Artist Aron remembered as ‘sweet soul’

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Those closest to Marlene Aron, a well-traveled artist, lecturer and peace activist, knew the woman as “a sweet soul” who kept the local arts community in her heart even while spending the latter half of her life on the West Coast.

Aron’s latest exhibition, titled “Reflections,” opened Friday at The Reclaimed Room in San Francisco. Its packed opening night instead became a memorial service for the 75-year-old, who died after being struck by traffic the day before.

Aron, who often created floor or environmental sculpture installations using natural materials such as soil, mulch, melted beeswax and wood ash, had been putting “the finishing touches” on her latest showing earlier that day, said her partner, Thomas Wishing – and she was pleased with its final shape.

“You couldn’t have even gotten any more people into the gallery. She would have been thrilled to see it,” he said. “Condolences have been coming in continually from all over the world – night and day. She touched very many people’s lives – hundreds of people’s lives.”

The Youngstown-born Aron earned her bachelor of arts degree from Youngstown State University in 1966, studied at an academy in The Hague, The Netherlands, and in 1992 earned her master’s degree in fine arts from California College of the Arts in Oakland, Calif. Her work was shown at dozens of exhibitions across the U.S. and Europe, including Youngstown State University’s John J. McDonough Museum of Art and the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, which purchased several of her pieces for its permanent collection.

Wishing said Aron’s art was a “meditative” process for her.

“My work addresses our relationship with the earth, our body, our breath, our spirit,” Aron wrote in an artist’s statement provided by The Butler. “I use the strength of nature, of timeless and permanent materials, to create temporary, ephemeral works. Each work is unique to the time and place in which it is created.”

Aron also lectured on art and art history at several American colleges including YSU - to which she returned in 2003 after years living in California - and Kent State University. She studied Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh for more than four decades and lectured on him for the last 20 years and at The Butler as recently as last year.

“[Aron] was always fun to be around. Marlene always had a smile,” said Aron’s cousin David Broida, one of several dozen relatives scattered across the U.S. now reconnecting to mourn. “Her family’s deeply saddened by her loss.”

Funeral services have yet to be planned for Aron, Wishing said.

Louis Zona, the Butler’s executive director, said he shared many classes with Aron at YSU and was “crushed” by news of her death. He and Aron kept in touch while she lived in California, frequently about institute exhibitions.

“She was a sweet soul who lived for her art and lived for her friends. She was a much-admired person in our community,” he said. “On occasions she came home she would spend a lot of time here at the museum staring at the paintings she’d enjoyed over a lifetime.”

After Aron’s death, institute operators placed an exhibit in her memory in the central hall. This year’s Area Artists Annual Exhibition at the Butler’s Trumbull branch will be dedicated to Aron, Zona said. On Tuesday, San Francisco city officials also honored Aron, Wishing said.

Wishing said he and Aron had already booked “the trip of a lifetime” to Europe, so Aron could reconnect with old German friends, research her lectures in van Gogh Museum archives in Amsterdam and visit Paris. The two “met by chance and found love late in life,” he said.

Sullenly, Wishing said he’s trying for a refund.

“I wouldn’t want to go without her,” he said.