Born in 1930, Susan Bright Lautmann Hertel grew up in Highland Park, Illinois outside Chicago and spent her summers at Lake Geneva Wisconsin and later Arizona, experiences that fostered a life-long and deep attachment to both the natural world and Native American life. A lover of nature, Hertel ran Barking Dog Ranch in Glendora California where she raised Arabian horses, Nubian goats, cats, dogs, chickens, and various other animals. Later, when living in New Mexico, she lived in a small passive solar adobe and raised horses.
In 1948 Hertel studied art at Scripps College in Claremont CA. under Millard Sheets for whom she would later work as studio assistant. A twenty-six-year collaboration followed including the production of public murals, sculpture, architectural works, and stained glass. Hertel consider painting to be her primary focus throughout, developing a style that leaned heavily on her skills as a muralist. Working from photographs Hertel would begin with drawings and gouache color sketches, working through compositional arrangements, which would lead her to full size oil paintings. Hertel exhibited with Elaine Horwitch in Santa Fe, Ankrum Gallery, Los Angeles, and with Barbara Beretich Gallery in Claremont California