Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lynda Dubov: 1917 - 2007

What follows is the text of the biography I put together for the occasion of Lynda's memorial. Since it remains to be fact-checked, improved and revised, it should not be considered a finished work.

Ultimately, I plan to incorporate this text along with a number of personal memoirs and the photographs that I collected for the album into a bound book. Though I got a lot of material in this first 'pass' so to speak, I still do not have it all. I spoke with several people who are sending me photos or tributes to be included, so it will be a month or two before I can realize my final goal and tribute to Lynda, which will be a limited edition hardbound book.

There are any number of internet publishing sites that allow one to upload the materials, lay them out in a book form and have it printed and bound professionally. Though this is primarily a selfish effort to make use of the work I have put into the memorial, I also think that there are a number of people, family and friends alike, who might enjoy reading this volume and having it on their shelf as a memento of Lynda.


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Gladys Lynda Allen, daughter of Oglesby and Rosiland (nee Heller) Allen, was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 1, 1917. Her sister Anita was born two years later. Her first memory, as she often recalled, was of being held aloft on a balcony above a Victory Day parade in Chicago when she was four, which was two years before the family moved to Biloxi, Mississippi in 1923 to run a family grocery store owned by relatives of Rosalind.

A pivotal moment in Lynda's early life came when she won an art collection competition in grade school in 1928, sowing the seeds for her long career as an artist later in life. In 1932, her father left the family, leaving Lynda to support her mother and her sister, which she did after graduating from high school in 1934. She wanted to attend college, but for practical reasons, settled on a trade school in Wheatland Wyoming, where she was trained as a lab technician specializing in reading blood types. She received her professional certificate from the school in Wheatland in 1936-37. She returned briefly to Biloxi before moving, with her mother and sister to Shreveport, Louisiana in 1938. Here she took a job in a community hospital and, eager for an 'intellectual' life, became active in a local small theater company.

In 1940, in this theater group, she met Jack Smith, son of L.E. and Anne Smith of Shreveport. She and this adopted bookish son of a Louisiana sportsman immediately fell in love and were married the following year, in 1941, in Shreveport. This was just prior to the beginning of American involvement in World War II. In 1942, Jack tried to enlist in the military but was rejected at first for poor eyesight. He persisted and gained a stateside commission as a Lieutenant at an internment camp for German prisoners of war in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. It was here, two years later, their first child, Stephen, was born in 1943. In 1945, Lynda became pregnant with their second child, Anne. Tragically, Jack was killed in a traffic accident later that same year. Anne was born in 1946, and shortly after, Lynda moved to New York city, with her two small children and mother in tow.

This was a particularly active time in her life. She worked as a lab technician in a private hospital in New York city, enrolled her children in a private school called The Steiner School and generally enjoyed the life of a single mother in a big city. New York City in the late forties was a vibrant place, and for Lynda, it was an intellectual's 'dream' tour. She went to the symphony and heard Toscanini conduct and play, fell in love with the music of Wagner, went to jazz clubs, attended the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, and saw many Broadway and off-Broadway plays and shows. She went to the Museum of Modern Art when it was a 'new' thing, and spent hours combing through art galleries and shops in Manhattan.

She kept up her interest in the theater. She soon joined a small theater group called the "Little Theater", where she played roles in several productions. In one of these, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", she played the role of Big Momma, and the man who played opposite her, in the role of Big Daddy, was Wilbur Earl (W.E. 'Bill) Dubov. She had actually met Bill a few years earlier in Shreveport. When they met again in New York in 1954, they began seeing each other. They were married in 1955 on Thanksgiving day, and moved to upstate New York. They settled Deansboro, which was close to Utica, where Bill has taken a job as a photographer in the public relations department of the Bendix company. When they met, Bill was working in a camera store in Manhattan, having just returned from a trip to the Antarctic as a photographer for Life magazine. He shared with Lynda a love for those things intellectual, including art and books.

Bill adopted Stephen and Anne, then ages 13 and 10, just before his and Lynda's first child, Phillip, was born in 1956. At the time, the couple was anxious to move out of the cold weather and were looking south for a new place to live and work. They settled on Abilene, Texas, where, after but a single trip down to look it over, they purchased a bookstore called, appropriately enough, the Abilene Bookstore. They moved to Abilene in 1957. They situated the bookstore in a large two-story frame house and lived above it. Their second son and Lynda's fourth child, David, was born in Abilene in 1961.

