International Women’s Day: Celebrating the Legacy of Wanda Ewing: A Tribute to Mentorship and Empowerment

two women
Wanda and I at Les Femmes Folles: VOICE at The New BLK Gallery, Omaha, 2012

I had the opportunity to be interviewed for the podcast In Her Company this week and was asked about what got me back into art after my break years ago. My answer was a combination of things, including new motherhood and arts journalism, but a resounding impact for me was my mentorship and friendship with Wanda Ewing (1970-2013).

In the world of art, there are few figures as impactful and inspiring as Wanda. Her passing left a profound void in our hearts and the artistic community, but her legacy continues to resonate, particularly through the invaluable mentorship she provided to countless individuals, myself included.

Wanda was not just an artist; she was a force of nature, pushing boundaries and challenging perceptions through her daring and thought-provoking work. From her exploration of femininity and beauty to her fearless experimentation with different media, Wanda’s art was as bold and dynamic as she was. But perhaps her most enduring contribution was her unwavering dedication to empowering others, especially women, to find their voices and express themselves authentically.

a knit artwork depicting three women
Wanda Ewing: “3 Figures,” latch-hook

I was fortunate enough to have Wanda as a mentor, and her impact on my life and career cannot be overstated. I first encountered her over two decades ago, a quiet and insecure volunteer at the Bemis Center, where Wanda served as residency coordinator. From the moment I met her, I was struck by her aura of strength and resilience, and I knew that I wanted to emulate her.

Under Wanda’s guidance, I found the courage to pursue my artistic aspirations and embrace my voice and identity. She encouraged me to push past my insecurities and to speak up for myself, both as an artist and as a woman. Her support was unwavering, her advice invaluable, and her belief in me was unwavering. She inspired me to start a blog and curate a series of exhibitions around women artists and feminism, Les Femmes Folles, which I maintained for 10 years.

a woman working in a gallery, a toddler walking
Wanda working on her installation for Les Femmes Folles exhibit with my daughter walking, Peerless Gallery, Omaha, 2011

Through her teaching at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and her mentorship in the art community, Wanda had a remarkable ability to bring out the best in her students and mentees. She challenged us to see the world through new eyes, embrace our uniqueness, and pursue our passions fearlessly. And she did it all with grace, humor, and an infectious enthusiasm that inspired everyone around her.

Wanda’s impact extended far beyond the walls of her studio and artwork. She was a champion for women in the arts, a trailblazer for inclusivity and diversity, and an advocate for social change. Her influence can be felt in the work of countless artists, activists, and changemakers who continue to carry on her legacy artwork depicting a woman with floral print

As I reflect on the profound impact that Wanda had on my life and career, I am reminded of the importance of mentorship in fostering growth, resilience, and empowerment. Now, as I have the opportunity to mentor young women artists and students through my day job, I am committed to paying forward the guidance and support that Wanda so generously gave to me.

I am also grateful to have a cohort of women artists and close friends who continue to inspire me every day. Like Wanda, they embody strength, creativity, and resilience, and I am honored to be a part of their community.

Thank you, Wanda, for everything you did. Your spirit lives on in the hearts of all who knew you, and your legacy will continue to inspire and empower generations of artists to come.

What mentors have inspired you?

abstract painting
My Tribute to Wanda, 2019

Postscript: I’ve created many tributes to Wanda Ewing. The work at left includes a quote she said during an interview I did with her for Gender Across Borders. “Being a woman artist is a double-edged sword,” emphasizing the intricate reality of navigating being both an artist and a woman.