I have an amazing life. There’s not much I can think to change. And yet . . . when I visit Susan Kirchman at her gallery in Johnson City, the fantasies start flying.
Susan is a photographer, and co-owner of TASTE Wine+Art with her husband, Warren Vilmaire. What makes the place extra-special to me is that it’s also their home. The work/live compound is a series of small buildings reaching toward the creek out back. Warren, a retired aircraft engineer, literally built the place. And every time I visit, there’s a new extension or project to admire, along with a new art exhibit.
I think of the gallery as Susan’s alter-ego. It has the same warmth and soul. Imagine Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, making art instead of dinner.
The gallery is Susan’s later-life Do-Over!, after decades spent as a professor at Texas A&M. You know the soft-spot I have for recovering academics, but that’s not why I love Susan Kirchman.
I love Susan’s photographs. How they capture the seductive texture of the natural world. I own four of them, and I have my eye on a fifth.
I love her sense of adventure. It’s how she breathes.
I love her artful collection of succulents. As hard as I try to arrange the succulent pot garden she inspired me to create, it never looks as pleasing.
I love her studio. When she apologizes for the clutter, I think, oh, how it teems with ideas and equipment and scraps of beauty!
I love how she makes it all look so easy. She’s a gracious and generous host. When I arrive, I feel warmly welcomed. When I leave, I feel refreshed and happy. I go back to the world with eager eyes.
I love that she reminds me: life is a creative project. Envision it, build it, share it.
And I love what she wrote to share with you:
Best advice received Go for it, even if you don’t think you have a chance.
Best advice given Go for it, even if you don’t think you have a chance.
Can’t-resist indulgence Travel. I was able to travel extensively during my career at Texas A&M, presenting research, teaching abroad, and spending my summers pursuing my photography passion. Since I retired from the university, my husband and I have worked long and hard establishing an art gallery. It is more difficult to make time for travel now that we run our own small business, but we still manage to fit in some great adventures.
Biggest accomplishment Being chosen to show my art at the Getty Museum. That was a big 15 minutes of fame.
At age 70, my ambition is to keep on surprising myself.
All-time favorite super-heroine My daughter Jennifer, for the strength she has shown fighting breast cancer while raising four children.
Hardest lesson learned Even when you think you are doing the right thing and trying your hardest, sometimes the other team still wins.
Most prized possession I am crazy about my plants.
Sure-fire energy boost I love helping a client find just the right art piece in my gallery. I am happy with the sale, they are happy with their new art piece, and the whole process makes me high.
Life’s ambition I have reinvented my life several times. Each time it took a lot of ambition. Each time it was a lot harder than I anticipated. Each time I surprised myself. At age 70, my ambition is to keep on surprising myself.
Secret to success I have been lucky enough to be able to do things that I love. I loved teaching, I love making art, and I love having an art gallery and promoting great artists’ works. Success seems to be easier when one is doing things that they love to do.
Most-used productivity app Most of my own artwork starts with photography, and most of my images end up with some component that has been done with Snapseed. I love Snapseed.
Next big goal My next big goal is to take time to organize SOMEthing every day. I have finally figured out that running a business takes every bit of time that one allows it to take. Chaos makes me crazy, and things easily descend into chaos when I stay this busy. Even though that doesn’t sound like a “big” goal, it is my goal for now.