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In Memoriam: Dr. Vicki Cassman

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Left: Dr. Vicki Cassman and students practice packing techniques for the Australopithecus afarensis skeleton known as "Lucy." Right: Dr. Dilia Lopez- Gydosh (far right), Director of UD's Historic Textile and Costume Collection, consults on an undergraduate project.

It is with great sadness that we share the news that Professor Emerita Vicki Cassman passed away on August 6, 2020. While her personal and professional accomplishments were many, it is our Vicki who was truly amazing - always positive and caring, radiant, and so very brave. She will forever inspire us with her innate kindness and generosity. She was, and will always remain, the teacher and mentor we all aspire to be. Now and forever. May she rest in peace.

For 12 years, Dr. Vicki Cassman (Ph.D. Arizona State University 1997 in Anthropology)  shared her passion for learning, teaching, and the preservation of cultural heritage with students at the University of Delaware, most recently as the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the UD’s Department of Art Conservation. Dr. Cassman consulted on conservation curriculum development, delivery, and assessment; advised on undergraduate and Master’s-level research activities and internship placements; served on Preservation Studies doctoral committees; and mentored emerging conservation professionals from undergraduate through post-doctoral studies.

Dr. Cassman was a 1985 graduate of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Before returning to the University of Delaware in Fall 2006, she was an itinerant textile conservator, an instructor for the Textile Block for six years (1986-1991) and an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (1997-2006). She is the main editor for the book Human Remains Guide for Museums and Academic Institutions (AltaMira Press 2007). She received the 2012 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Service Award, and the 2012 University of Delaware Excellence in Advising and Mentoring Award. In February 2019, UD launched the first Vicki Cassman Undergraduate Art Conservation Symposiumwhere students from across the university presented talks summarizing research and treatment projects undertaken in the Department of Art Conservation. 

A post on Vicki's Facebook page:

Vicki Cassman's Amazing Life

Vicki Cassman (March 2, 1957 - August 6, 2020)  

"Vicki was born and raised in Berkeley, California – by loving and talented parents Vic and Barbro from whom she inherited her Mother's grace, charm and cooking talents, and her Father's scientific curiosity and playfulness. She gained fluency in Swedish and Spanish, and she traveled for fun and international experiences, which included volunteering on a Kibbutz in Israel, studying traditional weaving at a Swedish Textile Institute – reflecting both her Swedish and Jewish heritage.

Vicki attended U.C. Davis earning an undergraduate degree in art history. She earned a master's in textile science, and headed to Winterthur for graduate studies at the University of Delaware for her master's in art conservation. During her internship in 1983 at the San Miguel de Azapa Museum in Arica, Chile she helped improve practices to preserve ancient textiles and also met her future husband. They married in 1986 (and amicably divorced in 2004) and their son Victor was born in 1995. Victor was always a kind, caring, and thoughtful young man who made his mother very proud. In 1997 Vicki finished her Ph.D. in archaeology on the topic of ethnicity and archaeological textiles in Arica, Chile. Vicki worked as a private conservator and she taught at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. 

In 2006, Vicki and Victor moved to Newark, Delaware, where she accepted a faculty position in the Art Conservation Department at the University of Delaware.  Vicki worked with a team of talented and devoted colleagues for 12 years and during her tenure, oversaw her Department's undergraduate program as well as international studies and internship program, which provided her an opportunity to mentor students from all over the world, a great number with whom she kept in touch with for years. Victor later joined her at UD and graduated with a degree in Physics with minors in math and computer science in 2018. Still the kind, caring son, Victor now the independent adult, excelled in his love of science and works for Intel in Oregon and was always a continued source of tremendous pride and love for Vicki. 

Vicki's diagnosis of Metastatic Breast Cancer robbed her of a job she absolutely loved but could no longer keep to the standards she set for herself. She was so grateful and proud of the brick engraved with her name, presented to her in the Mentor's Circle at the University of Delaware. It represents all of the great interactions she experienced with her students. She was also so thankful for the great and caring colleagues she grew close to at UD!

In late 2018, she returned to California to live in Santa Cruz in the home of her dear friends Marcia Lo, Cole and Doug O'Brien, who generously opened their doors and hearts to her during her arduous cancer treatments and battle.  They provided her a healthy oasis the last two years of her life, three blocks from the Pacific ocean, surrounded by a thriving organic farm just beyond the kitchen door, and the charming and entertaining company of chickens, many which loved Vicki's company. Vicki felt especially grateful to take her very last trip that Marcia had planned for them, which was an amazing textile tour through Japan, seeing ancient art techniques still in practice.

Vicki is survived by her son Victor Arriaza (Oregon); mother Barbro Cassman (98 years old) and her brother Peter Cassman and his family in El Sobrante, CA, as well as "borrowed kids" Kervin Zamora (Netherlands), Manuel Perez and Mariana DiGiacomo (Connecticut), many Aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews, residing in Berkeley, Oakland, Oceanside, Los Angeles, Sweden and Chile, and beloved friends, former colleagues and students living in all parts of the world for whom she immeasurably enriched their lives…but in true Vicki fashion, she would argue otherwise, and insist she was the lucky recipient.

Vicki died of Metastatic Breast Cancer and all its devious complications on August 6, 2020 after an amazingly brave battle. She chose to use the Dignity in Death option close to the end, for which she is most grateful to have had. She chose to be in the peaceful farm with loved ones… and the chickens. Eventually there will be a simple memorial and placement of ashes at Redwood tree #124 (lovingly referred to as the Charlie Brown Redwood) in the Better Place Forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains; date to be determined. 

As a final tribute, Vicki would be eternally grateful if you would vote and inspire others to as well, to ensure a new Administration is in place next January. In lieu of flowers, she would be honored if you would please donate to a climate change fighting organization or health care charity like Partners in Health, gifts that would keep giving in very meaningful ways."

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​Left: Vicki at Old College in 2010. (Photo: Mathieu Plourde.) Right: Vicki and Victor, Fall 2019.

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