Gayle Roski, a USC alumna and benefactor who loved watercolor painting, died in Los Angeles on Oct. 21. She was 79 years old.
Roski graduated from USC with a degree in fine arts in 1962. In 2006, she and her husband, USC Trustee Edward Roski, pledged $23 million to what is now called the Roski School of Art and Design. At the time, the gift was the largest single donation to a visual arts school in the U.S., helping put the school on the map, according to current Roski dean Haven Lin-Kirk.
“She understood the legacy the art school had in this region in particular,” Lin-Kirk said. “One hundred and thirty-plus years old. It is, you know, arguably the oldest art school in this region and she just always understood what that meant, what it meant to the city of Los Angeles.”
With the funds donated by Gayle and her husband, the school built an exclusive gallery for graduate students to display their work, increased student fellowships and updated the school’s technology to support the growing design education offered.
Roski was active on USC’s campus not just on alumni and donation boards, but with the students' work as well.
“She had nice exposure to the students,” Roski professor and former dean Ruth Weisberg said. “She came to student openings and she was not remote. She didn’t write a check and disappear — she was really part of the life at the school.”
Roski herself had an extensive art career that spanned continents and mediums. She focused on watercolors and narrative work, using her travels as inspiration and documenting her native Los Angeles. She directed multiple public art projects within Los Angeles and served on the executive board of the California Art Club.
“She was really a keen observer of everything that was happening around her,” Weinberg said. “And she put it in her drawings — she was not an abstract artist.”
Her mark on USC’s campus reached beyond the art school in 2016 after she and her husband made a $25 million dollar donation to endow the Roski Eye Institute at the Keck School of Medicine. Roski herself received cataract treatment at the institute, which allowed the artist to visualize color and light in a whole new perspective, according to her statement following the donation.
“The Roskis' endorsement brought us all together and energized us,” co-director of the Roski Eye Institute said in a statement to Annenberg Media. “We are forever indebted to Ed and Gayle Roski and are incredibly saddened to hear of the passing away of Gayle. Gayle loved to paint and very much appreciated the importance of vision and the mission of the Roski Eye Institute which is to end vision loss and blindness.”
Roski’s latest series depicted famous landmarks throughout Southern California. In one painting, Roski painted herself alongside Weisberg and Lin-Kirk surrounded by students displaying their latest work in front of the art building itself.
“She was just constantly making art and what an example that is to our students,” Weisberg said. “That kind of dedication and identification with your work. So I think her spirit will animate the school for many, many years to come.”
Roski is survived by her husband Edward, as well as her three children and eight grandchildren.