At first blush, Susan's was a common upper class waspy New England story, but her family passions were more Kennedyesque than Puritanical. Born June 7, 1940, Susan's parents divorced when she was very young to remarry others. She found out at her debutante ball at the Plaza Hotel in New York that her parents had gotten back together, only to divorce again. Rowland went to Ethel Walkers, a girl's boarding school, before majoring in art at Vassar. She met her first husband summering on the Cape—both sailed and were part of the Wianno country club. Her husband, Robin Rowland, was a med student at Yale. Despite her attempt to run, they married the summer between her junior and senior years, and two days after she took her senior final exams, Susan gave birth to their first child, a son, Christopher, whom his artist mom would dub Christo. She was still in the hospital during Vassar’s graduation ceremony. Robin did his medical residency in Lexington, Kentucky before the family moved out west when he got a job working for the Indian Health Service on a Navaho reservation near Canyon De Chelly in Arizona. It was here that Susan refound that free spirit: she was inspired by the west. She loved the open skies, stark colors and her Appaloosa pony named Quiche. Her art bloomed, even as her marriage failed. By the end of 1967, Susan had left Robin and she, Christo and Christo’s little sister Alix spent a summer back on Cape Cod with Robin’s mom before they moved to New York City. There she attended the Art Students League and worked as a secretary for an architecture company, her evenings spent in New York’s social scene. She quickly became a fixture at Elaine’s on the Upper East Side.
But the west called her back and by 1974, she and her kids moved to rural New Mexico with a wealthy boyfriend who bought a ranch in the northern part of the state. The house always smelled of linseed oil from Susan's paintings, and she entered one of the most successful periods of her artistic life, her work selling well at galleries in Santa Fe. But, again, the relationship didn’t last; the ranch owner was one of series of serious relationships that Susan had where she happily committed right up until the moment they asked her to marry them—and then she bolted. Three years later, Susan and her daughter moved to Santa Fe where her art was taking off. Christo went to boarding school. Susan was always reading and learning about progressive, and sometimes mystic, ideas and issues. While in Santa Fe, her best friend and boarding school roommate Barbara Maltby recalls, Susan was reading about Silva mind control. She had a dog, one of a series of dogs Susan would adopt and adore throughout her life, but the dog got lost. Using the Silva method, Susan sat and meditated and she envisioned the dog at a smithy she worked with about 25 miles away. How she could have ended up there, so far away, baffled her, but Susan and Barbara got into the car and sure enough: there was the dog. “It was amazing,” Barbara says. “She was always looking at ways to think more non-rationally and non-linear to access more of your intuition.” Two years later, the family moved back to New York this time the Upper West Side, where Susan had a studio looking down Broadway. Her art didn’t sell as well in New York. “Like most artists—with the exception perhaps of Pablo Picasso—Susan wasn’t good at selling herself,” Barbara says. “She was great at the art, not so much at the retail.”
But where her art sales faltered, her personal life excelled. Nearly 20 years after the end of her first marriage, she met and married her second husband, Tony Sifton, a federal judge on the U.S. District Court. Finally, her run was slowing to a stroll. Susan and Tony moved to Brooklyn, near Flatbush, and their kids combined to become the typical modern family. The building was an old warehouse—they were one of the first families to move into it—and Susan had an enormous studio where she’d paint and sculpt for the next 30 years. They settled into a good life with a country house in Sag Harbor and season tickets at the Metropolitan Opera. Susan developed another passion: gardening, tending to a huge rooftop garden in Brooklyn and massive yard in Sag Harbor. And she adopted dogs, four Rottweiler’s. They had a fabulous group of highly intellectual friends, from the New York Times' Judy Miller and her husband New York Book Review founder Jay Epstein, to authors Fred Seidel and Bob Loomis to artist Maya Lin and actress Estelle Parsons. “She had a wry sense of humor and a super quick wit,” Christo recalls. “She was creative and exciting. She was an explosion of creativity. It was extraordinary to be around.”
They raised exceptional children: Christo went on to become the Boston Globe’s Washington Bureau Chief, Alix became a realtor in Durango, Colorado. Sifton’s three sons also did well: Sam became a New York Times food critic, John works for Human Rights Watch and Toby is a Buddhist counselor in Maine. When Tony was dying of sarcoidosis in 2009, he fretted about who would take care of Susan? The family simply thought he was being protective, which he was. But he must have seen her slipping before his death because by 2011 it became clear she had a progressive dementia. These days, two broken hips have kept Susan confined mostly to a wheelchair. But she still smiles readily and lights up when Christo talks about past adventures. She's still a beautiful woman with a mane of silver hair and big blue eyes. But most of all, she lights up when her youngest grandchild—Izzy, the fifth of five granddaughters–comes for her weekly visit.