Though the move to Abilene had seemed promising at the time, the lack of research proved fateful. The community was far more conservative than they had anticipated, despite the presence of several colleges and Hardin Simmons University. This was the McCarthy era and many people were suspicious of the books they supposedly carried. In reality, they probably sold more Bibles than any other single book, but they also managed to expand the choices available to readers in Abilene prior to their arrival, developing it into a cornerstone of the small intellectual community in this West Texas town.

Lynda and Bill were also active in the tiny Jewish and Unitarian communities and met often with what few artists and intellectuals there were at that time in that predominantly Christian town. With these friends they helped create the Abilene Museum of Art, and Lynda was among the first students in the first art class ever taught in that institution. Her first painting was a still life and went on display in the first ever art show in Abilene, sometime in 1963 or 1964.

Stephen graduated from high school and moved away to attend the Kansas City Art Institute in 1961. He went on to graduate with a masters degree from Stanford and teaches art in Austin, Texas. Anne finished high school in Abilene as well and went away to attend the University of Texas in Austin in 1964. She eventually moved to New York City, where she met and married her husband Eric Shapiro.

Lynda was an life-long active lover of books, reading and literacy. Not only did she and her husband own a bookstore, Lynda also volunteered at the library, when she met her lifelong best friends, Len and Lisel Radoff. Lynda spent many hours riding around in the Abilene Library's first (and perhaps only) Bookmobile, which traveled to outlying rural communities where there were no libraries or bookstores. She and Bill were, with the Radoffs, active (and charter) members of the Abilene chapter of the Great Books Society.

The demand for books in Abilene was just not sufficient to make a living at the time, though, and in 1965, Lynda and Bill sold the bookstore (but not the house) and Bill began to look for work in other cities. He went first to Dallas, where his sister Rae and her husband Ronald Weiss lived, then to Houston and eventually to San Antonio, where he found work as a manager of a camera department in a large discount store called Shoppers World. He moved up there first and Lynda joined him with Phillip and David in 1968.

San Antonio was a time of great energy and activity but also hard times for the family financially. Lynda and Bill were once again active in the theater, joining a group at Saint Mary's College. Their involvement with a Dominican friar named Bother Alexis landed Lynda the job of 'stage manager' for a small theater troupe that performed daily on a plaza at the 1968 World's Fair, called HemisFair '68. She also spent a lot of time on behalf of Brother Alexis' charity organization, touring community centers in poor Hispanic communities, teaching and promoting art.

At this time Lynda was just beginning to paint regularly, though it meant painting only after the dinner dishes had been put away. It also meant storing her canvases beside and her paints on top of the refrigerator in the tiny, three bedroom apartment in which the family lived on San Antonio's poor South side. She also wrote her first play in 1968, called "Black and White Checkerboard Society" and saw it produced at the theater at St. Mary's College that same year.

Despite this flourishing of artistic energy, Bill's income was insufficient to support the family and Lynda began to look for work as well. Her found that her training as a lab technician was no longer of value, and she turned to sales. She tried selling Fuller brushes at first, then moved to Encyclopedia Britannica and eventually to life insurance, where she finally broke through and was able to make some money.

Working for the Banker's Life and Casualty company as the first and only female agent ever was a very difficult way to make a living, though. Lynda spent many hours traveling the dusty back roads of San Antonio, selling insurance and collecting the premiums as well. Sometimes folks couldn't pay cash and paid in eggs or butter or bread. While this didn't pay the premiums, it did put food on the table and Lynda often made up the difference out of her own pocket. This attitude towards the welfare of her clients, while seemingly unprofitable to many in the business, proved to be the foundation of her eventual success as an insurance agent, which allowed her to travel the world and eventually retire with an income to paint and draw for many years.

In 1968, Bill found work at in Austin, as the staff photographer for the State School for the Mentally Retarded (as it was called back then), and the family moved again. In Austin, Lynda found work for a much more reputable company called the Great West Life Insurance Company, again as their first-ever and only female agent. Her skills as an agent, as opposed to a saleswoman, were key to her success, and soon her income began to increase exponentially.

In 1969, her mother Rosalind died in St Louis, where she had been living in a nursing home near Lynda's sister Anita. Lynda missed the funeral but the family traveled north to attend a memorial for her later in the year. Lynda and her sister were never particularly close, but they did keep up a regular correspondence throughout her life. Anita traveled to Austin once, in 1984.

