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NAME:  Susan Sutton

TITLE:  Coordinator, Visual Reference Services  FOR:  Indiana Historical Society

SINCE?  1986

ORIGINALLY FROM? Indiana

YOUR JOB DUTIES INCLUDE? I help people find images of Indiana for a wide variety of projects. I work with people who simply want to have a photograph for their home or business as well as working with authors and documentary producers. Once the images have been identified, I get reproductions made.

YOU WORK HOW MANY HOURS WEEKLY? 40

PROJECT/S YOU ARE MOST PROUD TO HAVE BEEN PART OF? It would be difficult to choose some in particular. I think contributing to documentaries and books would be very high on my list. Over time they reach so many people with not only the information they intended to convey, but also the idea that we are all part of history and we all matter. I am also particularly proud of the projects in which people find their own place in the stream of history.

OTHER PROJECTS WE MIGHT RECOGNIZE? I wrote a book about the Bass Photo Co Collection (Indianapolis The Bass Photo Co Collection). The work of this studio has had such an impact on how the city can see its past.

WHAT YOU LOVE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO? I love having one foot in the past while the other is planted firmly in the present.

WORST PART OF WHAT YOU DO? Not finding what someone needs.

HOW YOU DEFINE PERSONAL SUCCESS? A friend once said it was being paid to do what you would do anyway. That is part of it, but even more is what is at the root of that statement. I think it is feeling like you’ve taken the best parts of yourself and used them to make a positive change in the world around you. To me, that starts with the people we encounter every day and ripples out.

ADVICE TO SOMEONE ELSE WHO WOULD LIKE TO DO WHAT YOU DO? Read, listen and observe the world around you. Be willing to give more than just your time to your work.

 IF YOU WERE GRANTED ONE WISH RELATING TO YOUR JOB/CAREER/ORGANIZATION, WHAT WOULD IT BE? I hope the future is as bright as our past with continued innovation in the ways we collect and preserve the history of the state and then present it to the public.

WOULDN’T HAVE MADE IT TO WHERE YOU ARE WITHOUT? I wouldn’t be here without having done internships. There is no way to over state the value of these training and career testing opportunities.

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU? I need to feel like I’m doing a good job. Using what has been left to us gives even more meaning to the lives of the people who went before us, so respect is also part of what motivates me.

WHO WERE/ARE YOUR MENTORS AND HOW DID THEY HELP? Dr. Lloyd Hunter was not only my advisor at Franklin College, he also became a very good friend. His level of dedication to excellent scholarship really inspired his students and taught us how important all the details are. Leigh Darbee taught me how to do reference work at the IHS. We don’t just need to listen to researchers, we also have to know the right questions to ask. She was definitely a model of professionalism to follow.

WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN HISTORY? Both my grandmothers told wonderful family stories. They were about a world that had passed and left a bit of itself behind. I’ve been looking for and savoring that bit left behind ever since. Studying the past helps us understand ourselves.

MOST INTERESTING BIT OF INDIANAPOLIS HISTORY YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED? That’s a really tough question. There are so many stories and places that come to mind. Wm. H. Bass often sent his photographers out to jobs and told them to use leftover negatives to shoot anything interesting that they saw on their way back to the studio. Many of the “extras” are wonderful shots of the downtown area. Some have so much life in them you can almost smell the horses and hear the trolley car bells.

YOU CAN HAVE DINNER WITH ANYONE FROM INDIANAPOLIS PAST? WHO & WHY? Charlotte Cathcart would be my choice. She wrote a lovely memoir titled Indianapolis from our old Corner. I’d love to talk to her and hear more of what she knew of the city as the 20th century matured. Her father owned a bookstore on Washington Street and she herself worked at a field hospital in France during WWI. She was a keen observer of life in the city. I know she would have a lot of stories to tell.

YOUR CAREER IN AN ALTERNATE LIFE?  Therapist. I’d love to be able to help people work through their problems so they can make the most out of their lives.

ANY INTERESTING FAMILY CONNECTIONS TO INDIANAPOLIS PAST? My late husband’s grandfather once fell through part of the stained glass ceiling in Union Station. He supervised maintenance people there and when one of his men got into trouble while working above the glass, he went to help. Fortunately, he was able to hang on and was pulled to safety. They put in a mismatched pane of glass and it was still there when they started the renovations in the 1980s.

FAVORITE VIEW IN THE CITY? In our collection, we have some photographs taken out of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument around the time it was completed. There is one that shows the Cyclorama, the Statehouse and beyond.

FAVORITE RESTAURANT IN INDIANAPOLIS? Santorini in Fountain Square!

FAVORITE CITY BESIDES INDIANAPOLIS? I love London, England.

FAVORITE HISTORY RELATED BOOK OR MOVIE? I like The Killer Angels as an historical novel.


I like Paris 1919 for the way it covers the peace talks and sets the stage for so much of the 20th century.

ULTIMATE BEVERAGE? English Breakfast tea—hot or iced

COLLECT ANYTHING? Teapots

FAVORITE QUOTE? “Who loves a garden still his Eden keeps, Perennial pleasures plants, and wholesome harvest reaps.” (Bronson Alcott)

IF YOUR LIFE HAD A THEME SONG, IT’D BE? Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland

4 responses to “Heritage Steward: Susan Sutton”

  1. Tom Davis says:

    My son bought Charlotte Cathcart’s book for me at a used bookstore in Chicago. It has been an invaluable resource. You could develop a whole tour of Crown Hill based just upon the people she mentions.(Actually, they were about half the people on a Victorian Tour we gave last year.) I agree, she would be a great person to talk to.

  2. basil berchekas jr says:

    Love these biographies of these outstanding people directly involved in promoting historic preservation in various and unique ways!

  3. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    I love that book too. Almost every time I’m in that stretch of Penn where she lived, I try to envision what it looked like back then!

  4. basil berchekas jr says:

    All we can say is EXCELLENT! A role model!

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