People and Projects
Tale of exile
I owe Skidmore my scholarship and lasting friendships,” inscribed Núria Pi-Sunyer (Carrasco) ’50 inside a copy of her book L’exili manllevat (Borrowed Exile), which she has donated to Scribner Library. “I shall never forget the kindness I found as a foreign student in exile.”
Pi-Sunyer and her family, living in London at the time she enrolled at Skidmore, were exiled from their native Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. Her book, published last year, chronicles (in Catalan) the story of “a family in exile and constantly aware of politics, a family that left Spain when the troops of dictator general Francisco Franco occupied Catalonia.”
Writing a memoir was a longtime ambition for her, though she is not the first memoirist in her family (her father, Carles Pi i Sunyer—who served as mayor of Barcelona, member of the Catalan government, and minister of the central government of Spain—penned four books himself). There is a chapter on Skidmore, in which she describes her first impressions of the US (“everything is bigger: trees, flowers, cats, beds”) and mentions classmates and foreign-language professors who became her friends and mentors. She relied heavily on information gleaned from a diary she kept as well as letters her father wrote during World War II and while she was away at school.
During her family’s exile Pi-Sunyer spent eleven years in England and more than twenty in Venezuela. When the Franco regime ended after nearly forty years, she moved back to her homeland; she currently lives in Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital.
The title Borrowed Exile, she notes,
reflects her sense of “borrowing my parents’ ideology during that exile,” including their “constant references to Catalonia and how to accept the relationship with the country [England] that accepted us and borrow,
if need be, some or plenty of its characteristics.”
Pi-Sunyer says the book, published by Proa in Barcelona, has received “very good reviews, which I didn’t quite expect. I am very happy about it.” In Catalonia “everything having to do with our exile is avidly read. For me,” she adds, “writing it was a duty.” —MT
Arlene Friedman Rimson ’59 looks pretty hip zipping around the basketball court in her satiny turquoise tank top and shorts—and her crop of white hair. Rimson plays for the Foxtrotters, a team affiliated with A League of Their Own in Albuquerque, N.M. She and her four teammates may wear lipstick and earrings on the court, but, according to a November article in Mature Life in New Mexico, “they aren’t afraid to mop the floor with their competition. They have four-teen gold and nine silver medals from the Senior Olympics to prove it.”
Rimson, 69, is the eldest of the Foxtrotters, who compete in the 65–69 age division. Looks can be deceiving, as Mature Life points out. Casual onlookers might find the senior hoopsters endearingly “cute…but should they happen to see the Foxtrotters in action, jaws inevitably drop. Often flashing (temporary) tattoos on their arms or necks, these scrappy athletes hit the court with the determination of pros.”
Rimson and her teammates met at a practice session advertised in the sports section of a local newspaper in 1997. All but one of them is retired. None had spent much time on the court since her youth—including Rimson, who played guard in the seventh and eighth grade in Arkansas. They practice once or twice a week, scrimmage with other teams, and play a dozen games a season. They also travel several times a year for tournaments.
To calm their nerves and loosen up a bit, the Foxtrotters start each game with a little chant: “Tim-buk-tu!” And to entertain themselves on the road, they perform skits for other league members, hold hair-cutting parties, and go shopping. But they aren’t afraid to play rough and tumble, as evidenced by bruises and now and then a broken bone. “Even the referees expect them to be sweet grandmothers, not these hard-driving, elbows-flying, black-eyed women,” observes their coach, who is twenty years their junior.
Season-ticket holders for the New Mexico Women’s Lobo Basketball team, the Foxtrotters sell programs at the games and try to recruit new players for their senior league. But not everyone is as daring as they are. “Nine of out ten say, ‘Oh, it’s a contact sport,’ and they don’t want to mess up their nails,” Rimson remarks. —MTS
Within months of the tsunami that devastated Indonesia, Barbara Bull Riester ’71 was on her way to Jakarta (and then Banda Aceh) as one of the first members of an American Red Cross delegation overseeing a large-scale recovery program. She and her team spent much of their first year there assessing needs, planning projects, and writing proposals. As finance and administration delegate, Riester was charged with “ensuring proper accounting” of every dollar donated by the American public to assist with recovery.
