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Obituary: Susan Waterous Wagg, 1938-2020

by Myra Nan Rosenfeld, former Senior Reseaerch Curator, Canadian Centre for Architecture and Robert Little, Mona Campbell Curator of European Decorative Arts, Royal Ontario Museum | Dec 18, 2020

Susan W. Wagg died on November 28, 2020 at her home in Hanover, New Hampshire. Susie, as she was known to all her friends and colleagues, graduated from Wellesley College in 1960 with a major in Art History. She and her husband Timothy Wagg moved from Massachusetts to Montreal in 1961. It was in Montreal that Susie developed her interest in Canadian architecture with the steadfast encouragement of her husband.

Susan Wagg made a major contribution to the field of Canadian Architectural history by publishing new information in three ground breaking studies about the lives and careers of three major Canadian architects. The first of these was on Percy Erskine Nobbs (Haddington, Scotland, 1875- Montreal, 1964). This grew out of her 1979 Master of Fine Arts thesis for Concordia University entitled "The Montreal Architecture of Percy Erskine Nobbs", which she carried out under the direction of Professor Harold Kalman. It was the subject of a 1982 exhibition and catalogue presented at the McCord Museum of Canadian History.

The second was devoted to the work of Ernest Isbell Barott (Canastota, N. Y., 1884 - Montreal, 1966), which was the subject of a 1985 exhibition, Ernest Isbell Barott, Architect, 1884-1966, an Introduction, held at the Centre Canadien d’Architecture/ the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

The third study was on the life and work of Andrew Thomas Taylor (Edinborough, Scotland, 1850 - London, England, 1937), the subject of the monograph published by McGill Queen's University Press, in 2013. She established a corpus of buildings by these three architects by carrying out archival research in Canada, England, and Scotland. Susie’s research in Montreal was supported by the John Bland Canadian Architectural Archives in the McGill University Library, the Notman Photographic Archives of the McCord Museum of Canadian History in Montreal and as well as the Canadian Centre for Architecture's archives of Canadian architects.

Susie also collaborated with Robert Nisbet and Anne W. Tucker on the 1990 travelling exhibition and publication Money Matters, A Critical Look at Bank Architecture that travelled to several venues in the United States and Canada. This was followed by her essays and co-editing of the major 1992 exhibition and catalogue on The Architecture of Edward & W.S. Maxwell, organized by Rosalind M. Pepall for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, June 15, 1992.-

Susie was a pioneer in an emerging field. When she began her work in the 1970s, there were very few university-level courses on Canadian architecture offered, a small number of books on Canadian building types, few monographs on Canadian architects, and even fewer journals where articles on Canadian architecture could be published. Moreover it was a time when the history of more traditional North American architecture was eclipsed by studies devoted to modern architecture. The Journal of Canadian Art History, published by Concordia University, only started in 1974 and the Canadian Centre for Architecture was founded by Phyllis Lambert in 1979.

Susan Wagg was elected to the Royal Society of Arts in 1987 for bringing recognition to Canadian Architects and Architecture. Her publications on Percy Erskine Nobbs, Ernest Isbell Barott, Andrew Thomas Taylor, as well as her research on the Maxwell Brothers has made it possible for architectural historians to make further contributions to the field of Canadian architecture.

Susan Wagg had been a member of SAH since 1979.   A list of her publications appears below:

Susan Wagg's Publications:
Percy Erskine Nobbs, Architecte, Artiste, Artisan/Architect, Artist, Craftsman, travelling  exhibition organized by Susan W. Wagg, 1992-1993, presented at the McCord Museum in 1982 and at museums in Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta, and in Kingston, Ontario  in 1983. Bilingual catalogue, forward by John Bland, published for the McCord Museum by McGill University Press, Montreal, Kingston, 1982, 99 pages.

Ernest Isbell Barott, Architect, 1884-1966, an Introduction, Montreal, Canadian Centre for Architecture, exhibition, 5 June - 6 September, 1985, bilingual catalogue published by the Centre Canadien d’Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, 52 pages.

Percy Erskine Nobbs and his Associates: A Guide to the Archive/Percy Erskine Nobbs et ses associés: guide du Fonds, General Editor and Director, Irena Murray, Edited by Susan Wagg  with Maureen McAuley, published by the Blackader-Lauterman Library of Architecture and Art, McGill University, 1986, 271 pages.

Robert Nisbet, Anne W. Tucker, Susan Wagg, Money Matters, A Critical Look at Bank Architecture, New York: McGraw Hill, 1990, catalogue, 300 pp.,  travelling exhibition United States and Canada 1990-1992, organized by Anne W. Tucker, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Main essay by Susan W. Wagg, pp. 15-254, Abbreviated bilingual catalogue, L'or et la pierre, texts by James Borcoman, David Harris, Susan Wagg, published by the Centre Canadien d’Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, 1991, 31 pages.

The Architecture of Edward & W.S. Maxwell, a travelling exhibition organized by Rosalind M. Pepall and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, June 15, 1992-June 10, 1993, edited by Harold Kalman and Susan Wagg, catalogue entries and essays by John Bland, France Gagnon-Pratte, Harold Kalman, Ellen James, Robert Lemire, Rosalind M. Pepall, Susan Wagg, catalogue published by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 191 pages.

The Architecture of Andrew Thomas Taylor, Montreal's Square Mile and Beyond, Forward by Harold Kalman, Montreal, Kingston, London, Ithaca: McGill-Queen's University Press 2013, 146 pages..

Canadian Enclopedia: entries on Percy Erskine Nobbs, Peter D. Rose, Phyllis Lambert, Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture 

The Biographical Dictionary of Canadian Architects 1800-1950: entries on Andrew Thomas Taylor, Percy Erskine Nobbs, McKim, Mead, and White, Daniel Thomas Webster, Donald MacPherson Gordon, James Watson.

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