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News & Blogs: In Memoriam

Remembering Gwen Sepetoski

mardi, 10 mars 2015   (0 Comments)
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Artist and former Ecolint teacher Gwen Sepetoski and her husband Wil passed away within a few days of each other last December. Their daughter Lesley (LGB '73) has written, below, about Gwen's life and work. Lesley Sepetoski was herself an art teacher at Ecolint from 1980 to 1986.

Further down, her former colleague and close friend Burt Melnick pays tribute to Gwen in his own words and those of others whose lives she touched.

Gwen and Wil Sepetoski 

The life of Gwen Sepetoski

by Lesley Sepetoski (March 2015)

Gwen was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1930, and grew up in Seattle, Washington, attending the Cornish School of Art and later the University of Washington. She met her husband, Wil, during the summer of 1951 on Mount Rainier. Two college students – a hostess and a bellhop – they danced together for the first of many times at the pre-season employee sock-hop, to “polish the floors” of Paradise Lodge. They married in March of 1951. Wil, now the first college graduate in his family, made a solemn vow and assured his new in-laws that his bride would eventually get her degree.*

To Massachusetts and beyond

A new bride, Gwen lived, painted, taught art, continued her studies, and began raising a family in their “married quarters”, a Quonset hut at China Lake, where Wil was a civilian employee of the military. They moved east in 1957, to Brookline, Massachusetts, near to Wil’s new job at Arthur D. Little, and Wil’s nighttime graduate studies at MIT. Eventually settling in Concord, Massachusetts, Gwen continued to paint, teach, and manage her growing family (now four girls).

In the early sixties, Gwen leapt at the opportunity to travel (Pan-Am/Mad Men style) with Wil, whose work now took him all over the world. Gwen worked part-time at Design Research in Cambridge, taught adult education classes in Boston, including a number of workshops at the School for the Deaf, executed interior mural commissions for an architectural firm, and attended open studio classes at Radcliffe and the Museum School.

While Gwen’s painting during this time was primarily figurative, her roots in the Northwest School of Modern Art were clear. Working in watercolour and sketching, she was inspired by her family life, travel, and landscape both urban and rural, and included depictions of familiar places like Boston Common, Haymarket Square, the Audubon Wildlife Preserve, Walden Pond, Nantucket Island, and the snowy slope behind their home on Wheeler Road.

Growing Family
"Growing Family" - Gwen Sepetoski, 1960, oil on wood.

Gwen’s interest in shape, colour, form, and abstraction is also evident during these years. In this work, (mainly oil paintings), Gwen passionately explores contemporary issues in artistic expression, interior design, and architecture. Le Corbusier, Isamu Noguchi, Paul Klee, Walter Gropius, Buckminster Fuller, Alexander Calder and many members of the Bauhaus were among the artists and movements on her mind.

Switzerland and Ecolint

The family moved to Montreal in 1966 when Wil began working as director of computer services for International Air Transport Association. In 1968, IATA moved their corporate headquarters to Geneva, and thus began the Swiss chapter of Gwen’s life. Living first in Corsier village, followed by Conches, and finally Carouge, the Sepetoskis embraced life in Europe. “Home” was always about family and friends, never a particular geographic location. When Wil was not travelling, family weekends together were spent in the mountains; Wil and the girls hiking or skiing, while Gwen pursued her work - taking full advantage of the solitude (and quiet), the new landscapes and changing seasons.

Gwen’s daughters attended La Grande Boissière: Remy Sepetoski (’82), Monya Amez-Droz (’79), Lesley Sepetoski (’73), and Gaylyn Sepetoski Cooper (’70). Gwen’s tenure at LGB began when Lesley, soon to graduate, suggested that her mother fill in as a substitute teacher in the art department. Gwen, a maturing artist with an expanding resume was soon recruited** to join Ecolint’s own creative dream team of Glyn Uzzell, Frank Dorsay, Peter Rothwell, and Jan Anastasi (not to mention David Manley, head of Theatre, who was close to the group). The art programme flourished during the mid-seventies. These talented friends, all skilled professionals in their respective areas of expertise, were fiercely committed to the students. They shared passionately, stewarding each young pupil, with or without "talent", toward personal discovery and the realisation of their own creative potential and expressive gifts.

