Joanna T. Steichen, who was the third wife of noted photographer Edward Steichen, died July 24, at her summer home in Montauk, NY. She was 77. According to family members, her death was completely unexpected and unanticipated. Her step-granddaughter said that she had been battling Parkinson's for a number of years and had accidentally drowned in her swimming pool, probably due to its effects.
She was born on February 22, 1933, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY, and grew up in Albany.
Only 26 at the time, Joanna Steichen met her photographer husband in 1959 through the poet Carl Sandburg, who was Steichen's brother-in-law. She had been working with Sandburg on an American Airlines advertising campaign that she was involved with as a copywriter at Young & Rubicam.
Steichen, having suffered both a stroke and the death of his beloved second wife Dana, became attracted to the young Joanna Taub, as she was known at that time. She married Steichen at the age of 27. He was 80. After his death in 1973, she became the guardian and gatekeeper of Steichen's legacy and his work.
She helped him organize exhibitions and work on his pictorial autobiography, "Edward Steichen: A Life in Photography." As his estate's executor, she arranged for the donation of thousands of prints and negatives to the International Museum of Photography and Film at the George Eastman House in Rochester.
In later years, Joanna Steichen worked on the book "Steichen's Legacy", collaborating with the photographer George Tice. Rather than presenting Steichen's work in chronological order, she grouped his photographs by theme, prefacing each section with a personal essay that incorporated Steichen's comments to Joanna about his work.
Her final editorial project was the George Eastman House book "Steichen in Color", being published by Sterling and to be released September 7, 2010.
After Steichen's death, she earned her master's degree in social work from Columbia University, and her professional life was spent as a psychotherapist in private practice. Leisure time was devoted to travel, friends, opera, theater and music. She authored several books and many articles.
Joanna Steichen was an emeritus member of the Eastman House Board of Trustees. Edward Steichen himself was an active member of the board from 1948 to 1967, and was at Eastman House on its opening day in 1949. She was to serve as honorary chairwoman of the upcoming Eastman House Benefit Auction at Sotheby's New York on Oct. 4.
Joanna Steichen was on the arts committee of LongHouse Reserve, and was an advocate for the Montauk Library, the Montauk Playhouse Community Center and the Hampton Day School. After being diagnosed with Parkinson's, she worked tirelessly with the Parkinson's Disease Foundation for improved care and education, and special exercise regimes for patients battling this devastating illness.
She leaves behind many devoted friends and numerous cousins, as well as two step-granddaughters and three step-great-grandchildren.
Her step-granddaughter, Francesca Calderone-Steichen, said: "I knew Joanna Steichen from the time I was a teenager. She was a complex and varied personality with many different attributes and talents, and she had the unique ability to compartmentalize her life and her work into many different areas that never overlapped. Over everything, she was a fierce protector of Steichen's life and work. The Steichen family will continue in her footsteps to ensure the preservation of Steichen's heritage and legacy, not the least of which was his desire for perfection in his own work, his joy in his art, his zest for living, his genuine desire to help emerging young artists move forward in their careers, and his deep and abiding love of nature."
"Joanna Steichen was a special friend to George Eastman House and her legacy will long live on, through her gifts to our archive and her writing projects," said Dr. Anthony Bannon, the museum's Ron and Donna Fielding director. "She recognized Eastman House's archival leadership for preserving the Steichen archive, and we will continue to honor her wishes, as the stewards of this important collection, while at the same time celebrating her life."
Howard Greenberg of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York City, said, "I speak for all the staff of the gallery when I say how shocked and saddened we are at the loss of Joanna Steichen. As my relationship and friendship with Joanna grew over many years, I came to understand her as a woman of great intellect and culture. But it was during her battle with Parkinson's disease that I realized her great strength of character and spirit. She managed Steichen's work and legacy with care and concern. She was cautious only to insure no mistakes would be made. I am grateful that she was able to complete her lifelong ambition, the book "Steichen's Legacy", see Steichen's work celebrated across Europe and here with a major show that met with her approval, and to benefit from the many sales of prints in her collection of Steichen's work."
Funeral services will be held next month and will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations in her name should be sent to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation at 1359 Broadway, Suite 1509, New York, NY 10018, or online at: http://www.pdf.org .