Susan Jacobs Lockhart died at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 22 from complications brought on by Covid-19. Her husband, Neil Levine, was close by her side, as he had been for the couple of years she had been suffering from primary progressive aphasia. Susan was a long-time board member of the Conservancy and her mother, Katherine Jacobs, was a founding board member. Susan was able to see her childhood home, the Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin, inscribed in 2019 on the World Heritage list as part of The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. She also was able to collaborate fully on the book about her family’s two Wright houses, edited by Neil and including essays by her sister, Elizabeth Jacobs Aitken, her brother, Will Jacobs, and Conservancy board member Michael Desmond, that incoming board member Eric O’Malley is publishing under his Organic Architecture + Design imprint later this year. Proofs for the book, titled Frank Lloyd Wright’s Jacobs Houses: Experiments in Modern Living, arrived a few days before Susan’s death and she was fortunately able to see them.
Susan dedicated herself to living, enriching, and preserving the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright. For many in the Wright community, she literally embodied it and its values. Her involvement with Wright began at an early age. She met him when she was only three years old and began visiting Taliesin with her parents regularly in subsequent years. After her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, she spent what is now called a gap year in Europe at the age of seventeen, first in France and then at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome. Upon graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Art Education in 1953, Susan moved to New York City to study music and work for the Alfred Knopf publishing house. During this time, she met and then married David Wheatley, a former Taliesin apprentice who was working for her old childhood friend Edgar Tafel. Wright invited the couple to join the Fellowship in 1957, and from 1958 until 2002 Susan actively participated in Fellowship life in both Wisconsin and Arizona, where she and her second husband, Kenn Lockhart, built a stunningly beautiful cottage in the desert above Taliesin West.
As a member of the Fellowship, Susan was prized as a chef and haircutter, among many other things. She was a member of the senior teaching faculty and a beloved mentor to many students. She was the director of the bi-annual Taliesin Day Symposium and Program Coordinator for arts and cultural events. More important, she developed the full range of her artistic talents, serving as the pianist for the Taliesin chamber group, the Taliesin chorus, and, in her gold lamé jacket, the Taliesin rock band. She was arguably the most prominent face of Taliesin to the outside world, connecting people to the community and vice versa. In that role, she served on the boards of Jazz in Arizona, the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, the Wisconsin Rural Musicians Forum, and the American Players Theater in Spring Green.
Perhaps most significant in her Fellowship life (and after she left in 2003) was her development as an artist. This included much more than performance as both a pianist and as a lead dancer in the Taliesin Festival of Music and Dance. In the 1980s, as senior graphic designer for Taliesin Architects, she produced designs for everything from brochures and stationary to textiles for various types of furnishings. One of the most striking suites of designs she did was for the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. On her own account, she produced remarkable works of sculpture and architectural glass, both leaded and sandblasted, a very personal invention of hand-painted wood Plate Art, and porcelain and stoneware place settings made by Edith Heath and Tampopo. All these featured her abstract geometric patterns based on nature, emphasizing the importance of light, and grounded in an abiding dedication to spiritual pursuits. A retrospective of her art was published in the Journal of Architecture + Design in 2019 (vol. 7, no. 1)
In the later 1990s, after Kenn died, Susan became disenchanted with community life at Taliesin and began looking for other challenges and opportunities. She joined the Conservancy Board in 1996, the same year her future husband, Neil, did. They have both served on it almost continuously up to the present. They quickly struck up a deep friendship that included his wife, Gillian, who was to die of cancer five years later. Susan devoted great energy to the Conservancy. She served as president from 2009 to 2011 and became the first Executive Editor of the SaveWright magazine, which she revamped and expanded into new territories. She co-chaired the Twenty-Fifth Annual Conference, held in Scottsdale. She designed the Conservancy’s glass Wright Spirit Award, which is given annually to recognize the efforts of extraordinary individuals and organizations that have worked to preserve the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright. Susan herself played an active role in several advocacy efforts, most notably the one involving the Gladys and David Wright House.
Susan and Neil got together in 2002, and in the following year she left Taliesin to move to Cambridge to join him. They were married in 2007 and, up until her death, spent much of the year in France, either in their apartment in Paris or their country house in the western part of Burgundy known as the Morvan. There, she and Neil wrote, with her sister, Elizabeth, her brother, Will, and the architectural historian Michael Desmond, a book on her family’s two Wright houses recalling her experience growing in them and the effects it had on her later life. To be published by OA+D Archives in late 2022, it is titled Wright’s Jacobs Houses: Experiments in Modern Living. Susan’s papers, including drawings for realized and unrealized designs, plus her library and other personal possessions have been promised to the OA+D Archives in Chandler, Arizona, and Chicago and will soon be available for study. There will be memorial services for her in Arizona and Wisconsin.
Posted September 9, 2022