LGB 1973 Yearbook
A photo from the 1973 LGB Yearbook, featuring Jan Anastasi, Gwen Sepetoski, Peter Rothwell, Frank Dorsay and Glyn Uzzell.

The art department in this era was not a “silo”, rather, there was a pervasive spirit of collaboration and mutual respect among colleagues across the broad spectrum of subjects offered at the school, from creative arts to literature, music, history, languages, and sciences – such fertile soil surely attributable in part to the fledgling global curriculum, the International Baccalaureate.

With colleagues Glyn Uzzell and Frank Dorsay, Gwen contributed to the development of the Creative Art component of the IB, and later became a visiting examiner, interviewing students and reviewing portfolios all over Europe. She loved these opportunities to discuss art with young people and nurture their enthusiasm for the creative process. Her interactions with IB art instructors was equally rewarding – sharing valuable experiences and ultimately stewarding both teacher and student through the rigorous and highly individualised creative component of the IB diploma.

In the late seventies, a spring-break visit to the Algarve, home of friends and former LGB colleagues Glyn Uzzell and Paul Fonk, left Gwen and Wil smitten with the frank beauty and the uncomplicated lifestyle of Portugal’s southern coast. Soon, they purchased an old farmhouse/stable and set about making it their second home.

Post-Ecolint and Portugal

The girls now grown and the Carouge nest nearly empty, Gwen and Wil downsized, moving further along the lake, first to Fontanivent, and later to Gryon. Gwen, brush in hand, continued to share her vision of the world. Her Ecolint connection was strong, with daughter Lesley now an art instructor at LGB (1980–1986). Wil joined choirs and was a disciplined hiker. With more flexible schedules, they now divided their time between the Swiss Alps and their Casa Bocado in the Algarve. Wil was consulting and Gwen continued to work part-time in schools and as an IB examiner. Glynn and Paul lived nearby; their friendships flourished. When Gwen and Wil left Portugal in 1997 to live full time in Gryon, they continued to enjoy visits with these and many other dear Ecolint friends. Gwen continued painting, of course, showing her work in France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, England, Portugal, and the United states.

Gwen’s and Wil’s health had been declining for a number of years. In the late summer of 2014, they left their beloved mountain home of thirty years and moved to Begnins. Gwen was more comfortable at the lower altitude; they both enjoyed the closer proximity to their daughters, dear friends, and the medical facilities they visited with increasing frequency. Wil entered the hospital just after Thanksgiving 2014, and Gwen followed a few days later. The hospital staff accommodated their wish to be in the company of one another, their beds now contiguous, they held hands, AND WERE HAPPY. On 5 December, after a lovely visit with family, sipping contraband wine, chatting on Skype, laughter, tears, kisses, and “see you tomorrow”, Wil gave up the ghost. Gwen lingered only 30 hours more, and passed away herself on 7 December.

Gwen painted with watercolour, acrylic and oil on hand made paper and canvas. A skilful colourist, the work is rich and varied across the spectrum of both light and hue. The imagery, a moving symphony of geometric shape, symbol, and sign, reflects ancient and contemporary cultures; evoking the beauty she saw everywhere.

"Travelling Forward Together" - Gwen Sepetoski, 2013, acrylic on canvas.


*In 1975, Gwen and I both received our Bachelor of Arts degrees from Goddard College. Gwen later took her Master of Arts at Goddard, while I earned my Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts at the University of Iowa.

**I have always appreciated the wisdom of the school leadership for taking a 'risk' and hiring my mother, who, at that time, had no college degree. Good teachers (and fine pupils) come from anywhere and everywhere, with a myriad of experience to share, from which we may all learn.

