ASU Art Museum honors late Susan Ables
Shortly after Deborah Sussman joined the staff of the ASU Art Museum, administrative assistant Susan Ables showed her how to use the museum kitchen's espresso machine.
Sussman admired Ables’ black and white espresso cup, and “a few days later she showed up with an espresso cup just like hers and gave it to me,” Sussman said. And thusly, Sussman learned one major lesson about Ables: don’t admire something of hers too much, or you’ll end up with the object, or one like it.
Ables, who has been described as “the heart and soul of the ASU Art Museum,” passed away Jan. 6 of an injury to her head suffered in a fall at her home.
That spirit of loving and giving characterized Ables, according to those who knew her. Her high-wattage smile graced every photo of her, and she had a gift for making people feel comfortable and welcome. Sussman said the museum staff has been hearing stories of Ables’ kindness “that we didn’t even know about.”
That doesn’t surprise student intern Cherie Hutchison. “She was such a generous person. She cooked for my husband when I was sick,” Hutchison said.
By all accounts, Hutchison’s husband was a fortunate man, as Ables was renowned for her cooking.
“Susan’s home-cooked meal was not what everyone else’s home-cooked meal was,” Hutchison said. “She was a gourmet cook. She loved to cook.”
A photo of her freshly baked popovers is testament to that. They would rival those by any famous pastry chef in town.
Ables was famous for her home-made sausage, which she prepared for Thanksgiving dinner using “only the freshest ingredients, including sage grown by a friend,” Hutchison said. Ables stuffed her turkey with the sausage, and served it for Thanksgiving morning breakfast.
Ables loved working at the ASU Art Museum because she, herself, was an artist. She studied art with Joan Yen at Scottsdale Community College 25 years ago, and the two remained friends.
“We would have lunch together and long personal conversations at least once a year,” said Yen, who now teaches at Phoenix College. “She was one of my dearest friends. She always had a smile for everyone she met. She was good with all people.
“You could not help but like her. She was kind, caring, helpful, outgoing, loving and a very loyal friend. Her love for art was always present and when she applied at ASU for her position in 2002, she gave me as a recommendation, they couldn't have chosen a better person.
“She loved her job, the people she worked with and all the art that surrounded her. I will miss her greatly.”
Tiffany A. Fairall, associate curator of contemporary arts at Mesa Art Center, was an intern at the ASU Art Museum, and later a staff member. She, too, has fond memories of her days working with Ables.
“I revered Susan not only as a proficient colleague but as a good friend. I knew her as was one of the most positive and inspirational people in my life. Always smiling and willing to offer a generous hug, Susan knew how to make someone feel special and let you know that she truly cared,” Fairall said.
“One of her most endearing qualities was her ability to see the best in everyone in spite of what others thought. While Susan will be greatly missed, I feel so blessed to have known her and take comfort in the times we did share.”
Peter Held, curator of ceramics at the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center, said: "Susan was front and center at command central at the museum, interacting with everyone coming through the door. I affectionately nicknamed her 'Mommy' as she took care of all my nagging little problems, whether it was the jammed fax machine, ordering flowers or getting my mail as I waited impatiently.
"She was a nurturer and had a heart of gold; this was demonstrated on a daily basis. In return, she nicknamed me 'Pesky.'"
"We will miss Susan so very much," wrote Gordon Knox, director of the ASU Art Museum, in an e-mail to staff and friends. "It will take days and even weeks for the loss to sink in, and only slowly will we find ourselves back, together and moving forward.
“We can carry this loss and remember and honor beloved Susan; and above all, allow her heart, her values and her wonderful humor to become an on-going part of all of us – individually and collectively. We are deeply fortunate to have her in our lives; what a wonderful gift her presence is.”
Ables was remembered and honored Jan. 20, at the ASU Art Museum. In tribute to Ables, the museum staff has decided to name a lounge in her honor. "We felt that this is the most appropriate way to commemorate her, since she was the social glue here," Sussman said.