One bright, sunny day in February 2014, Erin Williams Hyman entered her parent’s Palm Springs home into a living room full of production lighting and a video camera. She was about to be interviewed for a film we were producing about her grandfather, noted desert modernist architect, E. Stewart Williams. Erin had spent a number of years researching his work and her quest for historical accuracy and attention to detail was impressive. As a young adult she appreciated that her grandfather’s work was exceptional and worthy of chronicling. She would often attempt to initiate conversations with friends and peers on the merits of modernism, which at the time had fallen out of favor with the current trends of the day, and would be generally met with apathy. Undeterred, she took the time to interview Stewart many times throughout the 1990s with the hope that one day she would author his life’s story. Prior to our meeting that day, she had completed an essay titled, “Trying His Hand: Williams as Multifaceted Artist,” which served as an outline of talking points for our interview and would later be included in the Palm Springs Art Museum’s exhibition catalog, An Eloquent Modernist: E. Stewart Williams, Architect.
Erin sat down in front of the camera, and my wife Tracey began conducting the interview. It did not take long to realize how important the interview would prove to be for the film. Erin’s commentary was insightful and tempered with a great sense of humor. She was well composed and enthusiastic. As the interview progressed, she relaxed into a wonderful groove, where only the slightest prompt was needed to encourage the wonderful stories of her grandfather to flow. One letter she shared with us was from Stewart to his then fiancée, Mari, speaking warmly of how he looked forward to building a future home with her and furnishing it with her handmade textiles. Erin’s bright blue eyes sparkled and misted over, and she and my wife laughingly wiped away a few tears in a very “verklempt” moment. We would later comment to her on how beautifully that spark of enthusiasm showed through her eyes, and she smiled brightly. There was never an indication that she was ill, we certainly had no clue there was anything amiss. Not this vibrant, lovely, eloquent person. It would be several months later before we learned that she was fighting, and tragically losing, a battle with a complex form of breast cancer. To say that we were extremely impressed and humbled by her professionalism despite private suffering is an understatement.
Erin’s strength, her humility, her drive for knowledge and understanding of the world around her, and the class with which she carried herself, characterized everything that she accomplished in her life. She earned a doctorate in comparative literature at UCLA and was a post-doctoral fellow at Cornell University. She was a writer and editor, tackling architecture and other varied subjects. Among the books she edited was Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography, 1945–1982. She conducted research and wrote for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibition, How Wine Became Modern: Wine and Design, 1976-now (2010). She was a devoted wife and mother, and a culinary expert.
After being diagnosed with cancer, Erin developed the blog B’Matzav, where she shared thoughts about healing and parenting with breast cancer. She was candid and forthright about her treatment and experience, which was often expressed through her wonderful sense of humor. She was, and is, an inspiration to cancer patients and survivors alike. She also served as the president of the Bay Area Young Survivors group.
In the months that followed the interview, Erin continued to conduct photographic research for the production, providing rare images for use in the film. We were honored to have her invaluable contribution included in our film, and have dedicated it to her memory.
Erin passed away on September 18, 2014. She is survived by husband Micah, sons Nathan and Theo, parents Sidney and Erik Williams, and brother Brian Williams.