Monday, January 13, 2020

Melvin Joel Zabarsky passed away peacefully at his home on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019.

photo of Melvin Zabarsky in front of painting
Melvin Zabarsky at UNH in 1993. photo Courtesy of UNH Archives.

Melvin Zabarsky, professor emeritus of art, was a narrative painter who examined the power of myth and its profound meaning. His work was an exploration of philosophy, history, spirituality and intellectual curiosity. Mel's paintings are held in numerous public and private collections.

In 1969, Mel was hired as chair of the Art Department at UNH, where he was a catalyst in developing the Bachelor of Fine Arts program and, in his last years at UNH, the Master of Fine Arts program. As senior faculty, he mentored many faculty at the beginning of their teaching careers at UNH. He helped to create a cohesive department culture for both the faculty and the students. He retired in 1997.

Mel was an astute visual observer and a strong critic at student reviews. His rigorous standards helped to ensure that the department’s students were of the highest caliber. He was naturally authoritative. His intelligent and dry sense of humor was welcome at faculty meetings and he was clear-eyed keeper of the institutional memory of the UNH Department of Art and Art History.

The Zabarsky home was filled with beautiful objects and paintings, things of refinement and rarity that he and Joyce bought over many years and with modest resources. Sabbaticals abroad and in-depth travel after retirement were important to the continuing artistic growth of both Mel and Joyce. Both were very active in preserving large swaths of Portsmouth neighborhoods during the onslaught of “urban renewal.”

Mel was born on Aug. 21, 1932, in Worcester, Mass. He is survived by daughter Hannah and son-in-law Paul Burke; grandchildren Christopher, Ian and Julia; daughter Lydia Zabarsky; and sister, Myrna Miller.

Mel overcame a difficult childhood with immigrant parents who passed away when he was a child. His resilience and drive led him to the Worcester Art Museum School where he met his wife Joyce. He went on to get an undergraduate degree from Boston University, studied at The Ruskin School in Oxford, England, and received his Master's Degree from The University of Cincinnati.

Mel taught at Swain School in New Bedford, Mass.; he then job-shared with his wife Joyce at Wheaton College. This allowed for the mutual care of their first daughter, Hannah.

In this last year of his life, Melvin, always of good humor, cherished the galvanizing love from his family and the support system that surrounded him. Mel will be greatly missed by his family, colleagues and former students.

A memorial celebration is planned for January. Details will be forthcoming.

Grant Drumheller | Department of Art and Art History