Washougal mourns loss of artist Suzanne Grover

WACA co-founder remembered as 'amazing woman, integral part of arts community'

Washougal artist Suzanne Grover, who died May 22, 2023, was known for her pastel, acrylic and watercolor artwork portraying wildlife and pets. (Contributed photo courtesy of Suzanne Grover)

Washougal art lovers are mourning one of their own.

Artist Suzanne Grover, a longtime city of Washougal employee and co-founder of the Washougal Arts and Culture Alliance (WACA), died May 22, at the age of 53, a little more than two years after being diagnosed with stage-four small-cell lung cancer.

“She was a fighter,” said former Washougal City Councilwoman Joyce Lindsay, who helped kickstart WACA with Grover. “She had great strength, and she probably used it until she didn’t have it any longer.”

Grover, born Suzanne Craig, grew up in rural Washougal and graduated from Washougal High School in 1988. Following high school, she attended Clark College, where she earned an associate’s degree, then transferred to Washington State University, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in landscape architecture.

Grover worked for the city of Washougal from 1996 to 2020, starting out as a maintenance worker, then moving into a building inspector role in 2004. She was named the city’s manager of parks and facilities in 2008.

Grover supported several public art installations, including the city’s “Seaman,” “Forever Faithful,” “Dreaming,” “Migration, “Golden Back Heron” and “Princess White Wing.” She also played a big role in bringing four regional artists, collectively known as “Women Who Weld,” to town in 2018, to create the four-part “Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water” sculpture series.

WACA members said Grover found ways to infuse the city’s parks with artistic flair, giving Hartwood Park a “whimsical feel with its red-barn farm theme and Beaver Park several art pieces for patrons to enjoy.”

She was also instrumental in the facilitation of the student-created “Let’s Play Ball” artwork at the Hathaway Park shed; “Migration,” a metal sculpture installation mounted on the outside of Washougal City Hall; and “Tina the Fish,” a student mural on the wall under Washougal’s 15th Street overpass.

Grover said she found joy in infusing Washougal with so many types of art.

“There is no better way to give a town character and presence than with art,” Grover said in 2021. “It was one of my biggest joys and passions to help fill our town with rich layers of art. Each piece was so special and unique. Each required sufficient space and honor to sparkle without competition but could be complimented by the perfect art partner.”

Art also played a huge role in Grover’s personal life. She was known for her work as a multimedia artist, specializing in pastel, acrylic and watercolor mediums. Animals played a starring role in Grover’s artwork.

“I love the feeling of bringing a pet’s life to paper with chalk,” Grover told The Post-Record in 2022. “It’s really been great to refine that to a level of realism where people look at (my art) and do a double-take or triple-take to see if it’s a photograph or not. That’s a compliment. It really is. It’s been fun to see my own work advance and to see peoples’ reactions to it, especially when they get their own pet in a portrait. It’s pretty fun. I never worked with pastels when I was a young student artist — I worked with watercolors and acrylics. I didn’t know how precise I could be with pastel until I really started to work with it, and it’s amazing how much detail you can put into a painting with just chalk.”

Grover said she started drawing pictures of horses when she was a young girl, partly inspired by her grandmother, an oil painter. She took art classes in high school and entered college as an graphics art major, but said she “didn’t click” with the subject and soon moved on to landscape architecture. Grover set her art aside until 2007, when her mother invited her to go to an acrylic painting class. After that, Grover said, she “started painting all the time.”

“(My inspiration) does change piece by piece,” she told The Post-Record in 2022. “For example, I watched a documentary on crows, so then I became fascinated with crows and did three little pieces of crows right after another. Something just sparks my attention, like a particular songbird or the way I see a photograph of a horse, and I want to recreate it in a different way. Because I work with wildlife, that’s what I’m trend into for the most part. Living where I live and being around birds all the time and watching them out the window, I just become charged by that.”

After receiving her cancer diagnosis in February 2021, however, Grover said she struggled with her artwork.

