Sharing Memories of Andy

Below are memories of Andy as shared by family, friends, students and colleagues.

This is an extremely sad time for me and my family. We all may be comforted to know that my father passed peacefully, with me beside him and his favorite Mahler symphonies playing.

More than all his achievements, Andy was my dad. He raised me and made me the person I am, and was my greatest mentor and inspiration. I am honored and grateful that I was able to care for him over the last months of his life, and in doing so, had the privilege of being around him every day.

I grew up with the Gould Hall Shop as my second home, and I consider my dad's students to be the siblings I never had. May we all strive to live up to his standards of creativity, intelligence, integrity, humility and quiet excellence. He set a high bar for everyone.

— Peter Vanags

One of my first memories of Andy is from the time of Zinta's and my wedding in 1959. His parents Peteris (Peter I) and Lucija served as the couple leading us to the altar to be united. After the wedding celebration party, Andy and his brother Peter (Peter II) drove us to the NYC Port Authority terminal to board a bus to Princeton, the start of our honeymoon.

During subsequent years, we frequently traveled to Seattle to meet Andy and Arija. Probably during the first of these meetings in 1969 we hiked to the Pacific coast on the Cape Alava trail near Lake Ozette, camping on the beach. Since Arija was pregnant, Peter III was also present. This was our first introduction to the beautiful scenery and hiking in the Olympic Peninsula. During our home visits while living in Japan, Seattle was usually the first US stop. Thus we frequently continued our exploration of the Mt. Olympus area during the 1970s.

Fast forward a decade or two: we're living in Pasadena, I'm working at JPL. To get away from the LA urban blight, we try to spend summer vacations either in Europe, the Sierras in California, or driving up the Pacific coast through California and Oregon. During one of the coastal trips, we get the idea of acquiring some land for possible future retirement. After some looking, we come across a 1/2 acre plot just outside of Florence and decide that it will probably be sheltered enough from the ocean winds. The land is purchased in 1992, but we're still far from retirement. In order to hear a professional opinion, we arrange to spend the Christmas holidays in a rented house in Florence together with Andy and Arija. Andy looks at our land and likes it well enough to volunteer to build us a house there. He estimates that it would take two summers, using some of his ex-students, as well as Zinta and Ojars to serve as crew.

The project proceeds quickly: drawings, permits, and some external contractors. Jeff Hegg supervised the initial work in early 1993 while living in a trailer on site. Chris Cooksy was the other full-time worker, while Zinta and Ojars spent the one month during each of the summers of 1993 and 1994. The initial tasks included tarring the foundation concrete, and moving endless wheelbarrow loads of sand from the excavated pile to places where it was needed for landscaping. Later on I recall cutting numberless pieces of 2x4s and 2x6s to the required shapes. At some point after all this, I'm complimented by Andy for knowing which side of the marked line to saw on (for millimeter accuracy!) In addition to learning some of the fine points of carpentry and construction, those summer months were excellent physical exercise. Likewise for Zinta, who often prepared our meals in the basement one-man kitchen and served the results to the diners up above. We all enjoyed the coastal weather, which very seldom induced sweat even in hard-toiling people.

We've continued living in our craftsman-style house since 1998, ever thankful and grateful for Andy's work on our behalf. During the last few years of his life we met a number of times, and found the same Andy from 50 years ago: perceptive, clever and original. Pleased to have known him!

— Ojars Sovers

For more than 20 years we have been living in the Craftsman style house that Andy designed and built for us. In the morning I read the local newspaper on the sunny front porch. Later as the sun moves high in the sky I move to the cozy window seat on the West side of the house. From there I watch the Pacific Ocean white capped waves crash against the shore. Later colorful sunsets blaze over the horizon where the ocean meets the sky. Thank you cousin Andy for your wisdom in building us this perfect retirement home in Florence, OR.

— Zinta Sovers

Andy was a special and warm person who welcomed me into his “family”, creating a close friendship that lasted for over 40 years. My immediate family has been fortunate to share many holidays and recreational activities with the Vanags’ over decades. It will be difficult to imagine Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years without him.

Christmas Eve was a special time when we were all treated to a traditional Latvian meal with a roasted goose, Latvian sauerkraut and a whole assortment of side dishes. Grandma Lucija also brought her home-made piragi, farmer’s cheese and dill pickles.

Andy loved to sail, fish and ski. His beloved “Watermelon”, a 20’ cutter rig, was a beautiful old wooden boat that required a fair bit of maintenance. Several summers were spent at a boatyard working on the trim, deck, engine and paint. Andy loved old wooden boats and cursed the ‘characterless’ fiberglass sail boats. As we sweated working in the hot sun scraping and repainting the “Watermelon”, I had to point out to him that it seemed as though the plastic “tupperware” boats were out on the water sailing while we were slaving away.

Once the boat repairs were completed, Andy enjoyed sailing with his family and friends in the Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. Fishing off the boat was also a favored pastime, but not particularly successful in the fish caught department. We did, however, on occasion have wonderful discussions and solved many of the world’s problems with the assistance of some cold beer. Once the Vanags’ relocated to Marrowstone Island, crabbing, shrimping and clamming became the focus of their recreational adventures. This time however, Andy purchased a low maintenance C-Dory (a plastic boat).

