CHARLES TOWN – An ardent art collector since she bought her first watercolor at age 20, the late Susan Ford Pritchard enlivened the Panhandle’s art scene in 2010 with the creation of Washington Street Gallery & Gift.
The gallery later became an arts co-op and then transformed again late last year when it moved to George Street to become an attraction at the Charles Town Visitors Center. Throughout Washington Street’s evolution, Pritchard encouraged dozens of Panhandle artists to become part of the action – and enticed locals and visitors alike to see downtown Charles Town as a destination for art, culture and education.
A memorial service has been scheduled for next month for Pritchard, who died last week at a Pittsburgh hospital. She had suffered a stroke on Sept. 26. The Nov. 3 service is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church at 100 W. Washington St.
When the Spirit of Jefferson asked local artists and others to share their thoughts on Pritchard, we heard comments about her energy, inspiration, creativity and welcoming spirit. Here is a sampling:
Jenny Allen, Shepherdstown: “I was lucky to know Susan through our mutual devotion to progressive politics and our shared belief that art enriches a community. Her example of joyful service to our public landscape is something I will seek to emulate all of my days. She will be profoundly missed but her unforgettable smile and enveloping warmth will stay with us always.”
Amy George, Charles Town: “Susan became a fast friend the minute I walked into the Washington Street Gallery & Gift on Washington Street. I stopped in to see if they needed volunteers. Susan greeted me like the best thing since sliced bread. She immediately signed me up and over the next few weeks managed to talk me into bringing some work in to be juried. She liked what she saw and said, “I’m the owner therefore I can be the judge and jury … you’re in!” Susan inspired me; she was as lovely inside as outside. I will miss her terribly.”
Joe Bourgeois, Ridgeway: “I never met Ms. Pritchard, but her life touched me. Her husband met me at the Mountain Heritage Festival and told me that his wife was influential in a local arts cooperative. He said that I might want to join. I went ahead and joined and now, I hope, am in a position to help the arts in Jefferson County and the rest of the Eastern Panhandle. Ms. Pritchard enabled that to happen, and has given me through her efforts some growth as an artist.”
Sue Parker, Hedgesville: “Although I did not know Susan well or long, one thing was immediately clear to me. She had the ability to draw the best from others. Her knack for displaying the creations and showcasing the strengths of the people around her was a talent much appreciated by those who knew her and worked with her. She made the world around her bloom and hum with her energy. With her discerning eye and sharp focus, she transformed the mundane into something very special.”
Martha LeRoi, Harpers Ferry: “Beyond being stunned at her passing, I feel privileged and thankful to have known her. Her welcoming warmth, her energy and vision and her simple caring lifted the days of those of us who had the opportunity to work with her in the gallery she and Paul founded. We are inspired and enriched by the experience.”
Loretta Dovell Bailey, Stephens City, Va.: “I am one of the artists in the co-op that Susan founded. Aside from being a fair, compassionate businesswoman, Susan was a true friend to people and animals. This time last year Susan and Paul were my guests at the West Virginia Breeders Classics gala at Shepherdstown, then afterward I was an overnight guest at their house. What a warm welcome; they did not want to see me drive late at night to my home in Virginia.
“I remember her dogs, mostly rescues that Susan saved from the pound. One of them she found crouched in some bushes after being hit by a car. Susan nursed her back to health, searched for the owner and when the owner couldn’t be found, Susan kept her. Susan will truly be missed by all whose lives she touched.”
Barbara Bradley, formerly of Martinsburg: “I met Susan through her husband, Paul. Paul and I have known each other for a number of years through Main Street Martinsburg, Martinsburg Rotary and ultimately through City Club which he helped form. I first met her at a City Club meeting and then came to know her through her connection with the art community in Jefferson and Berkeley counties.
“Susan was one of those people that when you met her, you felt that you were picking up on a conversation begun years before. She was beautiful to look at, but one of those people whose beauty shown from deep down. Beautiful, composed, confidant, open, and engaging are words that I think describe the lovely person that she was. Having moved some distance from Martinsburg, but able to keep in touch through Facebook, I was stunned when the news came about her stroke. But ever the consumate friend, Paul was able to keep everyone up to date on her stituation and, true to his posts, he shared the sad news of her passing. His description left a vivid memory of her swathed in blue. The perfect color for her. .. peaceful and calm. Rest in peace, Susan, we were all the better for having known you.”
Suzanne Ravgiala, Middleway: “Susan was the sparkle person of the Washington Street Artists’ Cooperative. [She was] someone I would have loved to call a very good friend, but I did not know her long enough to have that happen.
“I make broken plate tables and signed up with the gallery about two years ago. I always admired Susan and her great networking ability. She took time to be extra nice to me, although I think she was extra nice to everyone. I moved here three years ago and the gallery has been my only outlet for meeting people who have similar interests, so I am glad for that.”
– Compiled by Christine Miller Ford