Remembering Silvana Vukadin-Hoitt

Silvana Vukadin-Hoitt rests in beauty while living with cancer in a photo from Altered States of Beauty.
Silvana Vukadin-Hoitt rests in beauty while living with cancer in a photo from Altered States of Beauty. Courtesy of Silvana Vukadin-Hoitt
Born in Germany on March 9, 1959, Silvana Vukadin-Hoitt had a worldly, sensual gypsy spirit and many enthusiasms, all wrapped up like flowers in a bouquet of the best things in life. She was good at all of them: Traveling, photography, cooking, fashion, collecting rare objects, arranging decor, raising a family and reading fortunes left behind in coffee cups were just a few of her wide talents and interests.

Vukadin-Hoitt, who passed away on April 5 in Denver after a long, fierce battle with cancer, lived and died in beauty, up to her last hard-earned breath. Along the way, she shared a frank visual and verbal story of her declining health online for friends and other women fighting cancer.

A year ago, Vukadin-Hoitt realized a dream by gathering her ongoing documentation into a gallery show, Altered States of Beauty, with an eventual goal of encouraging others to create their own visual cancer memoirs. And she continued to do so herself, from hospital beds and at home with her children, right up to the end.

click to enlarge
Silvana Vukadin-Hoitt reading coffee grounds in the garden at Hinterland.
Courtesy of Sabin Aell
An advocate for young people, which was sparked by her love for her son, Roark, and daughter, Anima, Vukadin-Hoitt also supported the artist community. As fellow arts booster Mark Sink notes, “She had a great impact on our creative community, especially inspiring and being helpful to emerging females young and old.” Over the years, she also ran businesses dedicated to beauty and good taste.

I first met Silvana while scouting the shops on Tennyson Street for a story back in 2004, when I stumbled into Silvana L’Amour, a boutique and day spa she owned at the time. I saw at once that she was a rare human being simply by scoping the store, where a display of gorgeous Hindu Kush ceremonial dresses hung luxuriously on the wall above an inventory of Indian scarves, candles, toe rings and sexy sequined undies.

That was an early impression, and one I enjoyed fleshing out over the years as a reporter. But of course, her friends tell her story best.

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Silvana Vukadin-Hoitt makes zeljanica (or Bosnian pita), a savory pastry filled with farmer cheese and spinach.
Courtesy of Sabin Aell
Artist Jimmy Sellars, who had a studio and gallery in the Tennyson district, remembers her deep attachment to her Bosnian roots:

Silvana appeared in my studio nearly twenty years ago with her tiny daughter Ani in tow. She wanted to raise money for a charity to support Bosnian women. Her family had been displaced during the Bosnian conflict in the ’90s, and she wanted to raise money to help women refugees from this horrific ethnic cleansing. For the next year and a half, we met regularly to work on a book that wove the stories of her family with photographs of Sarajevo's bombed-out buildings and family homes leveled to foundations.

She shared with me the beautiful and dark closets of her family history and pointed to one family member, her grandfather, who carried the multigenerational task of being the seed-keeper in their village. I can’t help but recall that important piece of her own history, because just like her grandfather she was also the keeper and sower of seeds. Through her creative writing and photography, she honored the world that existed on the other side of her filtered fashionista specs.

Our last two years together strongly withstood the pervasive fog of cancer — filled with so much love and blatant honesty. I think that sometimes the two are the balancing byproduct of traumatic experiences. I will remember most the time I recently spent on her bed with her, talking about our future and how this shared fight at the mount was about to take place. Via dramatic metaphor we spoke of the wave we felt coming and how it felt as if it was about to overtake the shore.

I just can’t believe that it receded and took her with it. At least the seeds she planted here were left behind.
Vukadin-Hoitt was also a frequent visitor and friend at artist Sabin Aell’s late Hinterland studio and gallery in RiNo, leaving fairy dust wherever she stepped. Recalls Aell:

Silvana is one of the most unique women I have ever met. She initially contacted me through Facebook, I am guessing thirteen years ago, and she asked me if I wanted to see a movie at the film festival with her. Her beauty and energy struck me, and I immediately agreed. She became my spiritual companion, talking the same language figuratively and literally speaking. She introduced me to coffee-cup reading, which was only one of the captivating talents she brought with her rich multicultural heritage. Her intuition and ability to see clearly was always spot on. Silvana called it “The Art of Tasseology," where Turkish coffee is availed in order to give life to symbols and stories woven in a unique path through each person's cup.

I enjoyed her intricate sense of style. But Silvana was not just the Queen of Style and Beauty—she also was a Queen in the Kitchen. Whatever she made was more than over the top and accomplished with grace, magic and precision.

Her entire family is extraordinary and welcomed me with their warming love like I was one of them. And that is just one of the things Silvana and her family are known for amongst their community—their big hearts. I admired Silvana’s motherly nature, always caring and fluttering her colorful wings around Anima and Roark to inspire and guide their spirits in the complexity of this dimension. She was an accomplished writer, interpreter and lifestyle designer. She spread her creativity into photography and used it as a tool to document her struggle through digital media, working through the physical, emotional and psychological stress of the disease of cancer. Silvana deeply cared about women's issues and the female gaze in art and daily life.

With the natural ability to turn life into art Silvana never gave up, and always believed in life and more life. I know she will be with all of us who adored her and will keep guiding us with her unique knowledge and directness now even more.
Dear friend Aztechan Lee Pettus shares an endless list of Vukadin-Hoitt’s charms:

The recent loss of our beloved friend, mother, daughter, sister and mentor is much too great for words. The incomparable, extraordinary, remarkable Silvana Vukadin-Hoitt has been described like this: a queen, an empress, a goddess, an earth angel, a force of nature, a rare gem, a woman of grace, a lover of art, food, culture, music, and tradition, a traveler, an appreciator of beauty and aesthetics, a possessor of impeccable taste, an animal lover, a beautiful spirit and the best Turkish-coffee-ground interpreter you ever met.

Other adjectives to describe this German, Italian, Ukrainian, Bosnian beauty are: one-of-a-kind, witty, wise, fierce, ferocious, brave, strong, unique, dynamic, charismatic, inspirational, gorgeous, divine, generous, kind, creative, loving, mysterious, and worldly, among others. Her beauty rivaled the sun.

It was an absolute honor and privilege to know Silvana. She touched the lives of many people, all around the world. We are all blessed to have known her, to have lived in her light. Personally, my world has gone darker since her passing. I imagine, that very soon I will feel her light and love in my heart and in my soul and all around me. As we always said to one another, "I love you forever and always. All ways!”

Until we meet again my sister...
Rest in Paradise.
Rest in Peace.
Rest in a blanket of stars.
Rest with the angels.
Pocivaj u Miru.
Riposare in Pace.
Spokiy U Spokoyi.

A public memorial for Silvana Vukadin-Hoitt is on hold during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. Watch her Facebook page for updates. In the meantime, her family has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover lingering health-care and funeral costs.
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd

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