New London - Ruth Lyford Sussler, 92, an accomplished painter and visual artist, passed away of natural causes Sept. 15, 2020, at the family home in New London.
Ruth felt that creativity is at the core of happiness. Creativity was what she breathed.
From her earliest years, Ruth painted, drew and experimented with her art, starting when her artist father gave her her first paint brushes as a child. Ruth's painting practice and advice were never to be repetitive. To think about every brush stroke. To take risks with colors and to use a variety of brushes. Ruth especially liked thick round brushes.
Ruth was the daughter of illustrator, commercial artist and professional painter, Philip Lyford, and woman suffrage campaigner, Ruth Pray Lyford. She was born Feb. 26, 1928, in Chicago. From Ruth's first memories, the Lyford family would make the long drive every summer, years before the modern interstates, from Hinsdale, Ill. to Mount Desert Island, Maine, in a model A Ford, then later a Dodge Sedan. The island was where Ruth's mother was born and reared. The Lyfords had a cottage by the shore and spent each summer, swimming in the cold sea, climbing mountains in Acadia park and visiting relatives on the island. In the 1940s, Ruth's father's commercial art career took a dive as the camera's output took the place of painting. Ruth's family moved to Westport. After her father's death in 1950, Ruth's mother opened a Tea Room in Bar Harbor for the summer seasons, where Ruth waited on and helped in creating blueberry pies and cakes.
In the summer of 1944 Ruth attended, under a fellowship, the art school at Black Mountain, N.C., where she studied with Josef and Anni Albers and Jean Charlot. Ruth attended Staples High School in Westport and then, Bennington College, in Bennington, Vt., graduating with a visual arts major in 1950. While at Bennington, she also studied modern dance with Martha Graham.
For several years following graduation, Ruth worked in New York City at a display factory designing and making papier-mâché objects. In 1954, Ruth joined her fiancé, Robert "Bob" Sussler, in Germany where the couple married, during Bob's service in the U.S. Army of occupation. On returning to the States, they bought a house in New London, next to the Long Island Sound shore, where they reared their four children.
Ruth was a prolific artist, active in southeastern Connecticut. Her portraits and paintings of family homes are treasured by the families she painted for. She designed and made costumes for theatrical performances at the Eugene O'Neill Theater, taught art in public elementary schools throughout the region, served as a docent at the Slater and Lyman Allyn Art Museums and designed the mural for the sanctuary of the All Souls Unitarian Church of New London. Ruth was a long-time member of the Mystic Art Association, displaying her oil paintings in exhibitions there. Her artwork has appeared in numerous individual and group showings in Southeastern Connecticut area museums, art association and gallery exhibitions, as well as in New Haven and New York City.
Ruth sought to convey her creativity and love for art to her children. Reflecting her strongly held views about the centrality of art in education, she banned television from the family home, calling it an 'idiot box'. Instead she would gather her children on the family couch and read them stories, from books full of illustrations. Among her favorites were the Greek Myths by the D'Aulaires, the Wind in the Willows and books of adventure, illustrated by the Wyeths. For Christmas presents, she would buy large sheets of Bristol board for drawing and art construction by the children. She cultivated the arts in them, arranging for lessons in piano, pottery for Albert, now an accomplished ceramic artist, and dance and teaching sessions on drawing, puppetry and dressmaking. Ruth made regular summer pilgrimages, with family in tow, to her parent's home on Mount Desert Island, in her later years to a winter residence with her husband in Pelican Cove, Fla., and trips to Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico, and Tokoname, Japan. These travels helped further inspire her art and gave her great joy.
Ruth's creativity took many directions, with changes in her style and use of different media for its expression. She was bold with brush and color. Her experimentation and compositions, complex at times, simple and austere at others, sometimes only seeming so, were wellsprings for her work and life.
Bob, Ruth's cherished husband of over 65 years, predeceased Ruth, as did her beloved siblings, Joseph P. Lyford, Roger Lyford and Harriette Rauh. Ruth is survived by her children and their spouses: Philip Sussler and the Honorable Diana Leyden of Silver Spring, Md., Albert and Emi Sussler of Tokoname, Japan, Phoebe Pilj of New London and Anna Sussler of Norwich; and by her seven grandchildren, Cori, Rui, Libby, Reo, Taft, Robin and Robert; and two great-grandchildren, Saku and Yoh. Also surviving her are Ruth's brothers-in-law, Richard Rauh and Frank Sussler; and Frank's wife, Joan Sussler; and many dear cousins, nieces and nephews and their children. Ruth leaves many other relatives from Maine to California and friends in the art world and her community with fond memories of her cheerful company.
The family wishes particularly to thank Phoebe for her caregiving during Ruth's last years. Due to the current pandemic, there are no calling hours. A celebration of Ruth's life is planned at a date to be announced at All Souls Unitarian Church in New London. Donations may be made in Ruth's memory to the Lyman Allyn Art Museum.
Ruth was a loving, kind, warm and generous person, in her many roles from daughter, sister, wife, to mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and artist, teacher and companion to her family, friends and acquaintances. She leaves treasured memories of her presence, contributions and gifts and will be sorely missed. She delighted in life and its mysteries, often saying "life is but a dream."
Published in The Day on Sep. 16, 2020.