Influential Edmonton artist Alice Switzer dies from COVID-19

An influential Edmonton artist known for creating public art has died from COVID-19

Alice Switzer marked her 90th birthday on Dec. 28 — and died Sunday in hospital. She was a resident of Rosedale Estates, which is currently experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak.

Her son, David Switzer, said he has received a flurry of condolences and expressions of love.

“To a point of it being quite daunting to channel all this but I’m doing my best,” he said in an interview with CBC’s Radio Active.

Radio Active11:08A prominent Edmonton artist has died from COVID 19

We talk to David Switzer about his mother Alice Switzer’s legacy. 11:08

David said his mother had a fierce intellect — and an elephant’s memory. David remembers one night when his brother came home with his friends at 3 a.m. after a night of drinking. They woke up their mother, demanding to play Trivial Pursuit.

She got out of her pyjamas and proceeded to “destroy these poor gentlemen,” according to David.

“So just remember: my mom gave a lot of love, but it didn’t mean it wasn’t tough at times.”

Public art legacy

Alongside her husband Philip, who died in 2015, Alice Switzer left her mark in schools and art installations across the city.

Switzer spent 30 years as an art instructor at Grant MacEwan, David said, involved in the early days of the fine arts program when it was still run out of a repurposed elementary school building. When the then-college built its former west-end campus, which opened in 1981, Switzer had a hand in deciding its distinctive orange colour.

David said the story goes that she and Stephanie Hawkins, another one of the faculty’s first instructors, were reviewing colours for the new building.

“After a night of drinking apricot brandy, they decided on that lovely burnt amber colour.”

The Centre for Arts and Communications was sometimes appropriately referred to as The Great Pumpkin or The Big Block of Cheese.

Alice Switzer had four children, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren (Submitted by David Switzer)

A fascination with colour also made Switzer well-known for her outfits, which always included purple. 

“She didn’t really own anything that didn’t have any purple on it,” David said.

As artists, Alice Switzer and her husband were responsible for art installations around Edmonton and St. Albert. When there was a fire at Beth Shalom, the couple redid the bronzing for the Hebrew and English lettering on the outside of the synagogue.

Even after retiring, they remained involved in beautifying the city. They secured funding and worked on ceramic murals at the Women’s Emergency Accommodation Centre as well as at Boyle Street Community Services.

“That’s the real message that they were trying to send by doing these things, is that art is not for the elite,” David said.

“Art is what motivates us in the community … It helps us connect to our communities and the more people that are involved and the more people that enjoy this art, the more community we have.”

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