Art historian, artist, wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, famously bad driver. Born May 5, 1960, in Calgary; died June 5, 2013, in Austin, Tex., of an accidental overdose of prescription medication, aged 53.
Suzan Germond fashioned her five decades on the planet the same way she created her glorious works of mosaic art: by foraging, procuring, and setting into whimsical juxtaposition the pieces of a singular life. Along the way, she charmed and edified many of those she met on her laugh– and idea-filled journeys.
She also routinely left them bemused. While taking a break from studying in France the year after graduating with the top marks in art history at Queen’s University, Suzan was one day investigating the architecture at Versailles when she slipped behind a bush to relieve an itch. Midway through scratching her Canadian derrière, she was startled by a man standing immediately beside her. “Mademoiselle,” he intoned, “c’est bon, ça?” A police officer in Brittany, pulling over Suzan after she made a left turn from the far right lane during rush hour on a steep hill in a city centre, suggested she return to Canada “aussi vite que possible.”
As it turns out, she landed in New York, earning her MA at NYU, before returning to Canada to teach at the Alberta College of Art. It was in Calgary that she met Ken Germond, and the two were soon married and studying in California. Although she came from a family steeped in law – her father, Jack Major, served on Canada’s Supreme Court; all three of her brothers are lawyers – Suzan stayed with art history, picking up a Stanford doctorate with a thesis that laid waste to centuries of scholarship involving Rome’s San Giovanni dei Fiorentini church. It was always hard to fathom that the person who wrote that merciless dissertation was the same woman who, when hearing the voices of my partner and me at the other end of the phone, would invariably squeal, “Hi, Wieners!”
Eventually, Ken and Suzan settled in Austin, where their children, Alex and Mimi, were born, and where Suzan became an appraiser of old-masters paintings. Later, after falling in love with mosaic art, she opened a working and teaching studio. As she put it in her book, Found Art Mosaics, her goal was to transform “used or abandoned” objects into intricate works that offered “a reflection on our consumer culture and how quickly things are no longer regarded as valuable.” Over the years, she sold hundreds of pieces, and created monumental works for public schools in Austin. Always, she kept her sense of absurdity. On her trips to second-hand stores, cashiers would sometimes comment on how lovely were the china cups, teapots and serving platters Suzan had chosen. “Yes,” she’d answer, “I’m going to go home and smash them to pieces.” She’d then leave without further explanation.
Although at times she struggled to come to terms with a world that doesn’t always make sense, Suzan kept us smiling. From the songs she belted out on road trips (most memorably, Madonna and the Spice Girls) to her witty comebacks (Suzan’s mother, Hélène: “Are you on the pill?” Suzan, looking under her chair: “No, I don’t think so”) to her long-time trademark sign-off (“Okay bye!”), she gave us, to borrow a phrase from one of her Facebook art fans, “a glimpse of a more beautiful and fanciful world.” It’s been hard – hard to lose her.
Victor Dwyer is Suzan’s friend.