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Professor, Architect Arthur Loeb Remembered by Colleagues and Friends

By Nathan J. Heller, Contributing Writer

More than 100 friends, colleagues and former students of Arthur L. Loeb filled University Lutheran Church Saturday afternoon to remember the Harvard faculty member and renowned design pioneer.

Loeb, who died July 14 at the age of 79, started his career as a chemical physicist before he began his innovative research in geometric forms and spatial patterns.

His work led him to collaborations with Buckminster Fuller ’19 and M.C. Escher, and for over 30 years he taught in Harvard’s Department of Visual and Environmental Studies (VES).

His independent success as an artist and his commitment to the local music community brought him renown outside the University as well.

The nine friends and colleagues of Loeb who spoke at the Saturday memorial described him as a renaissance man with eclectic interests and a generous spirit.

“I remember a soul civilized, generous and grateful for life’s very gift,” said the Reverend Carl R. Scovel, a minister at King’s Chapel, Boston, which Loeb attended. “Did any of us ever converse with Arthur without learning something?”

Loeb, who served as a lecturer and honorary associate in the VES department and a faculty member at the Graduate School of Education, was an active member in the Harvard community and in greater Boston.

He founded and directed the local Collegium Iosquinum ensemble and choreographed for the Harvard Scottish Country Dancers. For six years, he served as master of Dudley House.

Writer, dancer and former student Esmeralda Santiago ’76 said Loeb’s acceptance of her seemingly incongruous interests had helped her to establish her life’s path.

Working with a teacher who was not afraid to dress as a minstrel and to play Medieval music for the “jeans-and-sneakers generation” inspired her.

“Here was a man like no other who exemplified what we wished we could become,” she said.

Loeb fled from his home in the Netherlands to England in a fishing boat when the Nazi occupation began in 1940. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania and then came to Harvard to earn his doctorate.

The threat of Nazi oppression haunted him throughout his life. Loeb’s discomfort with his Jewish background remained hidden as he explored new faiths as an adult, his friend the Rev. Thomas B. Chittick said at the memorial.

During his last convalescence, Loeb asked Chittick whether the pastor thought that people disdained him because of his Jewish background.

Loeb became interested in geometric patterns and “Visual Mathematics”—which he later titled one of his Harvard courses—while researching on a MIT team assembled to work on the groundbreaking Whirlwind computer.

He eventually joined the Harvard faculty, but during an early hiatus in his Harvard teaching career, he worked at a research laboratory at the Kennicott Copper Corporation.

Eugene Rapperport, one of his colleagues there, said Loeb frequently brought acquaintances such as Fuller to the laboratory for seminars.

“He looked upon it as a sort of intellectual Camelot. There he spread his wings,” Rapperport said.

At the end of his memorial speech, Rapperport bowed his head and wept. “We will miss him,” he said. “He enriched our lives.”

Amy C. Edmondson ’80, one of Loeb’s former students who is now an associate professor at the Business School, said Loeb’s devotion as an educator inside and outside the classroom inspired her to earn her undergraduate degree in engineering and design sciences.

“Arthur Loeb exemplified teaching as a high calling,” she said.

Loeb’s former colleague, Hooker Professor of Visual Arts Alfred Guzzetti ’64, said Loeb brought extraordinary artists and scholars to the University. He praised Loeb’s curiosity and intelligence in prepared comments read by Arnheim Lecturer Robb Moss.

“Nobody had the heart to break it to him that there were people not as brilliant as he,” Guzzetti wrote. “Like many of us, I expected him to live to be 100.”

On Saturday, the church was adorned with dyed banners that Loeb had designed, and one of his watercolor paintings hung in the atrium.

He and his wife had been members of several choirs during his life, and the ceremony included three musical interludes performed in his honor.

Santiago finished her eulogy by alluding to Loeb’s eagerness to create new patterns and designs.

“I know that today heaven is a much more organized and much more pleasant place than it was before,” she said.

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