Gail Stetson Hollenbeck, aged 79, a longtime resident of Chestnut Hill (in Philadelphia), passed away peacefully on June 11 in the family home in Ormond Beach, Florida, following a two-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease.
Her last days were spent beside the Atlantic Ocean, as were her first. She grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, anticipating the annual road trip to the coast of Maine after the school year ended. As a girl, she enjoyed swimming, sailing, and trips to the scattered islands that dot Casco Bay. It was on one of these trips, to Jewell Island in 1968, that she met Peter Hollenbeck, a recently discharged soldier who would become her husband. The couple were married a year later.
Previous to her marriage, Gail had graduated from American University with a BA. She received a MFA from Pratt Institute in painting and drawing. She was the recipient of a Yaddo fellowship in the same class that included Philip Roth. From 1967 to 1969 she was on the faculty of Skidmore College as an instructor in painting and art appreciation. She continued her education at the Graduate School of the University of Pennsylvania, taking course in quattrocento painting. She served as instructor in Art History at the University of Southern Maine in 1989.
She was born Virginia Gail Stetson in Havre de Grace, Maryland on May 29, 1942, to George and Olive (nee Colby) Stetson, both natives of Maine. Her mother was a homemaker. Her father, a Pentagon mathematician, stationed at nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground during World War II, supervised the work of young women whose job description was ‘computer’. Their labor-intensive job was to calculate the various formulae required for ballistics tables, used by artillery crews. The pressing need to perform the computations more rapidly spurred the development of a mechanical and electronic device which could replace the human ‘computers’.
In 1945, ENIAC, the first modern computer, was shipped from Philadelphia, where it had been assembled, to Aberdeen. Bailey Island, Maine, where her parents owned the house called ‘Tiptop’ had always been Gail’s lodestone and she always maintained a connection with the place and its people. She played an important role in preserving, as open space and public land, the meadow at the head of Mackerel Cove.
With her husband, Gail traveled to many of the Caribbean islands, where she would always speak the native language: French in Martinique, Spanish in Mexico. As an individual, she toured Italy, Spain, and Guatemala, immersing herself in the native culture and visiting museums.As an active artist, Gail worked on abstract expressionist paintings in oil, and her studios – always as close to the water as one could possibly get – included a hut on the Irish coast, a fisherman’s shack on Monhegan, and ‘Edgecliff” her property on Bailey Island.
She was preceded in death by her elder sister, Judith Cobau, of Charleston, South Carolina. Besides Peter, her husband of 51 years, she leaves a sister, Barbara Messamore, of Tampa, and several nieces and nephews. Due to coronavirus restrictions, no funeral plans have been announced. Interment at the Bailey Island Cemetery will be held at an appropriate time to be determined.