Celebrating Ziegler

Jody in her office on the 4th floor of Fenwick Hall at College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA. This is how I'll remember her- light streaming in from that old window, her flowing white hair, tailored pants (always), expresso maker and demi tasse cups tucked in the closet to the right, offering up her dish of peanuts and raisins. (Photo by David Gyscek)

This past weekend I made the trip up to Holy Cross to celebrate the life of Joanna Ziegler, art/architectural historian, grande dame of academia, writer, mentor, and one of the sharpest minds I’ve had the great fortune to get a glimpse into.  When I graduated as an Art History Major in 1993, I took off for Paris, to learn the language, to see the world, to study with an old friend and colleague of Jody’s.  I had thought that perhaps I would also live the life of an academic.  Living abroad was the first step towards what I imagined would be the next step, applying to graduate programs.

Jody was the first woman I knew who was so wholly completed by her intellect.  She spent her days writing, teaching, traveling, connecting with her students, following her intellectual curiosities, collaborating with other scholars in the fields of music, philosophy, studio art, literature, dance. Motherhood was not for her.  Instead, she nurtured the minds of many as we came through the doors of Visual Arts History 101, (and like me, surprised ourselves when we became majors after only a semester with her).  She challenged us to rise to her vision of us as more than we might have thought we were, and came to believe that what we create and how we live can tell us everything we need to know about ourselves and our humanity.

Throughout the years as I touched base with Jody, I would expect that she might be disappointed that I had decided that an academic life was not for me.  That where I thrive is with my family, birthing babies, raising my boys, wiping noses and bottoms, fluffing the pillows, making soup.  While I was writing my way through it here and there, trying to get down on paper what I could, I always had the feeling that I  was falling short, family almost always winning, mind surely being squandered.  We were so different.  But every time, she surprised me.  She spoke to me with such reverence for what I was doing, made me feel that it was equal in gravity to what she was doing.  Wouldn’t let me get a word in if I started down that self-depprecating road.  She gave me a good Jody stare down, that intense eyes-bearing-through-your-soul thing she did, telling me that what I was doing was the most important thing.  And with a wave of her dancerly hand, would dismiss what she saw as unwarranted concerns that I wasn’t doing enough with my life or my abilities.  You are doing enough, she assured me, confident.

Jody was a gracious, wise woman and feminist.  The kind that I want to be.  The kind I would like all of us to be.  She was also everything a mentor ought to be- intuitive, honest, passionate– and most of all, possessing the good sense and forbearance to challenge her students to live up to who they were meant to be.

5 thoughts on “Celebrating Ziegler

  1. You really captured Jody’s essence. We who know her as family found her to be just as present to and encouraging of our uniqueness. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Hi I just came across this post about Jody. She was a mentor to me as well — but as a prof to an assistant prof. I began work at Holy Cross and she was fabulous – such a breath of fresh air. I had just gotten to know her before I went on my research leave, and in that time she was diagnosed and passed away over that year while I was in South America. It was so sad to come back and know that she was not there anymore, though it did feel good to know via her facebook page that she got to go to France an had a wonderful time. I have since lost another mentor – a Peruvian anthropologist – to the same kind of cancer, and I think of them as connected now. Just two fabulous extremely generous and patient people. Thank you for giving us some insight on what she was like as a teacher — I know she would have felt so good to see what you wrote here. caroline

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s