The clever wordsmith who coined the phrase “hidden gem” might easily have been referring to township resident Sue Miller.

The prolific but unassuming artist lives with her husband, Vern, in a picturesque A-frame overlooking scenic Lake Shawnee. Walls graced by the artist’s paintings of fairies and angels, her home’s atmosphere is tranquil and serene, yet whimsical. Among the paintings are Miller’s breathtaking photographs of swans. Graceful and ethereal, like her imagined artwork, swans have a special place in the artist’s heart and life.

Mute Swan by Sue Miller. (Photo: Maria Weiskott)

Surrounded by Art and Music

Miller came to her talent early in life. “I was surrounded by art and music growing up in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts,” she tells The Jefferson Chronicle. And it’s no wonder. Her dad, Tony Pacheco, was equally talented and prominent as an artist and a musician. He won notable awards while still in elementary school. With obvious pride, Miller recounts how her dad further distinguished himself while serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He created “nose art” (mostly figures of women) for fighter planes destined for Nazi-occupied areas. Now vintage, much of Pacheco’s work is available today for licensing. The multi-talented man was also a gifted musician and toured throughout New England for nearly three decades

As in her childhood, Miller to this day is surrounded by art (her own) and music (her husband’s). Vern, a retired instrumental music teacher, is still involved in the music industry, enjoying his home sound studio. In fact, Miller met her husband in a venue where he was playing bass in one of the successful bands he formed early in his career. While a bit shy in revealing her own numerous artistic achievements, Miller is not reticent to proudly disclose those of her spouse, who toured with the Beatles in 1966 and continues to write, compose, and play.

With so much talent under one roof, it is natural that the two artists would collaborate on occasion. They published an inspirational book showcasing Sue’s highly sought angel art and featuring poetic descriptions penned by Vern. The Millers describe the publication, Funtasy, as “a book where wit and spirituality meet brush and palette.”

A page from the book Funtasy. (Photo: Maria Weiskott)

A Career is Launched

After graduating from Southeastern Massachusetts University (now the University of Massachusetts), Miller launched her career, developing the characteristic style for which she has become well known. Although her first love is painting, she worked as a commercial artist for years, including a period at the Daily Record newspaper. Following a downsizing at the company during which her position was eliminated, Miller opted out of the corporate world for a solo career that included private teaching. She started by advertising around Jefferson, and the Lake Shawnee area in particular. “I advertised in local newspapers and the classes really took off!” she recalls with enthusiasm.

During this time, the artist held several classes weekly in her home studio. “The phone never stopped ringing,” she tells The Chronicle, adding that at one time, she had upwards of 130 children in her classes from the age of five and up. She had some adults in the mix as well. To encourage her students, Miller introduced their work to the community at art shows that became popular Jefferson events. At times, up to 500 people would attend an exhibit.

These days, Miller says she is “semi-retired,” but painting remains her passion. And paint, she does. Renowned for her soft, peaceful, and spiritual artwork depicting angels, fairies, and nature, her work graces the covers of many magazines, including Pathways and Wisdom. It has also been licensed to several companies such as Peter Stone Jewelry, Up Your Art, The Fairy Society, Heaven and Earth Designs, and Pacific Trading.

Swan watercolor by Sue Miller. (Photo: Maria Weiskott)

Another Passion: Mute Swans

While Miller has had a passion for painting since early childhood, she has only lately come to another passion: mute swans. More specifically, she has become an advocate for them, working to defeat efforts in the state of New York that would depopulate this breed.

The Millers, who own land in that state, several years ago became aware of plans to reduce mute swan numbers by drastic and inhumane measures, and to prevent growth of the bird’s population. Mute swans are considered an “invasive species” in New York because they are non-native to the area.

The swans, indigenous to Europe, were first introduced in New York in the 1800s to adorn parks and private estates. Contrary to their name, the swans – notable for their long orange beaks with distinctive black markings and for their graceful stature – are not mute at all, though they make sounds only when threatened.

Efforts to stall obliteration of the mute swan population in New York have been successful, much to Miller’s relief and obvious delight; her efforts have not been in vain. Governor Andrew Cuomo, she says, recently signed an executive order that calls for a plan to mitigate the mute swan population in humane ways, rather than to eliminate it. Currently, there are about 2,000 mute swans throughout the state.

Miller hopes they get to stay put: to be enjoyed and seen in real life, rather than viewed as memories in picture frames adorning a wall.

Sue Miller, the artist. (Photo: Maria Weiskott)

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Maria Weiskott is a Jefferson Township resident and a forty year veteran of the publishing profession. An award-winning journalist and editor, she served in top managerial positions at numerous business-to- business newspapers and magazines including Reed Elsevier and Fairchild Publications. Early in her career she operated a local newspaper in the Passaic Valley towns of Little Falls, Totowa and the former West Paterson. Following retirement, she launched a “ghostblogging” service that provides social networking update and blogging services for small and medium sized businesses. Maria travels widely with her husband and is a passionate photographer. She can be reached at maria.weiskott@thejeffersonchronicle.com.