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Arlene Shmaeff

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Arlene Shmaeff Obituary

Arlene Marilyn Shmaeff

Jan. 3, 1941 - Oct. 23, 2013


Arlene passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by family and friends, after an unsuccessful but very courageous battle with a terrible form of lymphoma. She loved family, she nurtured close friendships and she built community. She was an educator, a mentor to many teachers and artists, and an artist and profound critical thinker herself. She collaborated with passion and intelligence in designing strategies for teaching and learning. She struggled for social justice and the environment. She inquired deeply into the spiritual dimension of life and encouraged this same inquiry in those around her.


Arlene grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Fairfax High School and UCLA. She taught in public elementary schools in Los Angeles and the Bay Area and at a progressive school in Philadelphia. She received a Masters of Arts in Education Administration at San Francisco State University in 1977. She left the classroom to become Education Director at the Museum of Children's Art in Oakland (MOCHA, 1994-2010), where she developed programs and curriculum and trained teachers in using art in the classroom to foster creativity and inclusivity, in the project approach, in critical thinking and in emotional intelligence. Later, as a consultant, she continued training and mentoring teachers in many settings. She believed fervently in public education as a matter of inclusivity and equity. She consulted and presented workshops for educators in many colleges and education systems. The teachers she trained and the students they taught learned to believe in themselves and give witness to their lives through their journals, their art, and their music. In a time of cutbacks, Arlene fiercely believed that a just society is built on public education, where there is a need for the arts as creative expression as well as a primary ingredient of learning.


As an artist, Arlene created many paintings, collages and installations. She had gallery shows, but also enjoyed sharing her work generously with friends, and they now hang on the walls of loved ones. Seeing life itself as a canvas, she always insisted on beautifying the environment around her, whether that be her home, the classroom, the forest, or community spaces. She was known for her keen eye and knack of straightening pictures on the wall. She hiked in nature daily with her dog Max, grew a gorgeous garden, and created beauty everywhere, be it with cut flowers in the bathroom or through her loving smile and charismatic ways.


Arlene loved family and friends and would leave no stone unturned to enrich their lives. She leaves behind her husband of 32 years, Terry Kupers, her son Hyim Jacob Ross, her stepsons Eric Kupers (and his husband James Wagner) and Jesse Kupers (and his wife, Karin Graves and their children, Shiloe, Chloe and Judah), her brother Bob Shmaeff (and his wife Osie), her beloved niece, nephews and cousins, her godson Josh Weiss and her goddaughter Bessie Weiss.


There will be a Memorial at 6 PM on Saturday, November 9 at Kehilla Community Synagogue, 1300 Grand Avenue, Oakland, CA 94610. Bring food and drink to share. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are welcomed at the East Bay Regional Parks Foundation.


Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Oct. 27, 2013
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