A recent estate gift commitment from Art Professor Emerita Susan Amster will further the study of art at Illinois State University. The gift honors her twin sister, Stephanie Amster, who died at age 80 on February 12, 2021. Both sisters created a legacy of teaching and inspiring as art faculty members at Illinois State.

Stephanie and Susan Amster grew up surrounded by art. Reproductions of famous paintings by Van Gogh, Matisse, Chagall, and Franz Marc covered the walls of their family’s home in Austin, TX.

“I assumed all homes had art on the wall,” said Susan. “I took it for granted. I thought art was just a part of your life.”

When Stephanie and Susan entered 7th grade, they joined the Junior Art Project under the leadership of Professor Kelly Fearing at the University of Texas. The program partnered with schools to provide university-based instruction to children of all ages and backgrounds. With increased exposure to the arts, the twins’ passion flourished.

Stephanie went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s in fine art from the University of Texas in 1962 and 1968. Susan earned a bachelor’s in art from the University of Texas in 1962, a master’s in art from East Texas State in 1968, and a Ph.D. in education from the University of Texas in 1972.  

“We wanted to do something practical to make our parents happy. They said, ‘Why don’t you get a teaching certificate?’” Susan said.

From there the Amster twins’ careers unfolded naturally. With strong resumes, both were hired into public school positions.

Stephanie, born 17 minutes before Susan, was the more adventurous twin. She found a job teaching junior high in New York in 1963. Susan moved to Dallas to teach elementary school. It was the first time the twins had ever lived apart.

A move to Midland, TX reunited the sisters, but Stephanie kept the two moving forward. She researched potential college positions using a card catalogue at University of Texas. There she discovered an opening in the Midwest. With a recommendation from former UT professor and Redbird Bill Francis ’51 in hand, Stephanie was hired to teach art education at Illinois State University.

“I stayed home because our mother had just passed away in an auto accident. I started working on my doctorate,” said Susan. Kelly Fearing—the sponsor of her 7th grade art program—served on her dissertation committee.

After finishing her dissertation, Susan joined Stephanie in Normal. “I snuck in on Stephanie’s coattails. She did everything well, so I just followed her,” said Susan with a laugh. “It worked out well for me.”

Susan taught future elementary teachers how to include art in their classrooms. Stephanie took on a broader course load, including classes in 2D and 3D design. She later taught computer graphics and established a study abroad program for the art department in Florence, Italy, her favorite city. 

Perhaps Stephanie’s most notable achievement was the creation of an Arts Festival at Ewing Manor in 1972, for which she personally fundraised for 18 years. She remained an influential figure in local and national art communities until her passing in 2021.

Susan is now living alone for the first time in more than 50 years, but like her childhood, lives surrounded by art.

Stephanie’s art installation “Wood Speaks”—a 20’ by 7’8” wall Stephanie created from man-made, machine-made, antique, and natural wood materials for the ISU President’s residence—now adorns Susan’s living room in Texas.

Wood Speaks, by Stephanie Amster, 1976. Stephanie taught 3D wood design at ISU when she created the installation with help from her students.

The sisters’ art collection spills over into their garage. A garden of carefully tended flowers and native plants remains Susan’s pride and joy. Though neither sister married or had children, they consider past students family and stayed in touch with many.

“Stephanie had 30 wonderful years at ISU. I had 28. We thought we would like to continue contributing in some way,” said Susan.

The Stephanie H. Amster Design Scholarship was established in Stephanie’s honor in 1982 to reward students who exemplify leadership, academic proficiency, art talent, and a commitment to excellence in art.

After Stephanie died, Susan decided to expand upon her sister’s investment.

New provisions in Susan’s estate plans will enhance Stephanie’s existing scholarship. It’s her way of honoring Stephanie’s many years of dedication to the Ewing Arts Festival.

Additional funds from Susan’s estate will create a scholarship for art education majors with preference given to students who demonstrate financial need, creative thinking ability, dynamic teaching potential, and a humanitarian philosophy. 

“My favorite quote is: ‘Art is the root, and life is the flower,” said Susan. With her gift, she strengthens already deep roots at Illinois State in hopes students grow through their love of art.

Future funding from bequests and deferred gift commitments has reached more than $99 million. To learn more about naming Illinois State University as a beneficiary in your will, retirement account, or other aspect of an estate, visit Giveto.IllinoisState.edu.