Her work with the ARC goes back to high school, when she volunteered as a lifeguard and water-safety instructor; at Skidmore, she taught handicapped children how to swim. Riester (below left) cites the influence of her mother, Mary Elizabeth Zabriskie Edmonds Bull ’43, who was “always involved in volunteer work and made sure her children were too. She always supported me when I chose to do something ‘different,’ like going to Vietnam with the Red Cross right out of college, and then joining the Navy.
“There is no greater feeling than doing a job you love and knowing it helps improve people’s lives,” Riester says. And the fact that she is not put off by “disaster environments” made her a good candidate to help with tsunami recovery efforts. “It’s very rewarding to work in an atmosphere like this,” Riester noted last fall. “Everyone is committed to helping return hundreds of thousands of individuals to ‘lives of normalcy’ as quickly as possible. I view this job as my ‘capstone’ position, which draws on every skill I’ve developed and every experience I’ve had over the last thirty-five years to be as successful as possible in providing much-needed support.”
As with all large disasters, Riester says, “the news dies down quickly, but the recovery work takes years.” The ARC, one of more than twenty-five Red Cross National Societies, will stay in Indonesia several more years. Riester, though, recently finished her assignment in that country and returned to the US. She is still with the Red Cross, working now with twenty chapters in western Pennsylvania to help them expand services to their communities. She is based at the Indiana County Chapter in Indiana, Pa. —MTS
Picture of health
In summer 2003 Zoë Vose Morsette ’73 was undergoing chemotherapy treatments after surgery for fallopian-tube cancer. “I was down to a total of three eyelashes and just the middle of my eyebrows when I attended a program called Look Good, Feel Better at a local hospital,” she says. She picked up a flyer that pictured “a bald, reclining woman on a chaise” and learned that
“a cancer survivor in Los Angeles was looking for subjects for a book of photos featuring women who had lost their hair during chemo.”
Morsette called the author, Jackson Hunsicker. When Hunsicker was in New York, she took Morsette to breakfast and told her that noted NYC dance photographer Lois Greenfield was “interested in shooting one of the pictures for the book, preferably a dancer or former dancer.” Morsette, a Skidmore dance and theater major, allowed the writer to snap a few Polaroids to send to Greenfield. “I'd never gone out in public without my wig or a hat,” she says. But “it felt incredible. And New York being New York, no one seemed to notice.”
A short time later Greenfield agreed to photograph Morsette. “Originally she wanted to shoot on the roof with the Manhattan skyline,” says Morsette. “But it was too hot, and the chemo had made me especially sensitive to the sun, so we shot in her studio.”
Morsette’s portrait appears in Turning Heads: Portraits of Grace, Inspiration, and Possibilities (published last spring). The images, taken by well-known photographers around the country, “aren’t your usual photographs of women in the ‘angst’ of treatment,” according to the book. “These women are out in the world, being bald and not caring because they are too busy living their lives.” Morsette says they also “demonstrate how beautiful, inspiring, mysterious, and even amusing the human form can be, sans hair.”
For her, participating in the project “was
a way of finding something positive in the middle of what could have been the lowest point in my life.” She adds, “I’d like to report, especially to classmates who saw me in my fab red wig at our 30th reunion, that I've been cancer-free for three years now.” —MTS
The studio/gallery of painter Chris Pierce, UWW ’75, isn’t what you’d expect. Located
in rural Shushan, N.Y., outside Saratoga Springs, it’s not bohemian-style messy but elegantly appointed with antique furniture and fifty of
the artist’s own gilt-framed paintings—flowers, nudes, landscapes, and portraits—glowing against walls painted plum and hunter-green. There’s not a paint spatter or oily rag in sight, but Pierce really does paint there, at a gleaming mahogany easel set atop an oriental rug. He once painted his own self-portrait in white tie and tails—while wearing the white tie and tails.
If his studio isn’t what you’d expect, neither is his life story. Planning to be a concert pianist, Pierce earned a Skidmore BA in music and a master’s from the College of Saint Rose. Then an inner-ear disease literally knocked him off his piano stool. Dealing with tinnitus, dizziness, and a good chance of going deaf, he hurled himself into art, his second love.
