Just after the publication of her book “Art in Craftmaking” in 1974, the Chicago tribune interviewed author, artist and educator Carolyn Howlett. Twenty years earlier, she and her husband, James, had purchased a portion of the legendary Avery Coonley Estate, designed by frank Lloyd Wright around 1909.
In that article, she quipped “Jim went to a garage sale, and we ended up buying the garage.” Ms. Howlett and her husband were among a small group of preservationists dedicated to keeping Wright’s legacy in Riverside alive.
With the help of architect Arnold Skow, who had subdivided the Coonley Estate into smaller living units, and John Hill, a member of Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship and also architectural editor for House Beautiful magazine, the Howletts transformed the former stable and coach house of the Coonley Estate into a contemporary home.
It was in that home that Ms. Howlett died early on the morning of Dec. 17 at the age of 91. A cause of death was not immediately available but Mrs. Howlett had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease the last few years.
Ms. Howlett lived in Riverside since 1954 when she and her husband Jim, a sketch artist and photographer who worked for the old Chicago American newspaper and then the Tribune, bought the Coonley Coach House from Skow for $15,000.
At the time, Skow had plans to tear down the service buildings of the estate and build ranch and bi-level homes on the site.
But the Howletts persuaded him not to tear the buildings down, but to convert them into private residences.
“In buying the garage, Carolyn managed to convince Skow that he shouldn’t tear down the gardener’s cottage,” said Ted Smith a neighbor for the last 25 years. “It would have all come down.”
But Ms. Howlett was remarkable for more than just the place she lived.
She was born in Berwyn and graduated from Morton High School and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She served on the faculty as a professor of art education at the School of the Art Institute from 1937 until she retired as Professor Emeritus in 1970.
Her expertise was in the field of art education, preparing future teachers for decades; she was an innovator and pioneer in the field.
“She was a giant in the art education field, a real giant,” said Angela Paterakis who was first a student of and then a colleague of Ms. Howlett’s at the School of the Art Institute. “She set a tone at the School of the Art Institute that has not been matched. She believed in the artist as teacher and the teacher as artist, and she practiced what she preached.”
Ms. Howlett was an accomplished painter who specialized in watercolors. She also did some oil painting and collages. In addition to her well-regarded book “Art in Craftmaking,” she also wrote the “Art Education Bibliography.”
She was a founding member of the Western Art Association and was active in the National Art Education Association and the Illinois State Art Education Association. She was also a member of the Chicago Press Club with her husband and was a member of the Chicago Arts Club.
She met her husband, Jim, while she was working as a sketch artist at the Chicago’s World Fair in 1933-34 and he was a photographer.
They married in 1939 and had a long, interesting and fun-filled life together until Mr. Howlett died in 2000.
She and her husband traveled the world and especially loved the sailing. They spent their 10th wedding anniversary aboard a ship in the St. Lawrence Seaway on their way to Liverpool. For their 20th anniversary, they cruised on the inland sea of Japan.
They spent their 32nd anniversary on an Adriatic cruise to Italy and Yugoslavia, and in 1973 celebrated their anniversary on a hydrofoil in Russian. Their 50th anniversary was spent in Alaska. They also traveled to Tibet, China and the Middle East.
“She had done a lot in her life,” said Smith. “She was very widely versed, but also a very down-to-earth, quiet person. A very interesting conversationalist.”
At home Ms. Howlett ruled the roost, her friends agreed, and would chastise her husband if his suspenders did not match her color scheme at the dining room table.
While Ms. Howlett was very serious about her work, she also liked to have a good time. She and her husband often would have friends over for cocktails. Like her husband she enjoyed a good martini.
“She was fun to be with,” said her nephew Norman Sobol. “She was a great party gal. She was a great character.”
Funeral arrangements are private. Carolyn Howlett’s remains are to be buried next to her husband’s remains at a small cemetery near Paw Paw, Illinois. A memorial service is being planned for a later date.