Artists Never Die—Remembering Herb Schwartz
Legacy as artist and teacher lives on.
When one of Herb Schwartz's former students learned of his death on Christmas morning, she immediately painted a watercolor tribute proclaiming, "Artists Never Die."
The piece was displayed at a memorial service held for Schwartz on Wednesday, Dec. 28 and aptly describes the legacy of an artist who lives on in both the hearts and minds of his beloved family and countless students, as well as the thousands of art pieces he created in his lifetime.
Schwartz died peacefully at the age of 69 in his West Orange home on the morning of Dec. 25 after a long battle with cancer.
While he was diagnosed over two years ago, Schwartz continued working and teaching at his studio in Caldwell. It was only when the cancer affected the use of his right hand last June that Schwartz retired.
Schwartz was employed as an art teacher in the Caldwell-West Caldwell School District for 27 years. After retiring from the school district in 1998, Schwartz continued teaching students at his Bloomfield Avenue studio.
"His studio was a haven," his wife, Talib Schwartz, remarked in a phone interview last week.
"I have received letters from students all over the country," she said. In the letters, students repeat the sentiment that they are who they are today because of Schwartz. They say he was an inspiration, whether he was helping them with their portfolios or encouraging them.
"He believed strongly in art education, no matter how good someone was, he believed everyone could draw," Talib Schwartz said. "He was such a special man, filled with energy with great blue eyes."
Schwartz was raised in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn and loved recounting stories of his childhood. As he noted on his website, his early work reflected his unique upbringing adjacent to the famous boardwalk.
Schwartz's works have been displayed all over the world, from Taiwan to the White House to the West Caldwell Public Library. He also made artistic donations to many charities.
Happiest When Teaching Children
Caldwell-West Caldwell Schools Superintendent Dr. Daniel Gerardi remembers how Schwartz was "always happiest when around children."
"They responded to his sincerity," Gerardi said last week.
Marcia Gurian, who worked and shared an art room with Schwartz at Jefferson School, also spoke of Schwartz's great rapport with children.
"He made every child feel they could be artistic and have a talent for art," Gurian said, adding, "This is not an easy thing to do."
She said Schwartz also drew out special needs students, "He had a way of getting them to draw. He was really a gifted teacher."
Gurian, whose two sons were taught by Schwartz, became friends with the Schwartz family. She would visit him in his studio and recalled fondly how he personalized a rocking chair for her granddaughter.
A former student of his at Washington School, Flora DePalma, was so impressed with Schwartz she later sent her daughter, Sophie, to his studio. "He just stood out as a good teacher who was always happy," DePalma said.
Sophia DePalma, who is currently a freshman at James Caldwell High School, remarked, "He understood people. He was a kind person who had a lot of patience."
Prolific Artist in Many Media
From Taiwan to Washington, D.C., Schwartz's work has been displayed around the world. Dr. Li-an Chen selected a butterfly painting by Schwartz as a symbol of "peace and harmony" with China during his campaign for the first free election for the presidency of Taiwan.
When President Bill Clinton was in office, First Lady Hillary Clinton selected Schwartz as the Artist on the Lawn and poster artist for the White House's Easter Egg Celebration. Schwartz later collaborated with Hillary Clinton on a book about choosing art over drugs. His art and depictions of his time working at the White House are now part of the Clinton's archives.
During President George W. Bush's term, Schwartz created a two-feet by three-feet fiberglass egg for use during the White House's Spring celebration. This piece, as well as his other fiberglass eggs, were later sold for charity.
Schwartz created extensive works in the media of pencil, pen and ink, painting, and mixed media. He liked to explore different art forms and created a large collection of mandalas, a concentric circle, which surrounds a core. As displayed on the website, Schwartz's mandalas encompass many themes, from signs of the Zodiac to designs influenced by Native American art.
Schwartz's artwork appears in museums and private collections. His work also has been licensed and appears on greeting cards, posters, album covers and items such as puzzles.
Working for Charitable Causes
Schwartz created many art pieces for various charitable organizations. "He was always being called. He never said, 'No,'" according to his wife.
Schwartz was a member of the Rotary Club of the Caldwells for several years, and contributed various projects to both this club and the Rotary Club of West Orange.
Caldwell Rotarian and audiologist Dr. David Gurian, the husband of Marcia Gurian, commented on the "amazing poster" Schwartz created for the Rotary's "Help the Children Hear" campaign. "We have displayed the poster all over the state. It is instrumental to our charitable campaign," Dr. David Gurian said.
In addition to this work, Schwartz painted many life-sized fiberglass cows for use in the Cow Parade. The cows—including an NJ Devils cow, a Washington Redskins and a Yogi Berra cow—were sold at auction for charity.
West Caldwell Public Library
Locally, one of the most well-known pieces created by Schwartz is the mural depicting famous characters from children's literature located at the entrance to the Children's Room at the West Caldwell Public Library.
"I remember going to visit him in his studio. It was a neat experience. He was very professional," remarked Library Director April Judge last week.
Schwartz and the Rotary Club of the Caldwells donated the mural to the library, where there is currently a memorial sign acknowledging his recent passing.
Continuing His Legacy
In addition to his wife, Talib, Schwartz was also a devoted father to Elizabeth and Paul Vigna, Sabrina and Josh Mann and Joshua Ilutzi, and a grandfather to Elijah and Lila Mann and Robert Vigna.
The Schwartz family would like to see Herb Schwartz's art studio continue to flourish. Anyone interested in taking over the studio should visit www.herbschwartz.com.