Obituary: Roslyn Swartzman, 91, a respected artist and inspiring teacher in Montreal

Roslyn Swartzman, a respected Canadian artist whose work is in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada and the Musée des Beaux-Arts du Québec,  died on Feb. 5 in Montreal. She was 91.

Swartzman, who was primarily a printmaker but accomplished in other media, taught generations of budding artists, some of whom went on to successful careers, at the Saidye Bronfman Centre School of Fine Arts (SBC) in Montreal.

She was a member of the prestigious Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

Swartzman is being remembered as an inspiring, but tough, mentor who demanded the best from her students, as she did from herself. She was a teacher and later head of the graphic arts department at the SBC from the mid-1960s until 2006 when its fine arts school closed.

Informally, she and her late husband Monte were known as generous and vivacious hosts, equally to lifelong friends and new people in their circle.

Born in Montreal in 1931, Swartzman née Sheinfeld began her art education in the late 1940s at the Montreal Artists School studying under the renowned Ghitta Caiserman-Roth and Alfred Pinsky, continuing in the 1950s at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where she came under the influence of such Canadian luminaries as Arthur Lismer and Jacques de Tonnancour. She specialized in printmaking at Montreal’s École des Beaux-Arts with Albert Dumouchel, one of the most influential Quebec printmakers of his time, in the early 1960s.

Swartzman exhibited her work nationally and internationally in more than 30 group and 20 solo shows, beginning in 1959. In 2006, the SBC (now the Segal Centre for Performing Arts) presented a retrospective of her 40-year career in prints, as well as painting, sculpture and drawings.

A lover of the outdoors, Swartzman often drew upon nature as a theme, such as in the abstract landscape series The Northern Prairies and Prairie Winter, which combine etching with her distinctive embossing.

The Northern Prairies VI by Roslyn Swartzman, in the collection of the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec

Her public commissions in Montreal include Oiseau de feu (1991), a 22-metre-long abstract wall sculpture with 81 pieces of brightly painted aluminum that hangs in Place Bonaventure. Others could be found in the Alexis Nihon Plaza, as well as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and Congregation Chevra Kadisha-B’nai Jacob.

“She was a renaissance woman who loved life, lived intensely and dedicated her life to the pursuit and teaching of art,” said friend Adina Weinstein. “Rama (as she was known by those close to her) was always at the centre of our group of friends, hosting get-togethers, dinner parties, book clubs, weekends in the country and taking up the cause of Israel.”

Friends and acquaintances recall fun-filled gatherings at Roslyn and Monte’s home in Notre Dame de Grace, with good food and music. She and Monte, a talented amateur jazz trumpeter, were married for 71 years until his death in 2021 from complications of COVID.

They were a particularly close couple who met back when they were teens in the Labour Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair.

According to their three daughters, Leora, Mia and Elana, they enjoyed such outdoor activities as hiking, skiing and rowing, and travel to far-flung destinations.

“Her art is a representation of the strong, energetic, beautiful woman that she was,” another friend Eunice Palayew noted.

Among Swartzman’s former protégés who went on to successful careers, artist Shirley Katz said, “She was a truly original and creative artist, and an inspiration to so many students. She was my teacher, co-worker and mentor. Nobody was ever as encouraging as she was.”

Dorothy Grostern, also an artist, commented, “I shall forever be grateful to her. She was forthright, outspoken, always spoke the truth… She was an outstanding artist who loved her creativity, but in all the years I knew her, her three daughters were the first and true love of her life.”