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[BKARTS] Marilyn Sward (1941 2008)
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Marilyn Sward (1941 2008)
It is with heavy heart that I write to you to say that in the early hours of
August 5, 2008, Marilyn Sward lost a two-year battle with cancer. She had
just turned 67 years old on the 22nd of July. Many people know that Marilyn
approached her final illness with the same kind of optimism and
assertiveness that she brought to all things. When she first went into the
hospital in late June, she was talking about going biking in Italy in a
couple of weeks. But, for once, she was not able to make her idea happen.
More than almost anyone else I have ever known, Marilyn was completely
remarkable in her ability to bring ideas into reality. Marilyn would look
at a situation, see a problem, come up with a solution, and make that come
to be. When her daughter Heather had trouble in the Evanston public
schools, Marilyn thought that artmaking might improve her learning. So she
helped to start an innovative and influential art program in the Evanston
schools. Feeling that papermaking and paper arts needed a venue in Chicago,
she started Paper Press. When the building where Paper Press was located
burned to the ground, Marilyn moved it to another location. And in the late
1980s, when many of the non-profit art centers were starting to fold,
Marilyn had the vision to merge her organization with Artists¹ Book Works,
and form the Center for Book & Paper Arts at Columbia College. Marilyn was
the Director of the Center in its formative years, but not content with the
facilities at 218 S. Wabash, Marilyn managed to convince the powers that be
to construct a state of the art facility (at a cost of close to $1 million)
in the historical Luddington Building at 1104 S. Wabash.
Marilyn was a wonderful teacher and colleague. Given her love for all
things green (from flowers, plants and trees to frogs) and her affinity for
things aquatic (Marilyn was an excellent swimmer) it was perhaps inevitable
that she would work primarily with paper, that ³hydrophilic medium,² as she
once put it. She loved all things paper, and managed to share that love
with decades of students at both Columbia College and the School of the Art
Institute, and across the country in residency at places like Penland. I
will spare you the list of her professional accomplishments: the boards she
sat on, the publications she helped foster, etc. Instead, let me share some
more personal recollections.
Marilyn was the ultimate ³morning person.² She was typically up at or
before dawn, would go out for a run or a bike-ride, and be at work on things
by 7 a.m. I once had to tell her that if she kept calling me on the phone
before 8 a.m. I would never speak to her again. On the other hand, by 9:00
or so in the evening, she would wilt, like flowers in a waterless vase.
When she and I traveled together in Indonesia, you could count on her to be
the first one up and about each day, but keeping her awake for an evening
performance required caffeine, and even that didn¹t always help. How she
managed to stay awake for all those performances at Lyric Opera over the
years is anybody¹s guess.
When Marilyn was in my Sound class (she got her Master¹s Degree from
Interdisciplinary Arts shortly after I started teaching in the program) I
had students write pieces for each other to perform. She told her
accomplice, ³Just don¹t make me play the piano.² So what did the other
student do? Wrote a piano piece that Marilyn had to play. I don¹t think I
ever saw her that angry again. But she played it. No challenge was to be
left unmet, or unconquered.
It was also Marilyn who taught me never to travel without a journal,
multiple writing implements (pens get lost), tape, and a small stapler.
That way, everything of importance from the trip ticket stubs, receipts,
cards from restaurants where you ate, etc. all end up in ³the book.²
Helpful come tax time, and an invaluable document. Even now, when I tend to
travel with my laptop, and keep my account of the day¹s activities directly
into my computer, I still need the book. Marilyn also taught me that when
traveling, you should buy something useful. One of her souvenirs of Bali
were some brightly colored plastic buckets. I asked her why she wanted to
lug these back to Chicago in her suitcase? ³Because I¹ll use them everyday
in my studio, and think of where they came from,² she replied.
Marilyn was always remarkably clear-sighted, a force of rational
decision-making, a wise advisor. During some recent ³drama² at school, she
called me on a Sunday morning (at 8:30, thankfully) and we had a long chat.
Not only did she offer insights into the situation, but she actually
listened to what I had to say. That¹s really what made her such an effective
administrator: she didn¹t just talk, she listened. In fact, that¹s probably
what made her such a wonderful artist and human being: she listened.
Columbia College Chicago
Memorial services for Marilyn Sward will be held at 3:00 p.m. on Friday
August 8 at First United Methodist Church in Evanston, 516 Church St. The
church is located at the corner of Church Street and Hinman. It's quite
close to Sheridan Rd. and Centennial Park in Evanston. There will be a
gathering afterwards at the Evanston Arts Center, 2603 Sheridan Rd # 3
(about 12 blocks north of the church along Sheridan Rd.).
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