Lynda's career as an insurance agent became the family's sole source of income in 1970, when Bill suffered the first of a series of heart attacks that rendered him unable to work for the rest of his life. In addition to nursing her husband back to a state of semi-stable health and raising her two teenage boys during these years, Lynda worked full time and did well at it, though she had little time to pursue her art. She and Bill did attend the symphony, opera and ballet as often as he was able, and they were also active members of a Great Books Society group that met once a month, often in their home. Lynda was anxious to move and move on yet again, and after answering in small ad in the back of an insurance trade magazine, committed to go work in Europe for the John Hancock Life Insurance company in 1974.

Her son Phillip graduated from high school that same year, and he elected to remain in Austin as Lynda, Bill and David packed up and moved to England. They settled in a small town about sixty miles north of London called Bedford. Based here, she sold insurance to G.I.'s on two nearby military bases (Alconbury and Chicksands) and did so well at it that she rose to become the number two agent, in terms of sales, in all of Europe. Meanwhile, in spite of his deteriorating heart condition, Bill enjoyed a period of relatively stable health, and was thus able to enjoy the fruits of Lynda's success with her as they traveled throughout Europe, Russia, China and the Middle East. David graduated from 'high' school in Bedford and moved back to the U.S. to attend college at Bennington, Vermont.

Lynda was surprisingly prolific as an artist during these years, despite the cramped living quarters and a hectic schedule. She managed to paint enough to participate in an exhibition in London in 1976, the same year she wrote her second play, "The Daughters of 1776". She and Bill often traveled to London on weekends, attending as usual, the symphony, opera and ballet, as well as many, many hours walking the marbled halls of the British Museum. They walked the back streets of London as often as they could, exploring art galleries and discovering out of the way restaurants and pubs in the art district. Phillip moved back 'home' briefly in 1975, then moved on to attend the American College in Paris in 1976.

Bill's health continued to fail, and after a brief trip to visit Phillip in Paris in 1981, he died at home in Bedford. Lynda buried her second husband and moved to a small apartment in London, where she continued to paint and visit galleries and museums. Eventually, the isolation of living alone in a foreign country became too much work to be enjoyable, and she moved back to the U.S. in 1983 to be near her daughter Anne, son-in-law Eric, and her two grandchildren, Jennifer and Daniel.

She spent a great deal of time with the grandchildren as they were growing up, but she also manged to get into new York City for a taste of the city life again. The rounds are by now familiar ones: museums, galleries, theater, symphonies and opera. She often made these rounds with her cousin Bernice "Bunny" Heller, who lived in an apartment in Manhattan. The two cousins even made a pilgrimage to Ireland during this time, with Lynda doing all the driving and arrangements for her wheelchair-bound cousin.

She continued to paint and draw during this period, and her interest in learning brought her to attend the prestigious Ragsdale Art Colony in upstate New York in 1984. Although she enjoyed writing and wrote her third play at this time, in Ragsdale she made a firm commitment to herself to pursue the life of a painter at long last. The cold winters and snow in New York once again made her look south for a place to live. She soon settled on Austin, where her son Phillip was living and going to school at UT and moved back again in 1985. In the interim, Phillip had met and married Valery Caselli. Their first child (Lynda's third grandchild), Pierre, was born in 1987. He was followed just three years later in 1990 by Lynda's fourth and last grandchild, Madelaine.

As she did in New York, in Austin Lynda spent a great deal of her time caring for her young grandchildren, teaching them about life and art from an early age. She was especially close to Pierre, as he seemed to share her passion for art. As she did with her own children, she took him to museums, symphonies and operas and spent a great deal of time with time in her studio.

The studio that she set up on moving to Austin in 1986 had several locations, but it was always the very heart of her life. Almost every day she managed to spend at least some time in and among her many works, whether it was crowded into a tiny hot space above a warehouse on east Sixth Street or in the busy and noisy ArtPlex on Guadalupe. With a single aging box fan running constantly to cool the summer heat and the powerful creative energy that burned within, she churned out dozens and dozens of large brightly colored paintings, filled dozens of books with her drawings, sculpted figurines and made mobiles, collages and wrote in her journal when she wasn't covered in paint. Often she simply sat in the heat and napped among her works, listening to Wagner on the radio and dreaming, no doubt, of making more art.