A memorable ski adventure was our trip to Winthrop for cross country skiing. Sun Mountain Lodge was a convenient location for us to spend three days skiing on the many trails and enjoying the heated swimming pool for soothing our sore muscles.

Crystal Mountain was the desired destination for downhill skiing. Andy was a very good skier and he patiently instructed me (a guy from Hawaii) in the fundamentals of working my way down a slope without hurting myself. He certainly had the patience of Job.

— Barry Onouye

I first met Andy in our junior year Industrial Design class at the University of Washington, and our friendship began in earnest after we graduated in 1967. I spent Labor Day weekend of that year helping Andy tear off the roof of his house during the initial stages of his remodel. Being a bachelor, I was always worked for food. Later that year I purchased a Skandinavian Folkboat in Anacortes, and Andy and Arija helped me as crew on a wild December race to Rosario Resort. He continued crewing with me on races, driving his old Porsche 356A up to Anacortes on Sundays to help me win a few.

In the fall of 1968, he and Arija moved into my rental house while their house was under construction, and we survived that cold snowy December and January.

When I married in 1971, he was one of my ushers.

After I brought my boat south to Seattle, and had to rebuilt the bow stem and redeck it, he provided much needed advice and help to get it done.

Unfortunately, we drifted apart due to my own family and business interests, but had reconnected last summer and I was hoping to see him again soon.

I'm sad that I waited too long to do so.

— Joe Maricich

I would like to share a letter I wrote to the Department, in 2018, about Andy, for the CBE Distinguished Faculty Award for Lifetime Achievement. I cherish the memories I had with him. How lucky I was to be able to have Andy as a mentor.

February 2018

This letter is written in support of Andy Vanags, as a nomination, for the CBE Distinguished Faculty Award for Lifetime Achievement. I consider it a privilege and an honor to have worked and studied under the guidance of Andy during my 504 Winter Quarter 2006 Furniture Studio. His extensive experience and knowledge in the world of materials, and their connections, made this studio, not so much about building a piece of furniture, but about building Architecture. The process that I personally went through in the design of my Reading Chair proved to me just that. Furniture design is the working relationship between form and function at its most magnified scope. Andy made that clear. Andy taught us this. I will always remember the afternoon that Andy sat in the final mock-up of my chair for the first time. Waiting with bated breath, I was simultaneously anxious, fearful and hopeful. What would this teacher, mentor and guide, that I so valued the approval of, say? He was silent for a moment, grasped the arm rests, looked around and underneath the seat where he was sitting, and then finally looked up at me, and simply said, "It's comfortable." I couldn't contain the feeling of triumph - and smiled, threw my arms in the air, and yelled, "Success!" I was only half way to the finish, but it was one of the most satisfying moments of the quarter.

Andy always tells it like it is, and cares that his students understand why. I fully respect him for that. Andy worked alongside us, and continued to guide and educate every step of the way. He dedicated his time and energy to each and every student. His commitment to the students, and the knowledge he instilled, largely enabled the extraordinary achievements of the Furniture studio.

I believe it is due to Andy's unparalleled expertise, and his ability to clearly instruct, explain and demonstrate the logistics of the goal ahead, that allowed for such a high level of craft to be achieved. It is the desire for this high standard of design and craft that I take with me into my future career as an Architect. Andy helped instill this in me, and I feel so lucky to have had that privilege.

— Kari Callahan, M.Arch 2007

I came to Andy’s studio when I was a grad student in 2002 I believe. With 15 years as a journeyman carpenter and cabinet maker I felt as if I had a pretty good handle on woodworking. Andy started our course with an extensive exploration on the true nature of wood and how to understand its complicated characteristics. This evolved to a journey of craft and making that opened up a new world to me. I draw upon those lessons to this day in my practice as an Architect and will be eternally grateful to Andy and Penny for that imparted language.

— Nonda Trimis

Andy single-handedly changed the trajectory of my career. And that change has brought me so many amazing experiences and relationships. Not to mention the personal impact he made as a truly special mentor in all things - work AND life. I truly cannot express how profoundly grateful I am to not only have been lucky enough to cross paths with him, but I was fortunate enough to hang out at that intersection for a while too. He was such a fountain of knowledge and experience.... I could’ve kept learning from him for many more years. I have always felt honored that he asked me to be his TA for both quarters (undergrad and grad levels) of the furniture studio in 2006 - as I learned as much, if not more, from teaching alongside him and Penny during those studios as I had during my own time as a student in Furniture Studio.

— Sara Wise

One of the most influential people in my life. I'm 67 and hardly a day goes by that I don't feel his guided hands on me. Integrity! Integrity in everything you do!! I have been hugely flawed in this area, I know, but my wish and will to strive toward integrity is the seed still growing from Andris (as well as my mother.) Amazing one man can effect this in another man, even nigh on 35 years hence. Always in your debt Andris.

