Jan 4th would have been the big 5-0 for you. As I write this, I wonder what your life would have looked like, what your art would have been like in these past 6 years since you passed. A lot has been going on in the world as I’m sure you are seeing from above. How would your art reflect the MeToo Movement? How would you have reacted to “grab them by the pussy” comment from #45?
As you also know many of your friends and former colleagues have taken time to write funny, loving, and insightful blog post about their relationship with you. You have touched a lot of people in many different ways. Including the number of students who you have taught. One of your students, Samantha G. is now an art teacher at Benson High School. Your scholarship at UNO has awarded $7,000 to art students who needed help to finish their degree. That money comes from donations and from the sale of your artwork.
I think you know this, but I will tell you anyway – I miss you a lot. I think about you just about every day. I wonder what dreams you would have created for yourself as you think about turning 50.
This will be the last blog on your website. I want to thank each person who wrote something about you. It was great to read about their memories of you, your artwork, and the friendships. I want to leave everyone with an email that you sent one of your friends – you were asked to write a reflection of your work. I hope we have done good by you – keeping the spirit of your work and heart in the right place.
Email Sent: March 13, 2008
When I reflect on the images of the wallflower pin-ups and the magazine covers, I can’t help to feel incredibly selfish. It’s really about confronting my own insecurities by creating these visual vehicles that allow me to exorcise my demons from adolescence. Beauty is at the core of it all. How we definite it. How I define it. My wallflower girls are definitely an extension of what I had always hoped a part of me would be like – fun, sexy, playful. I have to admit, I was the textbook wallflower all through my pre-teens to college. Never the girl to be asked to dance (sigh) and I quickly became pretty self-conscience about it all. However, my wallflower prints are definitely not shy or shrinking violets. They embrace themselves fully without apology. I learned a lot from them. Another note about the pin-up girls, I think pin-ups are sexy. That may ruffle some women’s’ feathers because the pin-up genre is a male construct which objectifies women. But that is such a loaded conversation to have. I mean, how many women take sexy photos for their husbands or dress up sexy when they go out for drinks? The line in the sand is always shifting as to what is exploitative depending on who’s drawing the line. I see my girls as powerful and sexy. Formally, I love floral patterns and color. Using the old wallpaper was the perfect solution for a background. They’re printed on a square format, referencing a box. That box refers to what we do as human beings with having the need to categorize and place everything and everyone neatly into their box. My girls are placed in this space not of their own will but are saying ‘No problem. I can exist in here, but I’m going to own it as well’. Funny thing about the pin-ups, though. I’ve received more complaints from Black women. Isn’t that ironic?! As if I were creating derogatory images of black women. And then we’re back to the line in the sand. My magazine covers were very fun for me because I got to do a little writing. That’s something I’m not great at but enjoy doing. Again, this is about beauty and the beauty industry. I also raise the question about what black is and what it isn’t. I’m hopeful to not sound judgmental about the society we live in. I have my degrees of materialism and superficiality for sure. But there are extremes and beauty magazines prey on women’s self-esteem. They’re constantly telling you that you need to be fixed. And the real burn is anymore, the women smiling back at you from the covers don’t really look like that in real life. The images have been enhanced digitally creating a false and unobtainable standard. So, making up my own magazine called Bougie made sense. I’ve been called it a few times in my life and to be honest, I’ve never thought I could be accurately described that way. However, this was a great chance to fully embrace my superficial side and just get shallow. It was fun! I may try to flesh out some of the tags I made up like ‘Are You A Strong, Black Woman? Find out in 25 questions. I mean really, what would those questions be? Even funnier, it’s being implied that if you answer add up to x amount, you could be a strong, black woman without actually being black or a woman. I’m going to have to try that out. The opening went really well thanks. I overheard a couple of people talking as they were looking at the magazine covers. One person said, ‘Is she an artist or a comedian?’. I should write a book – ha, ha! I’ll talk to you soon! Ciao! Wanda
I have started this about 14 times. I get a few sentences in and hit, delete, delete, delete…
Here goes again.
Where do you start to talk about a woman who has had such a significant impact on your life both personally as well as professionally? What can I say about Wanda that hasn’t been said? I don’t know but I am going to try.
I remember the beginning and the end so vividly.
Wanda and I met at her show at the Darkroom Gallery in the Old Market back in the early 2000’s. I remember it being sunny and walking into the gallery which was full of people talking, laughing and drinking. Wanda’s prints were so large and filled the space with color, texture and the female form. I hadn’t seen any work like hers before. I remember the dress prints which took on the shapes of women who would be wearing them, without the woman in them. I remember the shoe prints and how they were shaped on the paper. I remember confronting sexual scenes and being a little uncomfortable and thinking about why I felt that way.
I had no idea who the artist was, but I was so intrigued and in awe of the work that I knew I needed to meet the person who created them.
One of the many, many things that captivated me about Wanda’s work was her interpretation of the world through the female form, the black female body to be specific. She took on issues of race, sexuality, and the standards of beauty and identity through the lens and perspective of a woman of color living and working in the very white and conservative Midwest.
