In 1971, a young high school English teacher named Susan Vreeland visited the Louvre and exited with a pledge to make art her life’s companion – “to fill my mind with rich, glorious, long-established culture wrought by human desire, daring and faith.”
Once filled, her mind spun out a string of novels about artists, several of which became New York Times best sellers, and made her into one of San Diego’s most admired authors.
Mrs. Vreeland, a University City resident, died Aug. 23 after heart surgery. She was 71.
“She was an educator before she was a writer, and she was always teaching,” said Susan McBeth, whose San Diego based literary event company, Adventures by the Book, featured Mrs. Vreeland several times. “Her joie de vivre was almost childlike in its purity.”
Born in Wisconsin, Mrs. Vreeland grew up in North Hollywood, where trips to the library with her father, an aviation production manager, introduced her to the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson, to the short stories of Guy de Maupassant, and to the power of words.
“I was a too-sensitive child,” she would later write, “unable to distinguish between truth and fiction, prone to nightmares, gouged by cruelty.” Parental attempts at soothing her – “It’s only a story” – carried little weight then and would strike her as ironic later, after her own literary career took hold.
From her mother came a love of the visual arts, passed down through relatives who painted portraits and landscapes.
The family moved to San Diego and shortly after, when Mrs. Vreeland was 12, a neighbor going out of town on a trip asked her to water the plants. The neighbor was Harriet Haskell, an English professor at San Diego State. Her house had art books, pottery and weavings, and they filled the young visitor with a sense of exotic wonder that decades later she turned into one of her first published short stories.