July 10, 2021—CHICAGO—Susann Eickmeyer Craig, visionary Chicago art collector and a founder of Intuit, passed away peacefully on June 28, 2021, at Providence St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif.
Born on Dec. 27, 1936, in Youngstown, Ohio, Craig spent her childhood in Madison, Wis., and Greenwich, Conn., where her father, Robert Eickmeyer, was the director of the YMCA and her mother, Viola, was an executive secretary. A family story that serves as a harbinger of her lifelong interest in other people relates that upon hearing laughter outside her room, two-year-old Susann shouted, “I’m missing something!” That desire for participation and connection led her to seek out under-recognized talent and voices in the art world throughout her life.
An entrepreneur from a young age, Craig was known as someone who could sell anything from bouquets from her family’s garden to record-breaking numbers of Girl Scout cookies. She attended the College of Wooster in Ohio on a full academic scholarship. After meeting and marrying her husband, Craig moved to Urbana-Champaign, where she finished her undergraduate studies and earned her master’s degree in art history. During that time, she opened the first of her many stores, The Gallery, Ltd, with lifelong friend and fellow art collector Deborah Fishbein. What started as a small consignment shop grew into a thriving showcase for art, clothing, toys and housewares.
In the early 1960s, upon a visit to a friend in northern Michigan, Craig fell in love with the town of Leland, where she and her husband bought a small cottage and spent subsequent summers and holidays. It was there that Craig opened her next store, The Limited, Ltd., which became a favorite stop for generations of locals, summer residents and tourists seeking fashion, toys, candy and curiosities. Her third store, Lima Bean, opened in 1987 and is still a flourishing business in Suttons Bay, Mich.
In 1963, Craig moved from Champaign to Chicago, where she made a lasting impact on the art world and fashion industry. During the 1970s, she worked as director of The Dorothy Rosenthal Gallery, taught art at Columbia College Chicago, and enjoyed weaving, macramé and jewelry-making. Following her divorce in 1980, she opened The Susann Craig Showroom in the Apparel Center, where, for nearly 30 years, she represented scores of up-and-coming designers, many of whom went on to become well-known names in fashion.
An avid collector, Craig assembled a vast collection of folk and outsider art. Excursions to find unique treasures took her all over the world, where she met interesting people, made enduring friendships, acquired art and experienced eccentric adventures. On a street corner in New Orleans, she met a woman singing spirituals who sold colorful paintings “the Lord had called upon her to make.” Returning to Chicago with a trove of Sister Gertrude Morgan’s paintings, Craig spread the word about Morgan to her fellow collectors. On a road trip through the Manistee Woods in Michigan, she came upon the polka dot-painted house of Kid Mertz, eventually filling the walls of her homes with his creations. She was an early proponent of William Dawson, whose wooden carvings became internationally renowned during the Corcoran Gallery’s 1982 traveling exhibition Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980.
In 1991, Craig joined a handful of Chicago art enthusiasts who came together to found Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. She served on the board of directors for 29 years before being elevated to life trustee status in 2020. Craig received the museum’s highest award, the Visionary Award, in 2018. Before her death, she was delighted to learn that a gallery at the museum will be named in her honor.
Craig was a regular attendee every year to the Outsider Art Fair in New York and volunteered at the annual International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, N.M. She was an enthusiastic and purposeful connector of people, a force of positivity, a curator of the eccentric, an open-minded adventurer, and a tenacious bargain hunter.
In 1993, she moved into her final home, an industrial loft in Logan Square designed by architect Jeanne Gang. The loft was among her proudest and most satisfying projects. Craig enjoyed welcoming people to this beautiful space to explore her collection. She loved young people and served as a mentor and advisor to many, including members of Intuit’s Young Professionals Board, whom she hosted in her home.
Craig is survived by her daughters Jennifer Knight and Amy (Neil) Coleman, sisters Jane (Richard) Kiernan and Mary Lou (Don) Coe, and her grandchildren, nieces and nephews. A memorial will take place in fall in Chicago at a date to be determined; plans include a funeral service at St. Pauls United Church of Christ, followed by a celebration of her life at Intuit. In lieu of flowers, her family asks memorial contributions be made in her honor to Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art and the ABC of NC, a special education school for children with autism.
Founded in 1991, Intuit is a premier museum of outsider and self-taught art, defined as work created by artists who faced marginalization, overcame personal odds to make their artwork, or who did not, or sometimes could not, follow a traditional path of art making, often using materials at hand to realize their artistic vision. By presenting a diversity of artistic voices, Intuit builds a bridge from art to audiences. The museum’s mission—to celebrate the power of outsider art—is grounded in the ethos that powerful art can be found in unexpected places and made by unexpected creators.