Written By Kim Carpenter
Wanda was the first person I met when I moved to Omaha in 2003. At the time, she was the program director for the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. My husband and I stopped by to see an exhibition by Terry Rosenberg, but the Bemis was locked. Wanda graciously let us in, chatted with us and welcomed us to Omaha. I had just left a position at the Akron Art Museum, and Wanda made sure to give me a lowdown on Omaha’s art scene, sending me to another gallery two blocks away after we left. I made a friend that day, and she remained a steadfast one throughout the years.
While art was always a starting point for us – she created it, and I wrote about it – we bonded over much more. When she purchased her home, she was excited to show it off. She adored her kitchen with its retro tiles and relished composing a gallery wall in her living room with all the art she had painstakingly collected. She took me through each piece, explaining who the artist was and why she was drawn to it.
Gardening was a new endeavor for her. When faced with overgrown hostas, she invited me to help thin them. We spent a very hot spring afternoon splitting and dividing, and I have several “Wanda hostas” thriving in my yard. I remember that day so fondly in part because my daughter was about four at the time. Wanda thoughtfully got a copy of “The Lion King” so my preschooler could watch a Disney movie in her cool living room while we toiled in the dirt. Specially prepared snacks were of course included. Wanda was like that – she always considered the details surrounding her friends’ lives.
That is why people responded so warmly and openly to her. You could go to any event and everyone in the room would eventually be drawn to her exuberant warmth. Wanda had that special kind of charisma that was rare. It actually transcended people. When our family adopted a rescue dog, we discovered Lorna was skittish and withdrawn and wanted to be left alone most of the time. Wanda came over one evening, and Lorna immediately responded to her. It was instantaneous. The dog who couldn’t bear to be pet rolled over and let Wanda rub her belly for the duration of the visit.
The last time I saw Wanda, she stopped over to bring me a bottle of champagne as a belated thank-you gift for writing a letter for her Pollock-Krasner grant. Over the years I had covered her work for various magazines, so was happy to write the letter. I was tickled when she received the grant. There were few artists who I thought deserved it as much as she did. I was excited to see what would come from the opportunity.
I could write a book about Wanda’s art, how incisively probative, challenging and outright brilliant it was. But it’s my friend I’m always drawn back to – that woman who chatted with me about our lives, delighted in her home and garden and liked to celebrate with champagne. I still have that bottle, and one day when the time is right, I will pop its cork and say a toast to a dearly missed and beloved friend.