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Continuing Studies instructor, art conservator and humanitarian passes

December 6, 2011

From the shores of Lake Michigan to the halls of the Sistine Chapel, and from the faraway landscape of India to the rubble-strewn scene of 9/11, Tony Rajer lived a life of pursuing knowledge and serving others. Born in Sheboygan, he became an accomplished art conservator, humanitarian and long-time instructor of UW–Madison Continuing Studies art classes.

Rajer, 59, passed away after suffering a heart attack Nov. 18 as he was restoring a Works Progress Administration mural in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“Tony was a multi-year Fulbright professor of art conservation at the University of Panama where he restored the National Opera House,” Leslee Nelson, professor of art, Continuing Studies, said.

Rajer started with Continuing Studies in the early 1990s, after completing the Wisconsin State Capitol restoration. “He had wonderful experiences. He would discuss his work on the Capitol which included gold-leafing Miss Forward, and his studies of mural restoration in Rome where one of his projects included the Sistine Chapel,” she explained. Rajer furthered his education in conservation at the Harvard University Art Museum, and earned a conservation certificate in Mexico. Earlier, he studied at the University of Paris—Sorbonne and completed a degree in art history and chemistry at UW–Milwaukee.

After a few years of teaching noncredit goldleafing and art conservation classes, Continuing Studies recruited him as an instructor at the week-long School of Arts, held each July in Rhinelander. There, Rajer captivated participants from throughout the Midwest in art and gallery appreciation and the business side of art classes.

Beyond his professional life, Rajer yearned to relieve the struggles of others—worldwide. He was dedicated to the preservation of Nek Chand’s folk art ‘Rock Garden’ in India, visiting yearly for the last decade.

He also aided his fellow Americans when he was working in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. After hearing the horrid news about the Twin Towers, he rushed to the nearest Red Cross office. Rajer later said: “Because I was multi-lingual (he spoke five languages), they asked me to make signs in different languages. Then I distributed food to the rescue crews for about 14 evenings.”

So it was no surprise that when a hurricane wracked Haiti with catastrophic damage that Rajer hopped a plane. Lori O’Neill, Continuing Studies, who often assisted Rajer, said, “Several times Tony brought me small gifts from his trips like a small carved vase from India. But when he returned from Haiti, he sadly said: ‘There’s just nothing left there to bring you.’ “

He is survived by his wife, Christine Style, professor of art, UW–Green Bay.

—Mary Lock Albrecht