Gelsy Verna, 47, passed away unexpectedly, cause of death unknown

On Tuesday afternoon, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Art Department announced that painting professor Gelsy Verna had died unexpectedly. The cause of her death is unknown. Derrick Buisch, an associate professor who worked closely with Verna, said he was not sure when Verna passed away, but colleagues were worried after she did not show up for work. �The most important thing is to understand what a deep loss it is to our department�how this is completely sudden,� he said. Verna’s five-year-old daughter Clara is staying with close family friends. Images of Verna’s work and studio can be found here. Video interview here. Read and write tributes to Gelsy at the family’s memorial website.
Born in Haiti in 1961 to a family forced into exile, Verna grew up in Montreal and came to the United States to attend college, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1990. After teaching at the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History 1992-2000, she accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her work involves a mixed media collage methodology that often combines painting and drawing materials along with printed matter. She worked on paper and consciously merged the appropriated printed symbol with direct evidence of the hand-made mark. “My work continues to use the collage, found images and intuitive process in its approach.” Verna said. “My interest in the intuitive process has led me to pay attention to the work of artists that work through intuition and use reproduction and order as well….The work of artists of the African Diaspora, the production of art from other cultures outside the Western canon… is of great interest to me.” While issues of race, gender and stereotyping were all of interest to Verna, the search for personal and collective identity was of primary importance. Her work alludes to the juxtaposition of political, geographic and other contradictions that all play their roles in shaping a sense of personal place and identity. Her work had been included in shows at Exit Art and the Princeton Museum of Art.


  1. I’m so sad to get this news. I knew Gelsey when she was a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA about 10 years ago. She was talented, smart, funny and dear. I have one of her collages, from her show there. She was being courted by an African man who kept telling her she needed to gain more weight, a sweet story. I wonder if he was still in her life and if he’s her daughter’s father? She shared the fascinating story of her family’s exile from Haiti, and I’ve never forgotten that. My heart goes out to her daughter, her family, and everyone else who has been lucky enough to know her. So sad.

    Polly Burnell
    Provincetown, MA

  2. I am saddened to learn of the untimely passing of a highschool friend of mine, Gelsy Verna. I fondly remember her for her bright, fun-loving spirit, and her gentleness. Gelsy had an ebullient nature which helped bring a ray of light to the everyday routine of school life.
    I will miss her, although I never had the priviledge of knowing her in her latter years.
    God bless her family, and friends at this time of grief.
    Janine Hagerman (Foster)
    Nova Scotia, Canada

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