Alice R. Gadzinski, artist-in-residence at the Creative Alliance, dies

Alice R. Gadzinski, a Creative Alliance artist-in-residence whose whimsical papier-mache sculptures she once described as being “like Lawrence Welk and ‘Pee-Wee’s Playhouse’ were in a car accident,” died March 10 after a yearlong struggle from breast cancer at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The Highlandtown resident was 30.

“I knew her mostly through curating MICA exhibitions. I love MICA and its students and… within that group of really talented students, Alice stood out because of her work,” said Doreen Bolger, who retired in 2015 as director of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

“Her work was amazing, and while it’s very serious she always managed to inject a sense of humor into it. It made you think but it also made you smile,” said Ms. Bolger, a Charles Village resident. “Even though she suffered medically, her work remained alluring and continued to make you smile. I’m just heartbroken.”

“Many live a long time but accomplish little. As a young woman, Alice accomplished an enormous amount,” she said. “I think of the creativity, joy and love she would have brought to the world. So many admired her. What has happened is so unfair.”

Gina Caruso, executive director of the Creative Alliance and a Charles Village resident, noted Ms. Gadzinski’s “love of life.”

“She was always so joyous and smiling, even as she was going through massive chemo and radiation treatments,” Ms. Caruso said. “She was incredibly courageous.”

“Even though she was suffering extreme sickness, she was still producing high quality work. Her death was so premature,” said Jeremy Stern, who is curator at the Creative Alliance. “Her death is like losing a family member. We love her and the Creative Alliance loved having Alice around. It is a loss that will stay with us forever.”

Alice Ruth Gadzinski was the daughter of Dr. Eric Gadzinski, an English professor, and Susan E. James, a librarian. She was born in Abingdon, Pa., and moved in 1995 to Sault Sainte Marie, Mich., where she graduated in 2005 from Sault Area High School and received an award as the school’s outstanding artist.

“From an early age, she was interested in art and dance,” said her mother, who lives in Sault Sainte Marie.

She graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in photography with minors in sculpture and ceramics from Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids. She was presented the school’s Studio Excellence Award.

Darlene Kaczmarczyk, who retired last year as professor of art at the Kendall College, said Ms. Gadzinski was “so smart and quirky but in the best way.”

“When it came to kitsch, she liked the old-fashioned stuff, but her work was original and impressed me early on,” said Ms. Kaczmarczyk. “A lot of undergraduate art students try and fit into a certain category, but she was always unique and had a lot of self-confidence for a young person. Alice was one in a million.”

Ms. Gadzinski served as an Americorps-Vista volunteer in the SEEDS After School Programs in Manistee and Bear Lakes, Mich., in 2011.

She enrolled at the Maryland Institute College of Art and earned a master’s degree in 2016 in fine arts sculpture. While there, she was nominated for Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture.

“I was her major teacher for two years at MICA,” said Maren Hassinger, director of MICA’s Rinehart School of Sculpture and a New York City resident.

“Alice was also into ceramics and other mixed media and knew how to make use of many materials. She was also trying to find the relationship between kitsch and fine art,” Ms. Hassinger said.

“She was always well-prepared at seminars, field trips and our pot lucks. She was actually quite wonderful,” she said. “Alice was such a lovely person and her death is so sad.”

Ms. Gadzinski’s work was featured in seven solo exhibitions, 12 juried exhibitions and 12 group exhibitions in Maryland, Michigan, Virginia and Tennessee.

In addition to her own independent art, she worked on numerous commissions and collaborations, including Tiffany Lange’s Charm City Puppets, designing and creating costumes for a 2016 performance of “The Nutcracker” by the Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet.

“Alice was first and foremost a sculptor,” said Mr. Stern, a resident of Upper Fells Point. “She was magnetic and an incredibly hard worker. Her work had just an unabashed sparkle and glitter, and it was fun. It was Pop Art… and it was humorous.”

“She made a Smith Island cake for our food show and it was so realistic that you almost wanted to take a bite out of it,” said Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, director and founder of the American Visionary Art Museum, which sold her shelf-size papier-mache sculptures.

She drew on TV variety shows from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Stern said. She especially liked Lawrence Welk — “and not in a demeaning way,” said Ms. Caruso.

“Alice Gadzinski specializes in reproducing things you probably never thought of reproducing — like oversized cigarette butts and lipstick containers,” reported The Sun in a 2016 profile. The newspaper noted that she also made “ice-cream ornaments, the occasional life-size sculpture and rings with pieces of sculpted cake attached.”

“I like to work with very recognizable things, Ms. Gadzinski told The Sun. “There’s an underlying cynicism in a lot of the work I make.”

“She likes to think of her art as ‘crossing boundaries between the people who are capital ‘A’ artists, and the people who are just art appreciators,” the newspaper observed.

“She was striking at a high level all of the time and she was working on bigger and more impressive ideas,” Mr. Stern said. “I don’t think she had enough time to get to the highest level that she was striving for. And I certainly think she would have become nationally and internationally known.”

“Creating art is about the future — and that was one of the biggest struggles for her,” Ms. Caruso said. “She told me she was going to do all she could to get well.”

Ms. Gadzinski also taught at the American Visionary Art Museum in programs designed to serve children in underprivileged communities.

“She had so much to give to the world,” Ms. Bolger said.

Plans for a memorial gathering to be held in the spring in Sault Sainte Marie are incomplete. An exhibition and memorial will be held at the Creative Alliance in December.

In addition to her mother, she is survived by her father, Dr. Eric Gadzinski of Sault Sainte Marie; her fiance, Michael Benevenia of Lancaster, Pa.; a sister, Emily Louise Gadzinski of Kalamazoo; paternal grandmother, Priscilla Gadzinski of Belmont, Mich.; maternal grandmother, Mary Lou James of Green Valley, Ariz.; a stepmother, Dr. Carolyn S. Dale of Sault Sainte Marie; and three stepbrothers, Tyler Theel of Sault Sainte Marie, Todd Theel of Albuquerque and Travis Theel of Nashville.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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