Sheila Eaton Isham of Sagaponack Dies April 9 - 27 East

Sheila Eaton Isham of Sagaponack Dies April 9

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Sheila Eaton Isham

Sheila Eaton Isham

authorStaff Writer on Apr 23, 2024

Sheila Isham, a world renowned artist known for her signature abstract paintings passed away in New York City on Tuesday April 9th. She was 96 years old. Sheila’s work is included in permanent collections at the MOMA and the Hirschhorn. She held solo exhibitions at the Smithsonian American Arts Museum, the Corcoran Gallery, the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Hermitage Museum. Sheila, and her late husband, Heyward, lived in Sagaponack for over 50 years where she maintained a studio in Southampton on Mariner drive. Sheila was an involved member of The Parrish Art Museum and Guild Hall where she is represented in their permanent collections.

Sheila was a trailblazer. She excelled at anything she put her mind to; including painting, cultural studies, fifty-nine years of marriage, and motherhood. Her marriage to Heyward Isham, an American Foreign Service Officer, was deeply rooted in respect, religion, and love, all of which she made sure was deeply felt 
by her children. She lit up rooms (and galleries) with her piercing blue eyes, quick witted humor, and electric spirit.

Sheila was born in New York City in 1927. She attended Garrison Forest School and Bryn Mawr College. She married Heyward Isham soon after graduation . In 1950, Isham became the first foreigner after World War II to attend the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts before living all over the world in Paris, Moscow, Washington, Hong Kong, and Haiti–all of which greatly influenced her work as an artist. In 1954, she was given her first one-person exhibition at Galerie Springer in Berlin before moving to Moscow where she continued in her studies. While in Moscow she had rare access to the diplomat George Costakis’ collection of Russian avant-garde artists. Fearless, she was occasionally arrested during her time in Moscow for sketching certain historic structures.

The multi-medium artist was continuously influenced and inspired by new cultures. She maintained a signature voice and style which could be seen throughout her entire body of work. Known for turning the artistic status quo on its head, she often worked with found objects such as sponges and seaweed (found on the beaches in Sagaponack) which she would hold against the canvas and spray with acrylic paint. This fused together the natural, spiritual, and artistic world to create works that were filled with compelling contradictions and provided an overall thought-provoking viewing experience.

By the late 1950s her work was already included in the Yale University Art Gallery and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Between 1968-1978 she created large-scale abstract paintings known as “Energy Fields,” which wove together new cultures and spiritual themes–a common thread in her work. These pieces were exhibited in 2023 at NYC’s Hollis Taggart gallery. In 2004, the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg honored Isham with a 50-year retrospective.

She spent her final years working out of her Sagaponack home and Southampton studio while soaking up every second of being a great grandmother. If there’s one message that can be gleaned from her lifetime of work, it’s that the world isn’t as large and mysterious as it may seem. It’s a place filled with so much to learn, live, and grow from. During a time when travel wasn’t as accessible as it is today, Isham’s expansive collection of work brought the corners of the earth to everyone–teaching them the practices, the spirituality, and the joy that the world has to offer. Sheila is survived by her two sons Christopher E. Isham and Ralph H. Isham, 9 grandchildren, and 14 great grandchildren. Sheila’s daughter, Sandra Isham Vreeland, died in 1996.

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