Elena Varshavskaya graduated from university as a teacher of the English and German languages. She worked at the St. Petersburg Hermitage Museum Department of Education for 20 years. She arrived to the US in 1996 and, after receiving her PhD degree in Art History, taught a wide variety of courses at the Rhode Island School of Design and Eastern Connecticut State University with a main interest in Japanese woodblock prints. Elena curated and co-curated exhibits at Springfield Museum, MA, and RISD Museum, taking particular inspiration in teaching a curating course at RISD where, under her careful supervision, her students created books reflecting various topics in Japanese art. Elena authored numerous research articles in art history, as well as her major life work, the book Heroes of Grand Pacification, which she wrote in both English and in Russian. (Obituary)
Elena Varshavskaya first reached out to SRAS in 2005. I honestly don’t recall how she found us, only that it was related to an art program she was planning to lead in St. Petersburg and that she was bringing a group of RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) students. That was the start of a long relationship, working together to introduce students to the art, architecture, and museums of Russia.
I am confident my impressions and memories of Elena are shared by anybody who had the fortune to interact with her – whether as a colleague, student, or friend. She had an incredible wealth of knowledge, experience, and contacts – and an intense desire to share it all with others. She was so giving of her time in all respects and she had seemingly boundless energy. It is really impossible to overstate these qualities and their impact on others – “life changing” in the words of many of our students.
I will always treasure the experience of working with Elena. Not only did she influence the development of SRAS over many years, she furthered my own appreciation for art and museum design.
– Renee Stillings, Director
Elena Varshavskaya was a remarkable woman who impressed anyone she met with her energy and the passion she had for her profession. Our students learned much from her and she also contributed to our organization in many ways. Under her direction, each summer students exhibited their work at the Hermitage Education Center, even compiling a catalogue of their work as in this example from 2012. Students always spoke highly of her, as can be seen in the many reviews here of the Art and Museums in Russia program.
Elena also contributed to our recent SRAS Cookbook, which also acted as a history of our organization, with a page describing her work with our art programs.
Elena will be deeply missed and fondly remembered.
– Josh Wilson, SRAS
I vividly recall my first meeting with Elena in summer of 2015 in a coffee shop in St. Petersburg. I knew after a few minutes that I had met someone special. Her kindness, enthusiasm and energy were infectious, and I found great joy in observing students trying to keep up with her. Elena’s arrival and presence each summer always left me feeling reinvigorated and inspired. Her genuine compassion for others and passion for teaching and discovery will stay with me always.
– April Djakoniya, SRAS