The unexpected death of Wanda Ewing, a tenured associate professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, left the school's art and art history departments in shock Monday.
The 43-year-old teacher and artist died Sunday at the Nebraska Medical Center of complications from chemotherapy, said sister Mona Ewing Yaeger of Chicago.
Wanda Ewing did not teach this semester at UNO due to surgery, chemotherapy and radiation for non-small cell lung cancer, said UNO colleague Avery Mazor.
“Her death is definitely a great loss to our department and definitely a great loss to our students. She was a role model for a lot of students,” Mazor said.
Ewing called RNG Gallery owner Rob Gilmer on Saturday to tell him she would miss that evening's closing reception of her art show with Rebecca Herskovitz at the Council Bluffs gallery due to illness. Ewing said she was heading to an Omaha hospital, Gilmer said.
Gilmer said that upon “seeing her work, I thought 'Wow! this is amazing work.' Then upon meeting her, I thought 'Wow! She's an amazing woman.' ”
After the reception, he took down Herskovitz's work. He will leave Ewing's work in place through December.
Ewing joined the UNO faculty in 2004, said Dr. Robert Carlson, department chairman.
“Her art came from her heart. No matter what medium it was in, it was always live,” Carlson said. “She brought a fresh perspective to art at UNO and the Omaha community.”
Ewing was in charge of the foundations program — a sequence of classes that all art majors at UNO take — and she also taught the Senior Capstone classes for art majors.
To honor her, the UNO art department has established the Wanda Ewing Scholarship Fund through the University of Nebraska Foundation, Carlson said. Donations in her memory can be sent to the foundation and earmarked for the fund.
Gail F. Baker, dean of the College of Communication, Fine Arts and Media, said in a statement:
“I am deeply saddened by the untimely loss of such a great teacher, artist and member of the UNO community. Wanda's thoughtfulness and caring nature were surpassed only by her remarkable talent and unique voice. She will be greatly missed.”
Dr. Amy Morris, an art history professor at UNO, described Ewing's art as “really punchy, very controversial.” Ewing used bold colors and sequins and her designs might be nude females done very avant-garde, Morris said.
“Art was so important to Wanda, getting into shows, auctions at the Bemis (Center for Contemporary Arts) and more,” Morris said.
“Wanda changed the face of this department with new classes and a portfolio review for seniors,” Morris said. “We changed our program and produced really solid art students.”
Mazor said Ewing's work “was definitely influenced by pop culture and hip-hop culture and she had a very graphic style.
“She loved art. It was her passion,” he said.
At her website, Ewing wrote, “The artworks I create explore the subjects of race, beauty standards, sexuality and identity. Inspired by images found in popular culture, I often use humorous narratives as a device for engaging the viewer.”
She had solo exhibitions at Pi Gallery in Kansas City, Mo.; in Iowa City; at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; at Proyecto 'ACE International Center for Visual Arts in Buenos Aires, Argentina; at the University of West England Bristol, United Kingdom; at the Richard M. Ross Museum in Delaware, Ohio; and group exhibitions at Sheldon Memorial Art Museum on the UNL City Campus; at Lightwell Gallery at the University of Oklahoma in Norman; at the Los Angeles Convention Center; at the Lalit Kala Akademi Art Center, New Delhi, India; in The Paris Review No. 199, Winter 2011; and at RNG Gallery.
Ewing, who grew up in Omaha, earned her bachelor of fine arts at the San Francisco Art Institute and a master of arts and master of fine arts, both in printmaking, at the University of Iowa.
Ewing was preceded in death by her father, Clarence Ewing Jr.
Besides her sister, other survivors include her mother, Elouise Ewing of Omaha; brother Clarence Ewing III of Chicago; and sister Annette Ewing of Omaha.
Visitation for Wanda Ewing will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday with a service at 7 p.m., all at the West Center location of Heafey-Heafey-Hoffmann Dworak-Cutler, 7805 West Center Road. Burial will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Forest Lawn Cemetery, 7909 Mormon Bridge Road.