“It took me a while to even be able to do art because I was sick for a while, and I just didn’t want to do anything,” Grover told The Post-Record in 2022.

It wasn’t long before Grover returned to her artwork. She began sketching in a notebook and, soon, found solace in her artistic abilities.

“I feel like (cancer diagnosis) really opened my time up to be able to do more art,” Grover told The Post-Record in 2022. “I do art almost every single day now.”

‘A little bit of the magic went out of the world’

Lindsay described her friend and fellow WACA co-founder as an “amazing woman” and a “pioneer.”

“Her creativity and spark and willingness to take on hard projects was incredible,” Lindsay said. “I thought she was a tremendous asset to Washougal. She was always creating and making things more beautiful and better. That’s just how she looked at things.”

Having worked with Grover on the city of Washougal’s cemetery and parks boards, Lindsay said she quickly figured out that Grover had a deep love for her hometown.

“She cared. She just cared,” Lindsay said of Grover. “One of the reasons I ran for the city council was that the Council didn’t believe in parks. They thought that land should be bringing income (into the city). So, in that conservative point of view, parks were a luxury that weren’t needed. I felt parks were critical, and so did Suzanne. She was so instrumental in building Hartwood Park up there on the hill with all of the barn animals and things for kids to play on. She was very much (invested) in building a community around parks and art and bringing Washougal together.”

WACA member Chuck Carpenter said Grover’s death is a huge loss for Washougal.

“She was an integral part of our arts community in so many ways,” Carpenter said of Grover. “WACA recognized her as its ‘artist of the year’ (in 2021), not just for her beautiful art, but also for all of her activities that supported the arts in so many ways.”

WACA President and Washougal City Councilwoman Molly Coston said “a little bit of magic went out of the world” when Grover died.

“You would take a look at something that she had created, a conceptual design for a piece of property or something like that, and gasp with delight,” Coston said of Grover. “She could turn (a collection of random items) into something magical that was really unique and wonderful. That was Suzanne in almost everything she did.”

Rose Jewell, the city of Washougal’s community engagement manager, worked with Grover for 24 years and said the two women had become “dear friends.”

“She loved Washougal and its residents, and tirelessly devoted her time and talents to our community,” Jewell said of Grover. “She shared her love of art with everyone and managed the logistics for the city’s special events. I will miss the sparkle in her eyes, infectious smile and winsome giggle.”

Washougal resident Rene Carroll, a WACA board member and former events coordinator for the city of Washougal, knew Grover for more than 10 years and “had a front-row seat to witness her passion for art and the city she loved.”

“She would always be on the lookout for a corner of the city or a park that could be made more delightful with a piece of art,” Carroll said of Grover. “Working through WACA, she helped raise funds for many of their projects. And through her work with the city, she led the placement of these pieces and more. She touched nearly every corner of our city and left it more beautiful.”

Carroll added that Grover’s “highly organized side” led her to write several successful grants that helped the city of Washougal “develop many of its beautiful parks and run well-organized events for citizens and visitors to enjoy.”

“She would work hard behind the scenes to be sure every event detail was thought through and prepared for,” Carroll said of Grover. “She would be the first to arrive for set-up and the last to go after clean-up.”

Coston said WACA members are brainstorming ways to honor Grover.

“We’re just in the beginning stages, but we want this to be something very special,” Coston said.

The group will likely rename one of its annual awards after Grover, and plans to purchase a piece of public art that will, according to Coston, be dedicated to the Washougal arts advocate.

“We’re going to work with her family to identify something that was very special to her, and we’re going to fundraise for it and build it,” Coston said.

Grover is survived by husband, Wally Grover; daughter, Katie Grover; parents, Ralph and Rae Craig; sisters, Lynette Fisher and Charlene Hale; and brother, Ronald Craig.

A celebration of life service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 24, at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson.

Grover’s family is encouraging mourners to contribute to the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society in lieu of flowers.