obituary of Gerda Rubinstein | Sculpture

My mother, Gerda Rubinstein Stevens (using her maiden name for her work), who passed away at the age of 90, had a long and fruitful career as a sculptor, first in the Netherlands and then in the United Kingdom.

Gerda was born in Berlin; two years later, in 1933, the family moved to Amsterdam. In 1940, her father, Willem Rubinstein, an outerwear designer and clothing maker, was taken by the Nazis to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he died.

Since her mother, Hanne (nee Hamm), who was her husband’s PA and then a partner in his company, was not Jewish and their three children were baptized, they survived World War II and the hardships of the Dutch Hunger Winter of 1944. Despite, or perhaps because of this, Gerda has always had a very positive outlook on life.

Much later she wrote on her website that “the feeling of freedom and hope I experienced as a teenager in the Netherlands, after five years of occupation, has never really left me and still colors my work”.

After the war, Gerda went to the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam and received a scholarship to study in Paris with Ossip Zadkine. Back in the Netherlands, Gerda received her first major commission for a stone sculpture, unveiled in IJmuiden in 1956, followed by Playing Children, a bronze sculpture for the Oosterpark in Amsterdam, which is still very much loved today.

Gerda Rubinstein working on City, a 1970 commission for Harlow’s new city

In 1958, while visiting London, she met Christopher Stevens, an architect. They married in 1959 and moved to Blackheath, where Gerda soon became involved with the Blackheath Art Society and made many friends.

An acquaintance with Sir Frederick Gibberd, the architect and landscape designer, led to commissions for several pieces for the new town of Harlow, in Essex, and the Gibberd Garden. Gerda exhibited regularly throughout her career and found inspiration all around her. Her work can be found in many private collections, with further public commissions in Utrecht, Dudley, London, Watford and Bielefeld, Germany.

From 1967 until her retirement in 1996 at age 65, Gerda taught sculpture at the adult education institutions of the Inner London Education Authority in Lewisham and Greenwich. She was an inspiring teacher and her classes were, as she said, open to students aged 18 to 80; many became close friends and several became professional artists, thanks to her generosity of her time and expertise. She didn’t want to retire, but it was mandatory as an Ilea employee.

After moving to Reigate, Surrey in 2008, she continued to work in her garden studio well into her eighties. In recent years she had become less mobile and her memory was deteriorating. But she never lost her positivity.

Gerda is survived by Christopher, me and her grandson, JJ.

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