MONROE, CT — Valerie Suto, 26, grew up in New Jersey, but her talents as a softball player brought her to Connecticut, where she joined the Stratford Brakettes, a storied USA Softball team. Then her passion as an artist led to the opening of Valerie’s Gallery in Monroe last year.
Her studio is in Suite 7, on the third floor of the white building nestled on the grassy hill at 500 Purdy Hill Road. On Friday afternoon, a sign with black and white balloons announced the gallery’s open house.
A crowd of visitors mingled with Suto and admired her artwork that hung on the studio walls. The collection includes lifelike portraits in color and black and white.
Suto remembers drawing as a young girl in Hamilton, N.J.
“I’ve always been very creative,” she said. “I think I’ve known forever that I wanted to be an artist and sell my artwork.”
Thursday was the first time Valerie’s Gallery was open to the public and the open house will run through this Sunday. It will be open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
On Friday, Suto’s parents, Jerry and Kelley Suto, attended a grand opening ceremony featuring First Selectman Ken Kellogg, State Rep. Tony Scott, R-112th, Community and Economic Recovery Coordinator William Holsworth and several Monroe Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission members.
“It’s fantastic,” Jerry said of his daughter’s art studio. “We’ve watched her evolve and grow since her early teens. She’s always had talent and she brought it here.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of her for pursuing herself,” Kelley said. “She’s always been able to demonstrate herself and selflessness.”
“No matter what she does, she puts everything into it — her heart and soul,” Jerry added.
Suto’s sister, Emily, will attend the open house Saturday.
On Friday, Suto’s partner, Lynn Souza, who owns Suites 6 and 7 at 500 Purdy Hill Road, came out to support her. The couple lives in Monroe. Souza’s daughter, Jordyn, and Jordyn’s mother, Susan, were also in attendance.
“We call each other The Adventure Buddies,” Suto said with a smile. “We’ve gone on a few RV trips together cross country. I like to go … really anywhere.”
An avid hiker, Suto has visited several national parks, including Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Bryce Canyon and Zion. Internationally, she has traveled to Mexico, Ireland and England.
Suto honed her craft as a young artist as a Nottingham High School student, while starring as the shortstop of her school’s softball team. One of her mentors was art teacher, Kathy Foran, who recognized her talent and encouraged her to pursue a career in the field.
Foran’s support continues. She was expected to visit Valerie’s Gallery’s open house on Saturday.
A softball star
After graduating from high school, Suto attended Seton Hall University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in graphic design with a minor in fine art.
She continued to play softball at Seton Hall and, after college, coached the sport, giving private lessons, while creating art on the side.
She went on to work at The College of New Jersey as an assistant softball coach, and was later hired as a graphic designer there.
In 2015, she moved to Connecticut to join the Stratford Brakettes, where she played for seven years, earning a reputation for her outstanding defense in center field and blazing speed on the base paths.
Suto stole 118 bases in 122 attempts from 2015-20, setting an all-time team record. She is also eighth all-time in runs scored, according to her profile on the Brakettes’ website.
“Suto is a three-time WMS All-America and two-time batting champion, who boasts a .476 career average,” according to her player profile.
“I tore my ACL last season,” Suto said.
While recovering from the injury, she decided to open Valerie’s Gallery, securing rights to the name in 2021.
Suto said she needed a studio, because her art supplies took up so much space at home. Valerie’s Gallery is surrounded by windows looking out onto trees in the scenic landscape outside.
“You can’t beat this natural light. It’s amazing,” Souza said, adding of the location, “it’s amazing. It’s in a nice rural area. Monroe’s great.”
Souza said Suto wanted neutral colors on the walls, so her artwork stands out. She chose white paint. The couple also bought frames for her work, including some from Framed by Kosal on Main Street in Monroe.
Valerie’s Gallery uses Monroe Pack and Ship for deliveries and Terra Cafe, another Main Street business, catered the open house.
“We support other small businesses,” Souza said.
“I specialize in portraits of people and pets and do various media,” Suto said. “I’m trying to expand to landscapes.”
Among the mediums she uses are oil paints, pastels, charcoal, watercolors and digital.
“It’s just tremendous,” Souza said of her partner’s work. “I can’t even draw a stick figure. The progressions, just to see things come alive and how she does shadow and shading …”
Among Suto’s admirers Friday was State Rep. Tony Scott.
“It’s very unique and realistic,” he said. Scott looked across the room, where three pictures were on display by the doorway. “Her drawings of Taylor Swift, from here they look like photographs. I really like these drawings and might get my wife to come here to take a look at this work.”
Suto had been commissioned to create numerous portraits, many as sentimental gifts, for her clients. Among her drawings is a Little League Baseball player crouching down with a baseball and his glove.
“It’s beautiful work,” First Selectman Ken Kellogg said as his eyes scanned the room. “It’s another great new business in Monroe, a small business. We wish Valerie nothing but success. We’re glad to have her here in town. This is a beautiful space.”
Residents can meet Suto and see her work during Monroe Congregational Church’s annual Strawberry Festival, to be held on the Route 111 green on June 18 and 19. She will also have a booth at the Orange Artisan Fest & Vendor Fair, at the Orange Fairgrounds, on June 23.