I remember our discussions about this topic as she was going through the tenure process to become the first person of color to be hired full time and tenured in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She never had any representation in school and very little in college; some women, but mostly white men, so she knew being a black female professor would hopefully start a change at UNO and in the community. I remember her calls at the start of each semester that followed her making tenure, excited that there were black and brown students in her classes and LGBTQ students as well.
She didn’t always like being the “first person of color” in many areas of her professional life, but she knew nothing was going to change if she didn’t keep pushing through it. She understood that she needed to step up and be the artist for others that she never had when she was growing up. She was really proud to be and see the change happening.
I will never forget her memorial service. There were so many people that they opened an overflow room. I was so sad, but somehow also filled with such joy at the stories everyone shared about their own Wanda moments. I had no idea she had connected with and impacted so many lives. It was incredible to meet everyone. I remember we had made her a mixed tape of her favorite songs and played it throughout the service, and I know she would have been chair dancing too. I left the funeral home with a smile and I never thought in a thousand years that would have been possible. But it happened.
I think about what she would say about the state of the world today and what provocative art she would be creating in response. I can only imagine and that makes me smile.
Still so many moments, experiences and thoughts about my friend, but I’ll stop and end it the way she ended most all our communications.
Welcome to the new and updated website. Dec 2018 marked the 5th year of Wanda’s passing. This month would have been her 49th birthday. So, it’s my pleasure to refresh her site, start the new year off as this month’s blogger, and share my views on Wanda. I’m Mona Ewing Yaeger, Wanda’s older sister.
As I started to think about what I wanted to share with all you, it became hard for me to think about things you didn’t know about her or what great memories I had from our childhood or what she meant to me. So, I’m going to try to do a little of all 3. First our childhood, Wanda, Clarence (our brother), and I were pretty close as kids. We played together with our stuffed animals every day. Wanda had a pink dinosaur, Dino, Clarence had a koala bear, Koala and I had a green and white gingham cow, Cowie (I know, original names from a 7 year old, a 5 year old, and a 4 year old). We loved making up games and scenarios and acting out these adventures. This most likely was the start of Wanda’s creativity.
As we grew older and found other interests, Wanda’s grew with art and music. This was the start of MTV and the 3 of us were hooked. During this time, Fleetwood Mac had a great song called “Hold Me.” In the video, there was a scene that was pretty cool; it was a little boy dancing with a man above a clock next to a stairwell. I’m not giving it any justice, because it reminded me of Salvador Dali painting. Wanda was able to memorize this scene from the video and recreated it in pencil. That is when I knew Wanda had talent.
Art was her outlet, her voice, and how she saw herself in the world. She also knew that she was not a “normal” black kid or woman living in middle America. Both of us knew we were different as we moved from elementary school to junior high to high school. Most people don’t know this, but we were both bullied during this time by other black girls because of our hair, our size, how we spoke, and acted. If you knew Wanda during this time period, she used her art to express her feelings, understanding of how the world viewed her, and her own thoughts about how it made her feel.
I still miss her every day. We didn’t talk all the time or live close by, but when she because sick I think we both realized how important our friendship and sisterhood meant. I have many pieces of her work in my home, photos of her, and when I hear a really great new wave /alternative song from the 80’s (not the pop crap) it reminds me of those days when we would watch MTV from the time we came home from school and until we went to bed. I love how our brother Clarence who DJ’s on Sunday afternoon from CHIRP.com radio will always play a song from that time bringing back those memories.
So, simply put, Wanda was a complex, special, and fun woman who left our lives WAY too soon. We all know that there will never be another spirit quite like her.
I began in Springfield, Missouri and followed my father’s career to Denver, before settling home in Omaha. It’s been a great place to grow up with consistent opportunities for my education. Day to day, I am my younger brother’s full-time caregiver. He requires assistance in every facet of living because of a severe brain and spine injury that occurred as an infant. Yet, he’s continued to endure and share a contagious smile for almost twenty years. Much of my work is inspired by him and the way that trauma has sculpted both of our lives to date.
The first recipient of the Wanda Ewing Memorial Scholarship at UNO, Megan Kreigler
by Megan Kreigler
I was immensely honored to receive the Wanda Ewing Memorial Scholarship in May of 2015. I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art and a Minor in both Art History and Marketing from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and was the first person in my family to earn a college degree.
The 2015 SGC International Printmaking Conference—Sphere, in Knoxville, TN, will be hosting a tribute exhibition of work of the late artist, Wanda Ewing.
This small exhibition offers an overview of Wanda’s prints and other works. Ewing who was a former faculty member from the University of Nebraska, Omaha, received her BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and her MFA from the University of Iowa. She died in December 2013, following a battle with cancer.
What: Wanda Ewing Tribute Exhibition, Opening Reception Date: Friday, March 20, 2015 Where: Black Cultural Center, 1800 Melrose Ave., Knoxville, TN Time: 6pm-8:30pm