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Susan Toplikar

1952 - 2020

You cannot teach people anything. You can only help them discover it within themselves.


Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642)

[introductory quote to Susan Toplikar’s teaching 2000 philosophy]

A - F


I was lucky to be in Susan’s first drawing class and she was my first teacher in Design School. Susan was one of the most influential teachers I had as an undergraduate at NCSU. She was the first to plant the seed of how to look at things and express what you see.


She taught to not judge but to embrace your individual expression of what you see.

(…improving the skill could come later.)


Over time, Susan became a good and important friend. Her gift of teaching and friendship changed my life in many ways and started something that has not stopped. Like many, I was lucky to receive her gift.

I think of her often and miss her.

 Graham Auman, artist, former student, friend  

Graham Auman

Susan broke the ground for women on the College of Design faculty, dedicated herself to excellence in the classroom, and modeled a thoughtful and enthusiastic approach as an artist among designers. She quietly but firmly forged the way for those who followed. She was loved and valued by her students and colleagues alike. 


Her integrity, quiet courage, and dignified self-confidence was inspiring for fellow female colleagues. I especially valued her contributions to the pedagogy of the design fundamentals program and her generous collegiality over many years. For over 30 years, she was a calm, even, and positive presence, the “eye of the storm” in the College of Design—teaching with depth and compassion, assisting and supporting students in their quests for excellence. 


 Susan Brandeis, professor  

These were the best days, in studio, and out. Susan had a gift every teacher should have. Quiet resolve, encouragement, a watchful eye and a subdued smile when things went in the right direction. Helping us discard old ways and bad habits, encouraging continuous motion of charcoal on paper.


Thank you for your role in shaping our lives.


 Jay Barnes, former student  

Ben Callaway

Susan, as my first studio professor, introduced me to a way of thinking and observing that has served me ever since. Throughout many courses, through drawing, building, and even through botching and bungling, Susan taught me to really look at what I was doing rather than fixating on whatever I had planned on doing. She was at once gentle and serious, and she taught me about the serious business of playful curiosity. I will always be thankful for having a teacher such as her.


 Ben Callaway, former student, designer  

Susan brought a quiet dignity, dry and sometimes goofy humor, bright eyes and an amused half smile to every encounter and moment of life. She lived in a creative zone in all aspects of her being: on both the scales of the small and everyday and on the large, powerful, and profound. She knew how to love, laugh and especially, how to care. I think her ability to be tender and caring was her greatest attribute. 


She was playful and so good to me and my daughter, and she made Mother’s Day brunch for us every year, for eighteen years. It was a ritual we always looked forward to, filled with laughter and delight. The love she shared with Mike was rich and gorgeous and her devotion to her family, friends, students, pets and her community will always be an inspiration. Susan had grace and chutzpah, she was The Real Deal. And she was a Love, a Real True Love.


 Marilyn Bara, psychoanalyst, friend  

IMG_8377 - Marilyn Bara.jpg

Remembering  Susan TOPLIKAR,  my friend and colleague.


Susan was a first of many: She was one of the first persons I met when I came to NC in 1981.

One of my first meals in NC was a dinner shared with Susan; she drove us to Durham in a little convertible. I remember Susan offering me her apartment to use when looking for a place to live in NC. She was in NYC for the summer.  It was through Susan I met my first “attention starved” cat, Pablo.  Although I had planned a week to find a place, long story short: I found an apartment in one and a half days.  Susan told me it took Pablo a while to adjust to her return.


At the School: Susan was one of the first women hired. Susan was the first to pair drawing with story. She taught a drawing/illustration studio teamed with an invited creative writer or storyteller.  Susan was the first to introduce and teach animation in the school and department of Art + Design. I believe at her retirement, she donated the zoetrope she and Mike made to the college.  It’s still here and used.

I remember Susan’s office filled with sunlight and a wall of postcards-- both collected and drawn-- with a frequent visit from her beloved chocolate lab Maggie. When I think of Susan, I think colors.  We both loved color and teaching color. I remember colored pencil and pastel drawings her students would make, and the required sketchbooks.


I remember the quiet spirit of a disciplinarian—she meant what she said, even though spoken softly.  Linda Dallas, at the time studying with Susan described a critique scenario: after being patiently forewarned of criteria, Susan quietly walked about the room … with students clinging to her ankles pleading for one more chance, mercy please. Susan, the gentle enforcer.

When I think of Susan, I think of nature; animal habitat studio projects, plant props for drawing class, her donated nature collection of hundreds of shells, bones, skulls, dried gourds, coral and turtle shells.


I remember the pleasure of teaching with Susan and how fantastic that was. We taught a color theory and painting studio. The outcome was the first student exhibition hosted by the Gregg museum.


With food, I remember: Susan, Kathleen and I, and how we would treat ourselves, by going to lunch at Blue Sky Bakery for egg salad sandwiches.  We LOVED that! I remember faculty birthday cakes, Kathleen brought them because Susan loved cake so. We all loved cake at faculty meetings!


I remember Susan and her plants and garden, passions we both shared. Susan introduced me to one of my favorite plants a Daphne Carol Mackie….  sweet, structured and beautiful. 


And that is how I remember my friend and colleague, Susan TOPLIKAR.


 Chandra Cox, artist, colleague, and friend