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Ann H. Oster, an artist who taught at St. Paul’s School for Girls, dies

Ann Oster
Ann Oster (Ann Oster / HANDOUT)

Ann H. Oster, an artist who worked in a variety of media and taught art for nearly two decades at St. Paul’s School for Girls, died March 10 from late-stage endometrial cancer at her home in Roland Park. She was 75.

“She was truly an artist who lived and breathed it,” said Edee Finney Waller, former head of the art department at St. Paul’s School for Girls. “We worked together, and she loved reaching out and trying new things. She was very clever and creative, and that was her strength. With Ann, it was always looking at new ways and how to approach things.”

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The former Ann Hadwen Rogers, daughter of William Kittredge Rogers, a career naval officer, and his wife, Jane Bronson Williams Rogers, was born in San Francisco. Because of the nature of her father’s work, she was raised in Newport, Rhode Island; Alexandria, Virginia; Long Beach, California; Coronado, California; and London.

After graduating in 1963 from Hammond High School in Alexandria, Virginia, she attended Cazenovia College in Cazenovia, New York and the University of Maryland extension in Madrid and earned a bachelor’s degree in crafts in 1968 from San Diego State College.

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After her marriage in 1972 to Robert Lee Oster, an Alex. Brown & Sons stockbroker, she moved to Roland Park, where the couple raised their son and daughter.

When her son was born prematurely in 1979, Ms. Oster established Parents of Special-Care Infants Inc., a volunteer peer counseling network serving families in eight Baltimore-area hospital special-care nurseries, and also was the founder of Parents of Premature and High-Risk Infants International Inc.

After taking graduate courses at the Maryland Institute College of Art, she began teaching art in 1990 at St. Paul’s School for Girls in Brooklandville, working there until stepping down in 2008.

During her years at St. Paul’s, Ms. Oster taught primarily in the middle school and some upper school classes with Ms. Waller.

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“I always thought she was ahead of her time when she began doing collaborative work with the students. She generated the work and let them take the proper approach they wanted,” Ms. Waller said. “No one in the art room felt they couldn’t come up with their own approach and that there are many different ways and not just one right way.”

Pauline Savage, currently head of the art department at the Jemicy School in Owings Mills, studied with Ms. Oster as a student at St. Paul’s in the 1990s.

“As an artist, she was a constant creative force, and as a teacher, she taught me how to draw from observation,” Ms. Savage said. “She was a mentor to me and got me into a summer program at MICA when I was at St. Paul’s. She was a wonderful inspiration and a brave woman.”

Ms. Oster continued studying throughout her life.

“You have to like Ann Oster, who was a bright, articulate woman,” said Rodney Cook, a Baltimore watercolorist, muralist and teacher. “She was a student of mine in 2013 and 2014 in the Friday portrait class at the Jewish Community Center on Park Heights Avenue. She was energetic and enthusiastic, and her drawing skills got significantly better and she enjoyed it.”

In her own artistic life, Ms. Oster drew inspiration from nature, expressing this in a variety of media, including oils, clay, needlepoint, papier-mâché, beads and pastels in her portraits and landscapes.

“Ann did not shy away from different media and liked to experiment. She did not sit still in her work,” Ms. Waller said.

After retiring, she enjoyed spending winters and summers in Coronado and the spring and autumn in Roland Park.

“On both coasts, her homes reflected her whimsical style, filled with light, color and beautiful artwork,” her daughter, Bessie Oster of Brooklyn, New York, wrote in a biographical profile of her mother.

In 1994, Ms. Oster wrote an op-ed piece for The Sun about experiences in Mexico when as a student at the Instituto Allende, a visual arts school, in San Miguel de Allende, that led not only to an artistic journey but a personal one as well.

“Handicapped by the unwieldy weight of easel, suitcase, backpack, canvases, paints and a pocketful of the wrong money, I made my way through customs in Mexico City, and finally emerged at the taxi stand: my doorway to adventure,” she wrote.

Ms. Oster was one of nine students in Mexico for the monthlong educational program.

“I wanted to become a more skilled oil painter and discover whether I wanted to pursue landscapes as a subject matter,” she wrote. “What I really craved, though, was freedom. I wanted to find out what I was like in the absence of the social, personal and cultural paraphernalia I had collected in 20 years of being married and having two children in Baltimore.”

Ms. Oster wrote that “richness of the experience” was to be found in the minutiae of the world that surrounded her.

It was “other women, beggars, dirt, gentle men, artists, expatriates, no litter, the World Cup, rich doorways in shabby walls, 400-year old olive trees, poverty, my own room, the crucifixion, oppression, walls hiding gardens, flowers growing in tin cans, gifted teachers, social responsibility, strays, grins, my impoverished vocabulary, feeling safe, afternoon thunderstorms, injustice, dignity, joy, bad smells, personal charity, witches, being a pedestrian, Indian Catholicism, layer upon layer of age, children watching, friendships, all of it familiar yet completely different from my life in Baltimore.”

Her stay at an end, preparing to return to Roland Park, Ms. Oster wrote, “The time seemed to have vanished at the end, but left us full of something we had not brought to Mexico.”

In addition to being a world traveler and going on panting expeditions, Ms. Oster was an inveterate collector of art and art books.

“She really was a reader and liked keeping herself informed as an artist,” Ms. Waller said.

“She was determined to spend her remaining time at home, surrounded by her family and friends, her art books, old photographs and her paintings,” her daughter wrote. “And she died with her two children at her side.”

Because of the pandemic, plans for a memorial celebration and retrospective art show of Ms. Oster’s work, to be held in the fall, are incomplete.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by her son, Nick Oster of Roland Park; a sister, Kitt Williams of Coronado, California; three grandchildren; and a nephew. Her marriage ended in divorce.

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