— Steve Sands

Andy was the single most influential teacher I have ever had. He opened me up to worlds within architecture that have shaped my life for the positive for over 20 years. Besides being one of his many influenced students, I also had the honor of framing a home with him in Vermont back in the summer of 1997. We spent months camped at the remote mountaintop site; building, cooking, and sharing stories every night around the cut-off fueled campfire. This was one of the greatest experiences of my professional life. It was there that I really got to know Andy (and also Arija and Peter). Andy was imbued with a depth and humanity rarely seen in this day and age. He was everything he appeared to be without flourish, as was his soft spoken style. He was happily unvarnished. Andy was a great, patient, and kind master craftsman; and he was also...especially...a wonderful human being. I considered Andy my teacher and my friend. He will be sorely missed.

— Craig Compton

As a first year grad student in architecture, I had the good fortune to have a free elective which allowed me to take Andy's "Materials and Processes" class.

This class had theoretical component where the properties of common building materials were explored as well as a hand's-on component where the students mixed and then destructively tested the properties of concrete, learned to braze metal and cut steel with a torch and fabricated there own creation which demonstrated the inherent properties of the materials themselves.

It was a fantastic complement to the more heady studio classes- promoting a kinesthetic connection to the materials we had been learning about. This was Andy's pedagogical genius. I was hooked and luckily became a TA for this class.

I later participated in the famed "Furniture Studio" and became a TA for this class as well.

The furniture studio built on the idea of knowing the properties of materials to applying this knowledge to inform design decisions in the service of making something beautiful. And the pieces are very beautiful.

But the beauty is not just skin deep since the creation was true to the best uses of the materials themselves. This tapped into a deeper beauty of knowing how the natural world works and how to work with it and not to dominate it. Not surprisingly, this is very much the same ethos as sailing which Andy also enjoyed.

This extremely grounded way of approaching design and problem solving helps me (and many other former students of Andy's) to this very day.

Andy was a kind, patient wizard (of sorts) introducing the architecture students to the alchemy and magic of actually building something beautiful and lasting with your own hands.

I and many other say thank you and fair winds!

— Todd Waffner

We were introduced to Andy by our dear friends, Zinta & Ojars Sovers. Long ago they told us how Andy designed, and built their lovely home by the sea. Their home snuggles into a hill like it was meant to be there. They have magnificent views of the ever changing ocean. Zinta showed a window in their master bedroom whereas the light from the lighthouse to the north shines through whilst making its soothing rotation. We're a commercial fishing family, and we brought some smoked Black Cod collars to the Sovers, home, and later we received in the mail a warm thank you from Andy. That was the Andy we remember, soft spoken, kind, a thoughtful and giving person. May time ease the pain that no words can.

— Ozzie & Arlene Hartzell

Like so many of the students who were lucky enough to venture into the UW Architecture shop, I found the most formative and meaningful parts of my educational experience behind those doors. Andy, with his generosity, creative and insightful pragmatism, deep understanding of materials and how to work with them, and his steadfast dedication to students and their growth, provided the most palpable link between the heady theory that marked much of our architectural education and the physical, built world. Above all, Andy was clear in his understanding that all of this is ultimately about people -- both those who we are doing the work for and those who are building it. I was fortunate enough to take courses with Andy, work as his TA, and join him on one of his numerous summer construction projects, and all of these experiences continue to shape my work today. I know his years of teaching and friendship continue to touch and shape many lives and will do so for years to come. He is greatly missed.

— Markus Barrera-Kolb

I had the privilege of knowing Andy as a friend and colleague over almost 50 years. During that time we team taught a studio together, worked on projects (including my home) and I even took a class from him. As a former department Chairman, I was privy to both his formal teaching reviews as well as regular, informal discussions with students concerning his teaching and course offerings. I don’t ever remember a single complaint.

Throughout, I’ll remember Andy most for his uncompromising integrity in everything he did; his teaching, this projects and his relationship with others wether they were friends, students or associates. As they say, “he didn’t suffer fools lightly” but was always caring and considerate.

Andy was one of our most sought after faculty, both in class and for consultation outside of class. This popularity was not the result of his being a friend to the students; rather, the students held him in such high regard because of his intellect, expertise, and ability. He always exhibited unlimited patience and treated each student with respect for who they where and what they could accomplish.

Andy was an exemplary teacher and his teaching produced exceptional results in his students. Andy developed his courses with clear pedagogical intent. He taught conceptual understanding rather than simply providing correct answers. He had an almost uncanny ability to teach difficult concepts through hands-on experience. Typically, his students far exceed their own expectations wether in Furniture Design with Penny Maulden; the Design-build studios he started with Berry Onouye; the “stick studio” he taught with a number of us; or the Materials and Assemblies course he developed.

The furniture studio was (and is) so sought after that even two offerings per year do not meet the student demand; this, in a studio that is widely recognized as one of the most demanding and time-consuming in the curriculum.

It is worth noting that all of Andy’s courses were original and dependent on his expertise. The whole idea of “hands-on” teaching started with Andy. He will certainly be missed. However, Andy planted a fertile seed that the Architecture Department has built into a program strength that distinguishes the program and is recognized nationally. Surely this is Andy’s legacy and one that we can all continue to celebrate.

— Douglas R Zuberbuhler