Sebastian Mendes, born in San Francisco in 1948, died unexpectedly on Thursday, April 26, doing what he loved – bicycling around Lake Whatcom. He was a proud father, devoted husband, and Professor of Art who was a member of the Western Washington University faculty since 2001.
Sebastian was a native of San Francisco and visited there often. He had graduate diplomas from St. Martin’s School of Art in London, and Stanford University. He had exhibited his work nationally and internationally in France, Australia, New York, and Germany. He recently returned from a residency in Wittstock, Germany where he was working on a new multi-media project.
He traveled throughout Europe to represent his grandfather, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat who saved the lives of countless Jewish and non-Jewish refugees from the Nazis in WWII. His family history was of ultimate importance to him, and was threaded throughout his personal, professional, and creative process. In fact, as an active amateur bicyclist, he participated in the 2015 Ski To Sea Race in honor of his grandfather.
As head of the sculpture program, Mendes sought to extend the reach of his students' artwork beyond simple participation. He helped students push the boundaries and redefine sculpture—from installing temporary exhibits in Western’s Red Square, to creating site specific, multi-layer sound-based installations. His impact on the curriculum was substantial, and he sought to elevate art-making and critical thinking in all its forms. Many of the students who have worked with him have gone on to achieve success, as teachers, professionals, and artists.
As a standing member of the Western Sculpture Collection Acquisitions Committee, he was instrumental in bringing international artists to campus, and coordinated BEAF, Bellingham’s Electronic Arts Festival, in addition to inviting countless artists in conjunction with the department’s visiting lecture series. He was a leading member of many committees and foundations, as well as an influential member of Western’s union—he was a vocal Union Steward. Other contributions to Western also included his production of a regularly broadcast program called Yellow Radio, featuring international experimental sound and music.
His intellect, sense of curiosity, quick wit, and incredible grasp of historical detail will be much missed. Aside from his extensive knowledge surrounding 3D sculpture, he was a renaissance man and generalist who could advise on almost any topic—from Victorian inventions to high-tech sound installations; his experience was vast.
Friendship was something very important to Sebastian, and he maintained lifelong relationships with a complex network of friends around the world. Sebastian will be missed on all fronts, not only by family, friends, and colleagues, but also by the thousands of students that he impacted throughout his career.
Western's College of Fine and Performing Arts, the Western Gallery, and the Department of Art and Art History will be hosting a celebration of Sebastian’s life in the Western Gallery on Thursday, May 10, 5-7pm. All are welcome to attend. Please call (360) 650-3660 for disability accommodations.
In lieu of flowers, gifts in memory of Sebastian Mendes may be made to the Art & Art History Department via the Western Washington University Foundation online; or by check payable to the WWU Foundation and mailed to: WWU Foundation, 516 High Street, Bellingham, WA 98225-9034 . Please indicate Mendes Scholarship on the memo line of the check.