Sylvia Louise Mitchell, a life-long artist, Detroiter, curator of history, art museum lover and star-gazer, died Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. She was 89.
She died peacefully, surrounded by her family, at Munson Medical Center of complications of COPD.
Sylvia Louise Clark, was born on Sept. 16, 1928, in Cleveland, Ohio. Her early upbringing occurred in the small town of Geneva, Ashtabula County, in northeastern Ohio. Her family moved to Detroit in the early 1930s where she grew up.
Her mother, Mary Emily Nye, was born in 1902; graduated from Oberlin College; and died at mid-life of breast cancer when Sylvia was in her mid-twenties. Her father, Howard Hoy Clark, was born in 1903; grew up in Albion, Pennsylvania; graduated from Case; became an electrical engineer; and was a life-long Republican. In 1952, when Sylvia voted for the first time in a U.S. presidential election, she chose Adlai Stevenson, the Democrat, her father said: "I knew I shouldn't have sent you to the University of Michigan!" Sylvia had two younger siblings: a sister and brother.
Sylvia often described herself as a Detroit "east-sider" and attended Cass Technical High School where she focused on visual art and history. At that time at Cass Tech, Sylvia met her future husband, Richard Mitchell. Even though Richard was a "west-sider" they later married in 1953.
Sylvia attended the University of Michigan, graduated in 1950 and continued with master's studies in history at Radcliffe College. Among her professors there was Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
At a time when women interrupted independent paths to become home makers, Sylvia left graduate school to marry and start a family. Sylvia and Richard lived in the cities of Detroit, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Grand Ledge, Utica, Grosse Point Farms and Traverse City. They raised three children who each followed independent paths, toward science; the arts; business; and philanthropy.
One of Sylvia's many strengthswherever she lived or traveled, and whatever her circumstanceswas her ability to bring her intellect, curiosity and her artist's way of seeing the world as fascinating and inspiring. Upon arriving in each new city, Sylvia would research local history, learn about community offerings and seek out friends and opportunities in the arts.
The great thread of her life as an artist was to make visual the ideas, observations or curiosities of that moment. The subjects of her artwork were about what she was experiencing, wondering, observing, or learning. Over her long life, Sylvia produced a robust body of work, comprising drawing, painting, print-making, paperworks, fiber art, and both sculptural and functional ceramics. At one point, she had a ceramic studio and kiln in her basement. At the age of 75 when she observed it was increasingly likely that she could burn the house down, she gave up ceramics and returned to painting and drawing.
Sylvia is survived by her daughter, Emily; her sons, Wesley and Thomas; her grandchildren, Jens and Soren Nielsen, Helen and Maggie Mitchell; her sister, Catherine; and brother, Richard Clark; her husband, Richard died of Alzheimer's in 1998.
She was deeply appreciative of others and brought good humor and blunt wit to the most complex human situations. She saw herself as part of the interconnected cosmos, making a practice of looking upward at the stars.
Known as "Sally" she was intelligent, principled, determined and always kind.
In lieu of flowers, gifts in Sylvia Mitchell's name may be made to Organizing for Action (www.ofa.us), or locally to the Dennos Museum Center (www.dennosmuseum.org).
A celebration of her life will be planned at a later time.
Published on February 18, 2018