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.