In 1987, Phillip organized a 70th birthday tribute to honor her already long life, not knowing that it was, in many ways, still getting started. At an age when many folks slow down, she actually picked up the pace. She set an example for many people, artists and women all ages, of how a life many be lived energetically even when years begin to advertise the opposite. She began a life-changing habit of exercise at this time, getting back in to the swimming pool to enjoy water aerobics. She joined a health club, The Hills of Lakeway, and attended bi-weekly water aerobics sessions there for twenty-plus years. Doubtless, the exercise helped not only prolong her life, but made it more enjoyable as well. Always gregarious, she met many friends in the pool, many of whom were also in the artistic community that was the other half of her life.

The new millennium brought Lynda a fourth grandchild, Madelaine, and saw a move to join the ArtPlex community in an old state office buildking on Guadalupe. It was by far her most active studio to date. Here, she was in the company of many other like-minded people, for not only artists gathered at the Artplex, but musicians, craftsmen and tradespeople also occupied the building, which was literally a hive of activity for the nearly five years that she was part of it. Lynda was, quite simply, a central figure in the Artplex and the Austin Visual Arts Association. Often one could find her sitting in the Association gallery for hours because that was where she felt she could best contribute to the cause.

So, for about five years, from 2000 to 2005, the studio in the ArtPlex was the very center of her life. She literally had an 'open-door' policy in her studio and could be found there most every day for those five years, painting, drawing, reading, listening to the radio or perhaps, napping in the big red naugahyde chair that sat in the center of the tiny cramped and filled-to-overflowing space. Many, many friends and fellow artists report that they spent many a long afternoon in the studio with Lynda, talking about life and art. Lynda had a way of listening that made each person feel as if she were the only person who mattered to her, and honestly, at that moment, she did indeed care. It was a therapy of sorts for many of her artist friends, many of whom would bring others by for the same 'treatment.' Lynda treated them all with the utmost respect and concern.

During this time Lynda created her series 'Voices of the Ghetto'. A series of black and white pen and ink drawings, it was her unique vision of the many souls who were lost in the Holocaust. Although she was not a regularly practicing Jew, Lynda felt a strong affinity for what she considered to be her Jewish cultural heritage. The emotions that were eventually released in this powerful series of evocative faces existed only in her imagination, but many viewers remarked that they sparked intense feelings and evoked memories of those who had been there. She displayed this works in a series of temples, synagogues and community centers in Dallas, Temple, Austin and Houston. Eventually she donated the series to the Holocaust Museum in Atlanta Georgia, where she attended a seminar some years earlier.

Although the 'Voices' were her most public pieces during this very prolific period, she continued to paint large-scale acrylic canvases that were literally filled, corner to corner, with color and vibrant forms. These works formed a sharp contrast, which she loved to bring attention to, between the intense, almost violent visual nature of her paintings and her mild 'little-old-lady-in-tennis-shoes' outward physical appearance.

She was indeed a little old lady, and often wore canvas shoes, but in no way was she a mild person, in her youth or in her old age. The color and shapes in her paintings were expressions of the person that Lynda was, while the mild little old lady image she carried was what she somehow thought she must be. Her southern upbringing clashed sharply with the intellectualism she had come to idealize.

Somehow, however, as an artist, she managed to create paintings that expressed her inner anger while as a woman, she simultaneously created a persona that expressed both her intelligence and her civility. Those who knew both sides of her personality were not surprised by the seeming contradiction. Like subjects of the paintings that covered the walls of her studio and were stacked like so many cards in an open rack that filled the back wall of her cramped quarters, she was always something of an enigma.

Always in search of intellectual companions and fellow readers, she joined, at the request of Valery's mother, Billie Clark, a reading group of ladies called "The Purples". Here, she instantly formed another circle of friends who came to know her extensive knowledge and sharp wit quite well. The group would select and read a book for discussion over tea, but it was anything but a gossip group. The members of the group were all very intelligent and well-read, and the subjects of their reading were always contemporary. Lynda was always the only person who read every book, cover to cover.

This is because, in fact, books and reading were, after her family and art, the most important part of Lynda's life. Denied the education she craved in her youth, she became an autodidact, teaching herself diligently over the years so well that one could not tell that she was not formally educated. She was, in some ways, proud of the fact that she was self-taught and such a voracious reader. She read every night of her life, if and when she could. She would keep at least three or four books by her bedside and would read in bed for at least an hour before sleep. Her interests centered mostly on history and politics, but she read everything but fiction. She said she didn't have time for 'made-up' stories; the 'real ones' were 'better'. She read books with print so tiny that it seemed like it would take a magnifier to read them, yet she managed with the same set of bifocals for twenty years or more. It was only in her eighties that her eyesight began to fail, but she nonetheless continued to read right up until her death.

