June Otani Baensch, a Hastings, N.Y.-based artist, sculptor and illustrator with roots in Southern California, passed away on Aug. 26. She was 78 and had a long struggle with PSP, progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare neurological disease.
Otani Baensch was born on July 7, 1934 in Santa Paula, Ventura County. During World War II, she and her family were interned from May 1942 to November 1945 in Gila River, Ariz.
She attended Pasadena City College and then the Art Center College of Design, where she received a BFA degree with honors. She continued her education in New York by attending the Art Students League, Pratt Graphics Center, and School of Visual Arts.
Otani Baensch started her career working as an assistant art director for Grey Advertising Inc. in New York. She then started her own studio and illustrated fashion that appeared in such leading magazines as Harpers Bazaar and Vogue. Her fine line drawings were recognized by art editors and received the New York Art Directors Club Awards, Philadelphia Art Directors Show Award, and New York Illustrators Club Award.
She illustrated over 20 children’s books, some of which provided cultural awareness based on classic Asian stories, such as “Momotaro,” “Sim Chung” and “River Dragon” for Dell Doubleday publishers. Her work also included the Discovering Science Secrets Series for Scholastic Inc.
She created very different illustrations for four titles published by HarperCollins Publishers, including “Ten Potatoes in a Pot.” Three of her favorite titles that she illustrated were “Chibi: A True Story from Japan,” “Little Dog Poems,” and “Little Dog and Duncan,” released by Clarion Publishers.
Later in her career, she turned to creating wood sculptures, mixed media, and oil paintings, and became a printmaker with two Brandt presses in her studio. Her work was exhibited in over 29 shows, including ranging from four annual exhibits of the National Association of Women Artists, Pratt Graphic Gallery, Silvermine Guild and Hudson River Museum.
In recent years, she was a founding member of the Upstream Gallery and had seven one-person shows from 1997 through 2011. A special experience was her exhibit at the Circolo Artistico gallery in Bologna, Italy in 2000.
She is survived by her husband, Robert E. Baensch; son, Hiroshi Baensch; daughter, Miyoko Nather; and four granddaughters. A memorial service took place on Sept. 9 at the Purple Crayon Center for Learning and Social Innovation in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Cure PSP Foundation, 30 E. Padonia Rd., Suite 201, Timonium, MD 21093 (www.curepsp.org), or the Art Center College of Design, 1700 Lida St., Pasadena, CA 91103 (www.artcenter.edu).