When she first entered college, Sue Hessert dreamed of having a career in art.
She never would have imagined she’d get to begin living that dream many years after school, at the age of 55.
Hessert, now 79 years old and a resident of Cherry Hill, found herself on a different career path after choosing to leave art behind in college more than 50 years ago.
Hessert’s journey into art began in high school. She recalls having a love for the fine arts from a young age.
“I always had a passion for art,” she said. “In high school, I always used to draw in my textbooks.”
Hessert enrolled at Centenary College, where she hoped to pursue a career in the fine arts, majoring in fashion illustration. However, part way through college, she chose to transfer to Syracuse University. Syracuse declined to accept many of her credits from Centenary, and Hessert decided to change her major.
“I wasn’t able to do the fashion illustration,” she said.
Hessert graduated from school and went on to work in retail for a number of years, retiring in 1989.
A few years later, Hessert’s mother became ill. Hessert said she needed an outlet for a lot of the emotions and stress she was feeling at the time and decided to turn to painting.
Hessert signed up for a class at the Markeim Arts Center in Haddonfield and began to paint portraits. She quickly re-discovered her talent in the fine arts.
“I started doing decorative painting around the age of 55,” Hessert said. “I’ve been in and out of people’s homes, I’ve met people, I’ve met their pets, I’ve met everyone.”
Hessert began painting professionally, doing everything from oil and watercolor portraits of people to painting rooms and buildings as part of interior design work. A variety of families have commissioned her to do portraits over the years.
“One thing led to another,” she said. “It’s been a late-blooming career.”
One of the most valuable lessons Hessert learned was during her time at Centenary, where she learned to paint with the canvas turned upside down. A visiting instructor from the Pratt Institute told her how to do this at the time.
Hessert has continued to paint this way to this day. She said this form of painting allows her to visualize the portrait in a completely different way.
“That way, you’re looking at shapes and lights and darks,” she said. “That’s how I do my portrait painting.”
In the last few years, Hessert has been doing less painting professionally. However, she still enjoys doing portraits and is a regular artist appearing at Cherry Hill Township’s annual Art Blooms exhibit at Croft Farm.
Hessert’s message to other young artists is it’s never too late to chase your dream. She encourages other young artists to chase her passion just as she did.
“I knew I had a gift. I have found mine and I have just enjoyed it,” she said. “I’ve met
wonderful people and I’ve done stuff that I never thought I’d do.”