Setting up his own rigorous, self-directed course of study, Pierce drew from life for three hours a day, five days a week. Three years later, solid in his craft but a late bloomer in the art world, he sent slides of his artwork—and his own dramatic story—to American Artist magazine. Impressed, the editor-in-chief put Pierce’s lush, stunning portrait of peonies on the cover. Over the past twenty years, Pierce’s artworks have appeared in major exhibitions and galleries in San Francisco and on Cape Cod, and lately they earn him very large commissions.
Pierce describes himself as “lucky, lucky, lucky.” Losing music had seemed like “the end of the world,” he admits, “but it was really the beginning of a whole new universe. I relate everything I do in my life to my art.” He grows many of the sunflowers, irises, cosmos, and heritage roses featured in his paintings; he also grinds the pigments for some of his paints and stretches his own canvases (a process that involves four coats of rabbit-skin glue and two coats of gesso). But above all, Pierce says, “I paint from my heart, and I paint what I love.” —BAM
It takes vision and courage to tackle our planet’s massive environmental problems,” asserts Naomi Roth ’98. But to change actual policies and practices, she knows, “it takes leadership.” What’s she doing about it? Leading tomorrow’s leaders.
As director of Green Corps since 2004 (and an assistant director before that), she runs an environmental field school that trains young activists and places them with organizations working on green legislation battles, public-health and education campaigns, and grassroots lobbying. Green Corps teachers and mentors, and often the employers of its grads, include leading lights at MoveOn.org, the
Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, the National Resources Defense Council, and
other groups. And its students include Ben Schweers ’07, who was thrilled to be the first Skidmorite admitted to Green Corps (only twenty are chosen each year, from about 1,000 applicants). He’ll spend 2007–08 in its full-time, paid training program.
Heading up a small central staff in Boston, Roth routinely travels to Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco. She recruits applicants, guides their classroom training,
and forges partnerships with environmental groups who hire Green Corps organizers to help with their campaigns.
Last year she took a
leave of absence to help MoveOn.org elect enough Democrats to control the US Congress.
Forward-thinking activism has always been Roth’s style. When Newt Gingrich’s Republicans took the House in her freshman year at Skidmore, she says, she immediately “wanted to do something. I’m not the type of person to sit back.” That summer she interned with Public Citizen in D.C. The next summer she worked with New York Public Interest Research Group in Saratoga, and during her junior year in London she did campaign work for the British Labor Party. As a senior majoring in American studies and government, she found that “society teaches you to go right
to law school.” But she had a head of steam going and says, “I deferred for a year, to take a political organizing job. And I never looked back.” —SR
Sarah Feingold ’02 won the jewelry award her senior year at Skidmore—as a sociology major (OK, she minored in studio art and business). Then she went to law school, during which time she also took graduate-level metalsmithing classes and wrote A Jeweler’s Guide to Intellectual Property Protection. She’s now a business attorney at Lacy Katzen, a firm in Rochester, N.Y., and gives seminars related to her book topic (see www.sarahfeingold.com).
Feingold has been making jewelry since age twelve and sells her creations online. “I’m always on the lookout for creative challenges,” she says. Which is how she came to enter a contest for the “Ugliest Necklace in America.” And won. The prize was roughly a thousand dollars’ worth of (pretty) jewelry-making supplies.
As reported in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: “Bling it isn’t. Blech is more like it.” Feingold began with “a really hideous child’s necklace from a dollar store” and strung together “plastic bits, clay beads, fake jewels, a pop-can pull tab and—ewww—a packet of soy sauce.” There’s also a small plastic banana that “dangles down your back and ends at your butt.” (Feingold couldn’t stop herself. “I had to,” she says. “It’s just
The annual online contest is sponsored by
a Nashville, Tenn., jewelry-arts company called Land of Odds. From a design standpoint, Feingold’s creation was a knockout, according to owner Warren Feld. “She violated many, many principles,” which is “actually very hard for jewelers to do. It goes against their training.” He praised the necklace’s clashing colors and lack of symmetry. Additionally, “it makes the wearer look ridiculous and may evoke negative feelings.”
While she had a blast making the necklace and appreciates all the attention it’s brought her, Feingold doubts she’ll enter this particular contest again. “I think I’ll retire while on top,” she says, and concentrate on “creating nice pieces and practicing law. I feel like my jewelry and my legal work use different sides of my brain. But in reality, lawyers must be creative problem-solvers, just like successful jewelers.” —MTS