Susan Orred

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Director of Development  Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington CT

Age: 52

Talk about how you came to be working at Hill-Stead….

 I grew up in Tariffville and now reside in Granby. Two of my siblings still live close by. Back in my college days my major was English/ History.  While attending UConn years ago, I met my future husband who traveled overseas for his job. I then decided to do a study abroad in Europe and ended up in Amsterdam close to where he was working. There was so much history and art for me to behold there. It is a small city with six canals and quite easy to navigate. Back in those days, I took art appreciation classes and traveled to Germany, France and London. 

I remember the first time I viewed French Impressionist art was at the Van Gogh museum. One of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings stood out as an enlightening moment for me, instilled my love of art. I was also intrigued by the man himself who created the artwork since he had endured psychotic episodes, ill health and was never recognized for his artistic creations during his lifetime. 

In the past I have worked at the Bradley Air Museum as an educator and the Connecticut Historical Society. Since history is something dear to me, I am also the family member who traced our genealogy. One day about four years ago the Leadership of Greater Hartford group came to the historical museum. At that time I met Susan Ballek (Executive Director of Hill-Stead). Later I invited her back for a personal tour, got to know her better and eventually ended up in Farmington working at Hill-Stead.

Being at the Hill-stead is especially gratifying for me because my great-great grandmother was on staff there as a nurse for Mr. Pope when he became ill. (From 1901 to 1947 this was the Pope’s family home). Due to the proximity of the estate, even as a child I was very familiar with Hill-Stead.

Tell about your present job…

I am pretty much the chief fundraiser for the museum. This can be a difficult job because oftentimes people are quick to contribute to associations that battle health issues such as cancer or heart disease and less likely to give to the arts. 

In my estimation it is critical to ensure that places exist for all people to experience the beauty and wonder of creative compositions. It is “soul feeding” to view a lovely work of art because it gives one inspiration and a few moments in time away from your daily life. This in itself can be good for one’s health. Also, it is just plain fun.

One of our supporters is Rick Heath from The Seabury Retirement Community in Bloomfield, where there are many artists-in-residence, that ranging from hobbyists to award-winning painters. Rennie McQuilken, the poet laureate of Connecticut, lives there. As part of our May Market celebration, we open a special gallery where we sell gently-used artwork that has been donated. Rick came in and bought a large number of those paintings to hang at Seabury for the residents. It is truly a pleasure for me to meet people that see the incredible value in the Hill-Stead museum. 

Hill-Stead is a meticulously maintained family home built more than a century ago. It houses French Impressionist paintings along with historical artifacts from the early 1900s. It is quite charming to see the paintings displayed in a location that is not ostentatious but warm. Historical pieces in museums have always had an emotional impact on me and I am hopeful others can also feel a sense of awe when they look at our curated objects.

Where do you see beauty in Granby?

My house is on Barndoor Hills Road. When I look out the glass slider in my kitchen, I can watch the hills change with the passing seasons. On a very clear day, I can actually see these hills from the museum in Farmington. Right now the trees are just beginning to show a bit of red and orange.

Sometimes I like to go out at night to look up at the sky. I like music and sing with the Hartford Chorale, a symphonic chorus that sings for the Hartford Symphony. When I see those stars on a clear night I can hear Beethoven’s ninth symphony, Ode to Joy, in my mind. I like the words, “Can you sense the creator world? Seek him above the starry canopy… There must be a loving father.”