Gwen Sepetoski

by Burt Melnick (March 2015)

I knew Gwen before she began teaching Art at Ecolint. In 1968, my first year at the school, I had a student named Lesley Sepetoski in a group that I supervised at lunchtime. Lesley’s mother Gwen figured out that we had some things in common and got in touch with me. And thus began a long, multi faceted friendship, with Gwen and with the whole Sepetoski family. I learned to ski when I was on vacation with the Sepetoskis in La Clusaz. I went to their Thanksgiving feasts, where I got tipsy on Wil Sepetoski’s eggnog well before the actual meal was served. Along with many others, I hung out at their table every Fourth of July at the Fête américaine at the Bout du Monde. Like many others, I treasure a complete set of the bookmarks—in fact miniature art works—that Gwen sent every year as Christmas cards.

The Sepetoskis may have been the most hospitable family I’ve ever known. When I left Ecolint for a year to go to London and had nowhere to store my books, Gwen, typically, offered me the use of the spare room next to her kitchen. One alumna, a friend of Gwen’s youngest daughter’s, has written me about “staying at Gryon and feeling that this warm, embracing family must find me a rather strange creature, shy, slightly withdrawn only child of divorced parents that I was.” She especially appreciated “the intensely feminine and comforting atmosphere of their home”.

Gwen’s students remember her for her love of art and her ability to communicate it. And, like me, they remember the warmth of her personality and her kindness and compassion. She gave encouragement to all her students, including those who lacked confidence in their work. “She always made you feel,” writes one of them, “that what you created was great.” And she always knew just what to say—or not to say. For she had an exemplary sense of tact as well as beautiful, expressive eyes with which she could communicate as precisely as with words.

"One day in art class, I believe when I was in 10th grade, out of the blue one of the boys made a disparaging comment about my appearance as I was walking by. It stung but I chose to ignore it and pretend I hadn't heard it. I walked up to Mrs. Sepetoski to ask her something and the compassion and kindness in her eyes reached out to me; she also said nothing, not wanting to draw attention to the boy's behaviour and embarrass me, I'm sure. It was the perfect response and so much appreciated."

Another student recalls “great memories of the set design classes late in the evening at the Theatre Workshop.” Mrs. Sepetoski, he writes, “was a role model to all of us. And so cool.” He’s not the only student to use that word—“cool”—in speaking about Gwen. She had rubbed shoulders with the 1960’s counter culture, and that was reflected to some small extent in her dress and her informality. But when her ex-students say Gwen was cool, they’re talking about something else: her authenticity. Gwen wouldn’t have known how to give herself airs. Though she accepted the responsibility of being the teacher, she communicated with her students as she did with everyone—one human being to another.

As an art teacher, Gwen was part of a tightly knit team of talented people. Since we taught in different departments, located in different parts of the campus, I didn’t actually have very much contact with her as a colleague, although I would see her at staff meetings, where I was struck (but not surprised) at how considerate she was in her comments and how concerned she was for her students’ welfare. Those who worked closely with her speak of her talent and creativity, the warmth and sense of humour that she brought to stressful situations, and her ability to “make people blossom.”

This gift of Gwen’s for mentoring applied to colleagues as well as students, and Gwen continued to exercise it even after she had ceased to be a teacher. The current Head of Art at Ecolint, Stephen Preece, arrived at the school after Gwen had left and knew her only in her role as IB examiner in Art. But, as he testifies, her personality hadn’t changed, and her capacity to inspire hadn’t diminished by an iota.

"Gwen was a larger than life character who blew me away from the first time I met her. This was when she came to invigilate the IBVA exams at LGB and I was new to the IB and very wet behind the ears, Gwen swiftly took me under her wing and taught me the ropes. She had a wealth of teaching experience counter balanced with the same amount of compassion for others and love for life. Gwen was a totally genuine woman with zero pretence, oceans of humility and she proved to be more than capable of taking me out for dinner after a hard day’s invigilation and drinking me under the table. I never got to say goodbye to Gwen or to really tell her in what high esteem I have always held her. Gwen effectively mentored me and for this I will be eternally grateful. Every day I attempt to emulate her skill and presence in that same honourable role.....that of the teacher and mentor."



>> See also: Death of former art teacher Gwen Sepetoski

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