A remembrance event was held yesterday morning at the Johnson Museum of Art in honor of Elsie Dinsmore Popkin ’58. Arranged by the Museum and Cornell Plantations, friends, family and colleagues gathered to commemorate the life and work of a talented and dynamic artist and activist. Popkin, 68, passed away in early January from complications with her chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.
Popkin was a pastel artist, well known for her lush and vivid landscapes. A pamphlet given at the performance quoted Artist Amy Funderbuck, who once wrote in Domicile Magazine that “Popkin was probably the most prolific artist since Van Gogh.” She painted numerous landscapes of North Carolina and painted on location in New York, Japan and Taiwan. A resident of Winston-Salem, NC, one of her prints was used on a poster to commemorate the 250th birthday of the city.
A graduate of the Art, Architecture and Planning College at Cornell, Popkin was also a long time member of the President’s Council of Cornell Women.
“I think all of us today wish we weren’t here,” said Barbara Orlando ’58, a member of the PCCW, who spoke at the memorial, “and we miss Elsie’s wit, passions and the way she enriched life for those who knew her.”
Children’s author Robin Fiddler Brancato, one of Popkin’s oldest friends, remembered her as a young girl, “skinny, freckle-faced, left-handed, [who] turned skill to advantage, entrepreneurial, open and chatty and passionate about social and political matters.” Madeline Noveck ’58, a roommate of Popkin’s, reminisced about their years together at Cornell. “We fascinated each other,” she said. “Elsie’s memory will long be a blessing and inspiration.”
Cornell was a particularly special place for Popkin, who painted numerous scenes of Cayuga lake. Her favorite vantage spot was the fifth floor of the Johnson museum. She once said, “From my very first moments at Cornell, I have felt at home here.”
Recently, she had completed a series of floral pastels of selected areas on the Cornell Plantations.
Don Rakow Ph.D. ’87, director of the Cornell Plantations, described the paintings, “[Elsie] captured the essence of the plants that make up those collections and transferred that life into [the] paintings. Her compositions are filled with a sense of vitality. She has left us a legacy to enjoy and learn from in years ahead.”
Slides of Popkin’s artwork was shown at the close of the event; the bright and vivid colors stood in contrast to the bleak and gray weather outside.
Anita Miller ’58, a classmate of Popkin’s, said, “[even] the lake is in mourning today for her.”
Archived article by Samira Chandwani
Sun Staff Writer