Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Thank you, Lida Gordon.

Last weekend, in Louisville, Kentucky, there was a memorial service for my fibers professor, Lida Gordon, Professor Emerita of the University of Louisville's Allan R. Hite Art Institute.  

Lida G. Gordon, 1949-2021

It is hard for me to overstate the impact Lida had on my life and my path in fiber art.  Back in the mid-1990s, I had heard from a fellow member of the quilt guild in Louisville that one could learn a lot in the fiber program at U of L, and with some apprehension I took the quilt I was proudest of to show Lida and see if she would allow me to join a class.  She said some kind things about the quilt and then asked, "Do you only use commercial fabric?"  This question stumped me--was there any other kind of fabric?  

Thus began my adventures in dyeing, printing, embroidery, collage and mixed media fiber work.  After taking a few surface design classes I was hooked and signed up for the MA program in Fibers.  You can read more about that here and here.  The fiber department at U of L had just acquired paper-making equipment, and Lida steered me away from quilts and toward paper-making as my focus for the degree.  It was a good thing too; I learned so much more from my explorations of texture, relief and three dimensions in handmade paper than I would have if I had stuck to quilts.  

Lida did a great job both challenging and encouraging a diverse community of fiber artists who ranged from young students to middle-aged second-career explorers to retirees.  Many of us took her classes over and over, to benefit from the community and the stimulus provided by deadlines and critiques.  I still believe some of my best work ever was done in those classes.  As students, we said more than once that "Darn it, Lida is always right" when it came to a suggestion about a direction to pursue or how to improve a piece.  For years when I wasn't sure how to proceed, I would ask myself, What would Lida say?  One thing she said often was "FOCUS!"  Choose one medium, one technique, and really dive deep into it, rather than running after every new gadget, material, or gimmick to appear on the scene. 

Lida taught me a method of approaching a project that involved research, multiple sketches, and multiple samples that I still use and teach in my classes today.  She conducted crits that provided thoughtful and valuable feedback without ever being harsh, as one so often hears about art school crits.  We all brought food, shared dinner, and spent hours looking at and carefully responding to each others' work.  I also learned from Lida how to apply to juried shows, where to go to get my work photographed, and how to promote it.  

As a mother of young children then, my day was bounded by my kids' school day, and Lida allowed me to come and go as a student and later as a graduate assistant for her as my schedule required.  My kids were welcomed at more than one critique when I didn't have child care (they had their first sushi at a crit).  

Lida and I stayed in touch after I completed my degree and moved away.  When she sold the fiber department's looms, she called me and I got a great deal on the 4-shaft loom I now use to weave tapestry.   She remained interested and encouraging about my work, giving it the same careful, thoughtful attention as always.  We had a great day when she visited Atlanta once with her husband, visiting galleries and talking art.  

Lida was a friend and an inspiration.  I am grateful to have studied with her, and I will miss her.  My hope is that in my teaching I pass on some of the enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, and encouragement I received from Lida. 

You can read more about Lida here and here.