Sue Taylor, artist and weaver, dies at 79

Courtesy of the family
Sue Taylor based her art and life in West Marin for over 50 years. Dedicated to her crafts, she created hundreds of rugs, paintings and sketches while raising three children.  
08/11/2021

Suzanne Knox Taylor, an artist, rugmaker and fixture of Point Reyes Station, died on July 13 at 79 years old. Ms. Taylor arrived in West Marin in 1968 and, over the years, became known for her zest for life and her original spirit. 

“Look up the definition of artist in the dictionary and that would be her. She was the purest sense of an artist. It was in the fabric of who she was,” said her son, Xerxes Whitney.

For decades Ms. Taylor could be found selling her art on the main street of Point Reyes Station. Her sidewalk shop consisted of watercolors, paintings and, most importantly, rugs. Her colorful, handwoven pieces depicted landscapes, animals and abstract patterns.

A “guerrilla gardener,” as her daughter Dakota Whitney put it, Sue scattered mint in the fields around the bay, planted the peach tree behind Grandi Building and sowed nasturtiums alongside the Old Western Saloon. She would spend hours pulling weeds into her 70s. 

One of her favorite settings was Chicken Ranch Beach, where she spent countless hours with her young children, worked on her art, gathered with friends, and swam. 

Sue was born Feb. 19, 1942, in Reading, Pa., to Nancy Weber Taylor, a homemaker, and Avard Taylor, who worked in marketing for a steel company. Sue was the oldest of four siblings, and the family moved to Philadelphia Main Line while she was in elementary school. From middle school through high school, she excelled in sports, playing hockey and lacrosse. 

After the family moved back to Reading while Sue was in high school, she participated in horseback riding and competitive swimming. In the family home was art from aunts, uncles and grandmothers. Sue would often sketch horses and landscapes, inspired by her ancestral talents. 

Sue studied anatomical illustration at Indiana University, pursuing an art degree her father found reasonable. She then followed Larry Heald, her first and only husband, to the University of Washington, where she continued as an art student. Around this time, she earned a prestigious summer art internship at Yale.

After college, she and Larry landed in Olema with their artistic friends from Washington, some of whom were connected to the band The Youngbloods. Larry, who was also an artist, had a painting on the cover of the band’s hit album "Elephant Mountain," and one of Sue’s friends was Mina Bauer, the wife of the drummer. Sue and Mina had intermittent paint dates for decades until Mina’s death in 2010. 

Although she grew up around country clubs, Sue’s move to West Marin was less an act of rebellion than a step into her true self. 

Sue and Larry divorced, and in 1970 Sue met Nick Whitney. Nick had recently moved to the area and was working as a carpenter; he was 21 and Sue was 27, and he was “instantly dumbstruck in love” with her Greek-like beauty and worldly interests. The next year, the couple had their first child, Xerxes. Two daughters followed, Dakota in 1972 and Josie in 1978.

Sue and Nick stayed together for six years. During that time the two built a house in Inverness Park with chickens and a large vegetable garden where they raised their children. She taught him how to cook, weave and garden. 

Kathleen Whitney, Nick’s sister (she and Sue referred to one another as “sister outlaws”), remembers those days as idyllic. Kathleen always admired Sue for the way she handled motherhood. As Xerxes and Dakota crawled around, Sue sat on the steps working on a rug, looking up every few stitches to check on the children but not interfering to tell them to clean up or put clothes on. Rug-making fit right in with Sue’s parenting approach.

“Sue is one of the very few real artists I have ever met. It was just part of her being,” Kathleen said.

When Sue and Nick separated, life was not always picturesque for Sue and the children, but she had no qualms. Whether the foursome was camping along Papermill Creek or cooking over a campfire, Sue was largely unbothered.

“She wasn’t afraid of what life threw at her,” Nick said. 

Her children recall how she never stopped discovering new art forms, and they often found her with a new medium in her hands at Chicken Ranch Beach. And her work was not produced for bragging rights: She was prolific, but always humble. Most of her art went unframed, for lack of resources or lack of concern. She seldom self-promoted and never raised the prices of her rugs. 

Through the decades, Sue continued to learn from life, people and other cultures. She had a sketch book full of African- and Asian-inspired art, plants and insects. In her later years, she took a liking to sumo wrestling, keeping records of wins and losses. Her home in Walnut Place was like a museum reflecting her eclectic tastes.

Her signature outfit for years was a mini skirt and Russell Moccasin Company snake boots. She bucked against society’s expectations of women and didn’t bow to cultural norms.

The beach was at the center of her life. When her children were young, they would get off the bus on Sir Francis Drake and see her working on an art piece or swimming in the water, sometimes nude. She prepared afterschool snacks of cheese, fruit and salami and had bottles full of water waiting for the kids.

Xerxes, who was born with cerebral palsy, remembers learning to walk in the sand when he was 3 years old. Stumbling, he would beg to be picked up and carried, but his mother would always say, “Xerxes, you can get up.”

Her belief in him forged his own sense of self-worth, and her choice to live on her own terms gave those around her a kind of freedom. As a mother, she didn’t have expectations for what her children should become; she simply wanted to be close with them. This unconditional love flowed to her grandchildren, to whom she was devoted.

Dakota said there was no one with whom she felt more invited to be herself. The best thing Sue taught her was to accept herself.

“She never stopped inhabiting the full person that she was,” Dakota said. 

 

Sue Taylor is survived by her siblings, Jack Taylor, Nancy Taylor and Jody Guida; her children Xerxes Whitney, Dakota Whitney and Josie Morgan; her grandchildren West McGillicuddy, Forrest Morgan, Edison Anthony and Malloy Anthony; her sons-in-law Cannon Morgan and Christian Anthony; and her many nieces, nephews, friends and neighbors.