Video: “Sebastian Mendes at work on There is a Mirror in My Heart, a personal artistic response to the heroic actions of his grandfather, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, to rescue Jewish refugees during WWII.”
A Lasting Tribute to Sebastian Michael Mendes
Sebastian believed in curious open mindedness, passionately finding inspiration from the universe, trusting instinct and devotion to it. What matters is not failure, but trial. - former student
Artist, sculptor, mentor, scholar, teacher, husband, father and friend Sebastian Michael Mendes died unexpectedly last April, doing what he loved: bicycling around Lake Whatcom. We miss him each and every day and are eager to channel our grief into a lasting tribute that honors Sebastian's incredible legacy.
Throughout his career as a Professor of Interdisciplinary Art and Sculpture and head of the Sculpture Studio at Western Washington University, Sebastian inspired so many students, colleagues and friends to be their best selves and pursue their passions with boundless intellectual and artistic curiosity.
Through his own intellect, curiosity, quick wit and kind heart, he had a thoughtful way of seeing the potential in all of us, and he cared deeply for humanity. He contributed far beyond the walls of his department at Western. He served on the committee that founded the Ray Wolpow Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
He exhibited his work nationally and internationally in France, Australia, New York and Germany. He traveled throughout Europe to represent his grandfather, Artistides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat who saved the lives of countless Jewish and non-Jewish refugees from the Nazis in WWII. He was instrumental in elevating the curriculum and in bringing international artists to campus.
For these and many other reasons, the Department of Art and Art History at Western Washington University is establishing a memorial fund in his name. Your gift in Sebastian's honor will provide lasting support for the Department to fund student projects, field trips, scholarships and other activities associated with the scholarly work of Art and Sculpture students at Western, a cause near and dear to his heart.
Please join us today with a gift to the Sebastian Michael Mendes Memorial Fund.
Our goal is to raise $25,000 so we can endow the fund and allow it to live on in perpetuity. If we are unable to reach this goal, gifts will be put into an expendable fund to make awards available until the funds raised have been spent.
Thank you for your partnership in creating this lasting tribute to a truly amazing man.
A reflection by one of Sebastian's recent students
One day during my first quarter, Sebastian sat near me, while I stood isolated in the back of the room, waiting for class to end. Pulling out his phone he introduced the genre of outsider art and an artist, Adolfe Wolfli, who used text to create images.
Then he noted that Wolfli was psychologically unstable, and when I shyly gave a concerned look he quickly continued, “Not that I think you’re insane."
Which of course I thought, “Are you sure, ‘cause I’m definitely not.”
Sebastian saw something in me I did not see or expect, and said so every class I had with him. Encouragement prompted a liberating exploration. I fell in love with sculpture. Wood, bronze, even performance.
For the first time, I felt human, real. He saw my voice, and with it I saved my own life.
Sebastian believed in curious open mindedness, passionately finding inspiration from the universe, trusting instinct and devotion to it. What matters is not failure, but trial. There is no good or bad art. An unspoken truth of all educators, professors with tenure, adjuncts, technicians, assistants, friends, family, students, no matter how old… it’s little things, that change and even save lives.
Outside the wood shop one time, Sebastian asked me for a little help. He busied himself putting pipes back into a dismantled organ donated for our class to use. Putting away the last pipe, he asked what music I listened to.
When I said “everything" he paused, and asked without looking at me, “Do you dance when no one is watching?”
Without thinking, I said, “Sometimes.” He turned to me with a quiet, surprised smile.
Honoring Sebastian this spring
There will be a tribute to Sebastian at this spring’s Faculty Biennial in the Western Gallery. A short film will be shown, hopefully in conjunction with some of Sebastian’s work. We would love if you join us there!