Helen S. ‘Penny’ Schwab, artist-volunteer, dies

Helen Schwab was a volunteer remedial reading tutor of inner-city children at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Helen S. “Penny” Schwab, an accomplished artist and longtime volunteer, died May 28 at Brightview Towson from complications of vascular dementia. She was 96.

The former Helen Spalding Smith, daughter of Chief Judge W. Conwell Smith of the old Supreme Bench of Baltimore, and his wife, Catherine Spalding Donovan, a nurse’s aide, was born in Baltimore and raised on Wickford Road in Roland Park.


She was a descendant of the Howard, Gist and Cromwell families of Baltimore County, including Richard Gist of Garrison, one of the commissioners who laid out what is now Baltimore in 1729.

Mrs. Schwab, who was known as “Penny,” attended Roland Park Country School and Notre Dame Preparatory School and studied fashion illustration and art at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She also worked as a department store fashion model for Blakeslee-Lane Studios to pay her tuition.


Her college studies were interrupted by World War II, when she left MICA and volunteered teaching nursery school children of women war workers at the historic Carroll Mansion on East Lombard Street, and worked as a nurse’s aide at Church Home and Hospital.

She returned to MICA, from which she graduated in 1947.

Mrs. Schwab met her future husband, George Van Fossen Schwab, at her cousin’s home in Washington during the war and married him in 1947. While her husband finished his degree in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, she worked as a photographer’s assistant.

From 1960 to 1997, the former Roland Park, Ruxton and Towson resident was a volunteer remedial reading tutor of inner-city children at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill. She also volunteered for 40 years with Meals On Wheels of Central Maryland before retiring in 2008.

She enjoyed sailing the length of the bay from Havre de Grace to the Tides Inn in Irvington, Virginia, with her husband and children, aboard their Ericson 29 sloop.

As an artist, Mrs. Schwab worked in oil and acryllics and favored watercolor landscapes, still lifes, portraits and sculpture.

She was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen and a longtime member of the Catholic Evidence League, of which she served as treasurer from 1993 to 2004.

She and her husband had lived at Oak Crest Village in Parkville for a decade before moving to Towson in 2018.


A private memorial celebration will be held at a future date.

In addition to her husband of 72 years, a retired architect, she is survived by five sons, Peter Janney Schwab of Parkton, David Michael Schwab of Sparks, George Van Fossen Schwab Jr. of Charlotte, North Carolina, Noel Patrick Schwab of Santa Monica, California, and Christoper Scott Schwab of Sydney, Australia; three daughters, Kathleen Conwell Novak of the Hampton neighborhood of Baltimore County, Beverley Anne Ottenritter of Sparks and Diana Van Fossen Sherman of New York City; 14 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.