In 2003, she traveled again for the first time in a quite a while. She went with Phillip to Italy, for a ten-day visit to an old friend with a house in a village perched on a hillside above the Lake of Como. At age 86, it was not easy for her to travel, but she was energized by the prospect of eating some good Italian food and seeing a lot of small Romanesque churches. With the aid of her cane and the steady arm of her son and their friend Francesca, she realized both of those important goals and returned to Austin full of ideas for the canvas and paper.

Although she continued to produce art in the new millenium, her pace began to slow. Her son Phillip convinced her that 2003 was the year to collect and hold a retrospective exhibition of her work, spanning the 40 years from 1965 onward. This Retrospective was indeed held on January 6, 2004, at the Dougherty Arts Center in Austin, and it was a well-attended success. It was held in conjunction with a family reunion, so members of her extended family came from all over to join her friends and fellow artists in acknowledging the deep and lasting impression she had made on their lives.

Though her trip to Italy at age 86 might easily have been most people's last trip abroad, Lynda was not most people, and in October 2004, now 88, she set out for Europe once again. This time, she went to Paris with her son and grandson Pierre, who was 17 at the time. She felt that travel was more educational than school, so it was no trouble to take him out for the two weeks that they spent in France. While in the past she had been the one leading the way, this time it was up to Phillip to take charge, since he had lived in Paris while attending college and could still speak enough French to get them around. The trip was indeed educational for Pierre and Lynda reveled in this connection between generations. Her mobility was limited, however, by an increasingly painful arthritic knee, so many of the museums that the trio visited required a wheelchair for Lynda to get around. Despite this difficulty, she managed to see the City of Light one last time.

On returning to Austin, in 2005, Lynda's life slowly began to unravel. First came the January fire at the ArtPlex, which destroyed many of the studios but spared hers save for extensive water and soot damage. Lynda was too devastated by the loss to return to the burned out building, but Phillip and Stephen, who was now living in Austin to be near Lynda, salvaged 90% of her paintings and drawings Many of her books and art supplies were too damaged to be recovered.

Diligently over the next six months, Phillip and Lynda cleaned each of the paintings and as many of the drawings as could be saved. The work was relegated to a storage unit, and her 'studio' had now shrunk to one bedroom of her small two bedroom frame house. Much of her work was actually saved and many art supplies were re-purchased, but Lynda was bereft of the many social connections she had at the studio and ceased to paint. Because she had always struggled with the vagaries of depression and anxiety, this reduction in her world was naturally taken with some difficulty. She continued to draw, however, though not as frequently nor with the same passion as before.

Health concerns began to intrude into her life in these final years. In May of 2005 Lynda had surgery to replace her arthritic right knee. Knowing that this surgery can be hard on a person of forty, she was nervous about going under the knife, particularly about the pain of recovery. Although she hesitated until it was clear that the options were limited, she undertook the operation and subsequent rehabilitation with a good attitude. It took about six months for her to recover and walk again on the new knee, but the absence of pain made it worth the effort. Her gait, which had always had a little 'roll' to it now became more reliable but she still kept her cane firmly in hand.

Sadly, 2006 was not a good year for Lynda. Though she was still in relatively good health early in the year, when her best friend Dorothy Saxe had to move away to be with her family in May, Lynda was naturally saddened by the loss. Then, in October of 2006, she was diagnosed with advanced bladder cancer. Though relatively hopeful at first, the two immediate operations to remove or forestall it were unsuccessful. Faced with the knowledge of the inevitable, her strength of will, long the anchor to her life and those around her, began to fade. Insensitive to the real-world consequences of a protracted battle with her disease and encouraged by family members who were unwilling to let her die quickly, her doctors prescribed a vain and excruciatingly debilitating course of radiation treatment in early 2007. In a weakened state as a result of this 'treatment', she fell and broke her hip in May.

After a series of struggles--surgery, rehabilitation and nursing care--to overcome this final physical setback were unsuccessful, Lynda moved to a private care hospice, An Angel's Place, where she succumbed to her illness on November 22, 2007.

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