Vivian Heywood, 1923–2019

Vivian Heywood, professor emerita of art, died April 23, 2019, at her home in Mount Vernon, Iowa, at the age of 96.

Vivian Heywood
Vivian Heywood, from the Cornell Archives.

Heywood taught art at Cornell from 1963 to 1988. In the foreward to her 1992 retrospective exhibition program, then Dean of the College Dennis Damon Moore wrote, “Vivian has always combined the abstract and the reflective with the down-to-earth and the concrete. These qualities, joined with modesty, passion, and a genuine interest in others, have made her a resourceful colleague, and engaging teacher, and an accessible and exciting artist.” 

She kept a studio in the Mount Vernon home she inhabited since 1958, completing her final painting at age 94.

The full obituary from the family, which follows, notes that the date is not yet set for an event celebrating her life.

Vivian Eleanor Heywood
January 8, 1923 – April 23, 2019

Vivian Heywood passed away early in the morning on April 23rd just as the birds were waking up. Very peacefully, she swished through that door, slipped out of her skin, into the transforming light.

She was an artist to the core, in both her work and daily life. Art and family were her twin passions. She loved spending time in her studio absorbed in painting, but never let her work take precedence over the needs of her family, students, and friends. She brought her artistic flair to everything she did, including life’s necessities.

Vivian Heywood and student
Vivian Heywood works with a student. From the Cornell Archives.

Vivian was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, to Merlin and Anna Marie Yergey, the second of two daughters. She spoke fondly of her tomboy childhood in a neighborhood where the wooded ridge of Mount Penn rose from their backyard. She had fond memories of her parents, though both of them left her much too soon. When Vivian was 15 Merlin and Anna Marie died within a couple months of each other. Thanks to two aunts and a college fund her parents had saved, she was cared for through high school and was able to enroll at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

At Drexel Vivian earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees in design, completing the latter in 1947, and was appointed Instructor of Art. During this time in Philadelphia she met her future husband, Charles William (Bill) Heywood, who was earning his graduate degree in history at the University of Pennsylvania.

Vivian and Bill were married on June 30, 1950, in Wooster, Ohio, where Bill had taken his first teaching job and Vivian found work teaching art and English in the Wayne County public schools.

Vivian Heywood
Vivian Heywood and her art, from the Cornell Archives.

The couple moved to Mount Vernon and started a family in 1954 after Bill was hired as a history professor at Cornell College. The first of their three children, Philip, was born at the end of that year. Ann was born in 1958 and Eric in 1961.

Vivian’s teaching career at Cornell College started in 1958 when she was hired as part-time Instructor of Art. Over the next 30 years she was promoted to Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and finally full Professor of Art. While her principal interests were painting and textiles, she was a versatile artist who was at home in a variety of media. She taught basic design, metal and textile design, drawing, and painting. Her work was often inspired by her travels, which included trips to the American West and Southwest, Greece, England, Mexico, and Peru. She exhibited in numerous galleries around the state, culminating in a Vivian Heywood Retrospective show at Cornell’s Armstrong Gallery in 1992. She continued painting well into her 90s, completing her most recent piece at age 94.

Countless students, colleagues, artists, and creative people of all stripes thrived on her gracious, vibrant friendship and supportive involvement in their lives. The love and support she extended to her children, grandchildren, friends, and friends’ children never stopped. To the very end her love was radiant. She lived out her 96 years in her own home, just the way she wanted it.

Vivian is preceded in death by her husband Bill and sister Dorothy. She is survived by her three children, Philip (Paula), Ann (Philip) and Eric (Kristin); and four grandchildren, Eleanor Heywood, Jean Heywood, Zoe van Buren and Peter van Buren. The date is not yet set for an event celebrating her life. Memorial donations may be directed to your charity of choice.

  • Vivian Heywood

    Vivian Heywood in her home studio, 2018. Photo by Robyn Schwab Aaron '07

  • Vivian Heywood

    Vivian Heywood in her home studio, 2018. Photo by Robyn Schwab Aaron '07

  • Viviani Heywood

    Vivian Heywood, from the Cornell Archives.

  • Vivian Heywood

    Vivian Heywood, with son Eric on her lap, from the Cornell Archives.

  • Vivian Heywood and student

    Vivian Heywood works with a student. From the Cornell Archives.

  • Vivian Heywood

    Vivian Heywood, from the Cornell Archives.

  • Vivian Heywood

    Vivian Heywood and her art, from the Cornell Archives.