place that attracts creative people,” Chaires says. “What I am attracted to is an appreciation of the Eastern Shore beauty, and the creative spirit here.”
Chaires’ love of beauty dates back to her time growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, and while taking an art history course at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She says she caught the art collecting bug after attending law school at the University of Georgia and while working in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
“I had a salary for the first time and started collecting art in the early ’70s,” she says. “I mainly collected etchings and lithographs, including pieces from Peter Milton, Anthony-Petr Gorney and Mark Leithauser.”
Chaires says the largest influence on her art appreciation came in the late ’70s when she became a member of the Washington Women’s Art Center.
“I met so many women artists, and that’s how I got involved in the women and feminist art movements,” Chaires said. This is also when I learned about Judy Chicago and her Dinner Party Project.”
Chaires took a summer leave of absence from her U.S. Justice Department job and moved to a group home in Los Angeles to live and work with other artists on the project. She learned needlework to help with two of the multi-medium place settings celebrating individual historic women in the exhibit — women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft and medieval saint Hildegard of Bingen.
Whether Chaires is accessioning local art or art of national and international significance — one thing remains the same in everything she chooses for her collection.
“The pieces I’m attracted to evoke a curiosity to look more.”