“Eugenie Schwartz, Artist From New Orleans, Dies at 64,” The New York Times

by Penelope Green, via nytimes.com

Eugenie Schwartz at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans in 2011. L. Kyle Roberts

Eugenie Schwartz, an artist who found popularity and renown in her native New Orleans for her surreal, darkly humorous pieces, died on Dec. 30 at her home in the Bywater neighborhood there. She was 64.

The artist Josephine Sacabo, a friend, said the cause was complications of surgery for a perforated ulcer.

Ms. Schwartz, who was known as Ersy, made precise and impish pieces. One, a memento mori, involves a cheese grater kitted out with tufted red velvet and spiky teeth to make a coffin for a cast bronze mouse. Another is a red leather urinal that plays the theme song to the movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”

At Cooper Union in New York City, where Ms. Schwartz taught for nearly two decades, she would salvage the dead mice rounded up by the college’s sanitation crews and freeze them for use in her work.

When Hurricane Katrina spared her French Quarter house but knocked out its power, Ms. Schwartz mourned the contents of her freezer: a shark, some lovebirds, a snake and a lizard.

Eugenie Schwartz was born on Sept. 20, 1951. Raised until age 10 in the Pontalba Apartment Building, a New Orleans landmark built in 1850, and then in the French Quarter house, on historic Esplanade Avenue, that belonged to her grandmother, Ms. Schwartz’s childhood was appropriately gothic.

One of Ms. Schwartz’s impish pieces made with mice. via Arthur Roger Gallery

Her father was fond of using his only daughter as target practice for his BB gun; her mother, for whom Ms. Schwartz was named, was an ardent preservationist and civil rights activist.

Ms. Schwartz left New York and returned to New Orleans and her grandmother’s house in 1999, when her mother was no longer able to live alone.

“Ersy’s work was deeply personal and uniquely New Orleans,” said Bradley Sumrall, chief curator at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, “inspired by the French Quarter house she grew up in, and marked by a Southern Gothic surrealism, a phrase I don’t get to use often enough.”

In 1993, Ms. Schwartz collaborated with her friend, the artist George Dureau, who died in 2014, to make a pair of monumental bronze and steel gates for an expansion of the New Orleans Museum of Art.

In 2011, the Ogden presented side-by-side retrospectives of Ms. Schwartz and Ms. Sacabo’s work. The two had met almost four decades earlier, when Ms. Sacabo was sent to photograph Ms. Schwartz for a local magazine.

Ms. Schwartz’s show, “Ersy: Architect of Dreams,” featured one of her most significant pieces, “Hommage to the Society of Ste. Anne.” With 105 tiny bronze figures marching across a table, mythical creatures with bird heads or no heads at all, it is a tribute to the Ste. Anne’s parade, an annual Mardi Gras event in which participants march to the Mississippi carrying the ashes of friends and relatives who have died during the previous year. (The work was also a tribute to Ms. Schwartz’s mother, who died in 2001.)

In a review of that work for Gambit, a New Orleans weekly, the critic D. Eric Bookhardt described Ms. Schwartz as “an artist whose deftly precise touch recalls artists ranging from Bosch to Beardsly.”

Ms. Schwartz studied sculpture and drawing at Bard College and Tulane University in New Orleans, and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in sculpture and photography from the California Institute of the Arts. When she returned to New Orleans in 1999, she taught at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

No immediate family members survive her.

A few years ago, Ms. Schwartz sold her French Quarter house, which had decayed and become too hard to maintain by herself. She bought a concrete garage in the Bywater that she made uniquely her own, said her cousin, Paula Ninas, filling it with her own work and that of friends, along with a few choice pieces from the house on Esplanade.

“I think it was almost more ‘her’ than that big house she grew up in,” Ms. Ninas added.

At Mardi Gras this year, Ms. Schwartzs’s ashes are to be carried in the Ste. Anne’s parade and tipped into the Mississippi.

Correction: January 6, 2016 An earlier version of this obituary misidentified the museum for which Ms. Schwartz and the artist George Dureau made a pair of bronze and steel gates in 1993. It is the New Orleans Museum of Art, not the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.