By Dusey Hyman
“Life is bigger than the West End and Collegiate,” states long-time Upper School art teacher Pam Sutherland. As a wife, a mother of two stepchildren, and influencer of many students since 1998, her first year at Collegiate, Sutherland has cast her shadow over students and bursts with passion about different forms of art. She teaches various levels of painting and drawing, a visual art elective called Art and Text, and Honors Studio Art. She creates bonds with students, and her space in H2L2, at the back of the Hershey Center, has become a place where students are not afraid to be themselves. Whether it is in the form of visual art, fashion, or food, Sutherland has always embraced her love for beauty in ordinary life.
Though born in Richmond, Sutherland was raised in Charlottesville, Virginia from fifth grade on. When Sutherland looks back, her childhood was “troubling,” she recalls. However, she found her first passions on the cross country track and in the art classroom. She would later attend the College of William and Mary as an undergraduate to study fine art, a combination of art history and studio art.
Through her college years and after, Sutherland “worked in the restaurant industry as a server for 20 years” at local restaurants, including Azzurro and Mamma Zu. Working in the industry prompted her to develop a deeper interest in food. Loving food “was a natural progression because you sit and watch people cook.” The first place she ever traveled abroad was Italy, which highly shaped her love of Italian food and would go on to be her dream destination.
In Sutherland’s life, her greatest influence is her father, who passed away a few years ago. She was “always very close to her dad.” They connected because “he really supported my artistic side from a young age. I just really liked spending time with him, we had a lot in common.” One of the first things a visitor might notice when walking into Sutherland’s classroom is a picture of her and her father on an easel.
As a teacher, Sutherland’s goal for students is to “encourage them to be their true self, it underlies everything I do. To not be scared to be themselves. Art definitely does that. High school is a hard time where you feel like you have to be like other people.” She often speaks about the struggles of high school students and feeling like they have to be influenced by media. Sutherland creates a space for students to be able to express themselves and become confident with the individual they are.
Carter Norfleet (‘19) has taken Painting 1, Painting 2, and is currently in Honors Studio Art. She has been influenced by Sutherland because she “has taught me that you can find beauty in many different ways, and [she has] learned the greater purpose of art.” Sutherland embraces accidents when creating art, because an accident has the potential to stem into something beautiful. Sutherland’s own artwork is often made out of recycled materials or scraps that others do not want. She experiments with mixed media, texture, lines, and shades. Collegiate alumna Maddy Crews (‘13), who graduated from the Virginia Commonwealth University in 2017, claims that “[Sutherland] was constantly being supportive and understanding about what I was interested, despite being interested in different mediums and styles of artwork.”
Sutherland, along with Upper School teacher Jere Williams, worked together on a show that was installed at Randolph Macon College in 2016. The installation was called “The Relevant Scrap” and included both sculpture from Williams and Sutherland’s mixed media pieces. As an artist, words are very important to Sutherland. Most of her pieces have thought-provoking titles which “come to [her] as [she] is working.” She also has previously had an installation in the Quirk Gallery, where her showcased work was admired.
Along with visual art, Sutherland expresses herself through her clothing. She can be seen wearing mismatched patterns, boots, flared pants, and different colored hair. Sutherland describes her wardrobe as “collective.” She loves to experiment with patterns and colors. Sutherland thinks about how her outfits will correspond to each day. When she teaches a class about shading, for example, she will wear black and white. When asked what her fashion staples are, she replied, “I love boots and jump suits. You will never find me in a tight fitting dress. The ‘vavavoom’ thing they want women to look like, I will never be in.” In the future, Sutherland aspires to get another pair of cowboy boots in a “fun color, like blue.”
Along with clothing, Sutherland expresses herself through food and is the faculty sponsor of Epicurean Club. Members of this club go to different restaurant and open their minds to diverse cuisines. The club opens “students up to different cultures and cuisines but also in visiting different parts of Richmond to get a greater appreciation.” She strongly believes that if someone is open-minded to food, it teaches them to be open-minded to other people. Her favorite dish to make is penne puttanesca, a salty pasta dish with vivid flavors.
This past summer, Sutherland checked off a bucket list item and took a trip to Venice, Italy with a friend from graduate school. The trip “far exceeded her expectations.” She is grateful for the connections that Collegiate has through the International Emerging Leaders Conference (IELC), because she was able to stay with a teacher from Italy who had been to Collegiate. The teacher hosted her in her own apartment and made Sutherland dinner, which made her “feel like I wasn’t a tourist.” In Venice, she saw the Venice Biennale art show. The show was a progression through many different galleries with various focus points.
Sutherland’s impact on students has not gone unnoticed. Ella Ackerman (‘19) states that “over the past three years, Mrs. Sutherland has taught me to go out of my comfort zone and made me proud of who I am.” Ackerman is one of many other students have had the opportunity to experiment and grow in Sutherland’s classes.
All photos courtesy of Pam Sutherland, unless otherwise noted.