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In Memoriam – Michael C. Spafford

Submitted on February 2, 2022 - 1:04pm
Michael Spafford with artwork
Michael Spafford with one of his artworks

The School of Art + Art History + Design is sad to share the passing of Professor Emeritus Michael C. Spafford on January 29, 2022. He taught at the University of Washington from 1963 to 1994.


Spafford was born in Palm Springs, California in 1935 and grew up in Southern California. He received a BA from Pomona College in 1959, followed by a MA from Harvard University in 1960. He moved with his wife, artist Elizabeth Sandvig, to Mexico City in 1960, where he lived and worked before accepting a position to teach art and art history at the University of Washington in 1963. Professor Emeritus since 1994, he was an active and influential member of the Seattle arts community. Spafford showed with Francine Seders Gallery from 1966 until the gallery closed in 2013. He continued to paint and exhibit up until his death.

Spafford used Greco-Roman mythology as the catalyst for a body of work spanning 60 years. He returned to certain epics tales, including The Labors of Hercules, The Iliad, and The Odyssey, reworking multiple versions in various formats.

Spafford's honors and awards include a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant in 1966 and Rome Prize Fellowships in 1967 and 1968; a King County Arts Commission's Honors Award, 1979; an Art Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1983; and the first Neddy Artist Fellowship from The Behnke Foundation in 1996. In 2005, he was invited to be Artist-In-Residence at Dartmouth College which included a major exhibition of recent paintings. He was honored with Lifetime Contribution to Northwest Art Award (shared with wife Elizabeth Sandvig) in 2017. His work is included in the collection of Seattle Art Museum, WA; Tacoma Art Museum, WA; Mexican-North American Cultural Institute, Mexico; Museum of Modern Art, Dallas, TX; Cheney Cowles Museum, Spokane, WA; Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Willamette University, Salem, OR; Jundt Art Museum, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA; and Museum of Art, Washington State University, Pullman.

Memorial Gifts

The family suggests donations be made in Spafford’s name to any nonprofit supporting the arts. No public events are planned, per the artist’s wishes.


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