Remembering Jean Bass

March 29, 2011

Jean Bass

A dear friend, Jean Bass, died a few weeks ago. During a memorial gathering friends and family members expressed their deep love and admiration for a very special lady. Eulogies delivered by the family spoke to a life well lived, especially demonstrating the family’s penchant for good humor and an artful life. I was deeply honored to be asked to deliver a eulogy. It follows:

“In the fall of 1971, I met Jean. I was a newly hired art teacher for the Topeka Public Schools. She was a blessing to me then and will continue to be to the end of my days. Jean became a good friend and mentor; she shared her stories, and taught me how to teach and to trust my self-expression. What a gift!

She showed me that there is no separation between life and art. To step inside of the Bass home is to be engulfed in a unique space of personal eloquence. Little can be seen in Jim and Jean’s home that doesn’t show the critical eye and masterful hands of two creative and lovely people.

Every morning I wake viewing a felt tapestry of blue sky, white clouds and gold threads hanging by my bed. Jean once asked me to return it so she could add elements to it; letting me know that we never quite finish a piece, we just allow it to be.

In the classroom Jean would dissect the visual world, teaching an appreciation of line, shape, texture, color and form. In her most recent wall hangings, you can see the pleasure she took in those elements, creating fabric artworks that echoed her world. This room (the church) shows how she would intertwine the symbols of people, place, faith and community into beautiful tapestries, visually enriching our space.

She has left us with many gifts. Among the most precious was her constant encouragement to embrace life fearlessly. “You can do that,” she would say. We are so lucky to have had Jean in our lives and to have tangible, visual moments of that life to enrich our own journey.”

Jean was constantly creating, leaving a substantial body of work. It can be viewed, along with the work of her husband, sculptor Jim Bass at  www.bassstudiosart.com.

The following is part of the copy from Jean’s obituary;

“Jean was a lifelong artist and educator. A skilled jeweler and painter, she was most noted for her public tapestries, included in many local collections, including: Mulvane Art Museum, Topeka Public Library, First United Methodist Church, First Congregational Church, First Presbyterian Church of McPherson, Ks. and Leavenworth Mutual Savings.

Jean taught art at Topeka High School for 38 years where she enjoyed helping students discover and develop their own artistic abilities. In 1965 Jean married sculptor Jim Bass. Together they crafted a rural home and artists’ studio where they intertwined art with family life, raising two children.

She had great love for and pride in her family. Jean is survived by her husband Jim of 45 years. Her daughter Jaminda Holmes, a clothing designer, and husband Jimmy, live in Kansas City with their two children Micah and Quilla. Son Joren Bass, an architect, and his wife Beth reside in Portland, Oregon. She also leaves behind her dear sister Glenda Bower and husband Bruce of Topeka as well as her nephew Brian Gay and his family of Prairie Village, Ks.”

Life is short and getting shorter. If you’re working on a dream or have “stuff” on your bucket list still to do,  remember Jean’s mantra, “I can do that” and get started.

“It was ideal. Every semester, there was an eager, fresh crop of young and not-so-young art students. If they expected lectures and demonstrations, that is not what they got from me. A couple of times a week, we went to the prairie and painted together. They learned from me and I learned from them. I don’t think it will ever happen like this again.” Robert Sudlow

Chair in Sudlow's Woods

Kansas landscape artist, Bob Sudlow, passed away at the age of 90 last month. He was a sweet and gentle man. Twenty five years ago I was one of Bob Sudlow’s not-so-young students. It was his last year of teaching and I had returned to the university for a painting degree. I found that I loved painting outside. This oil sketch was done on my first outing with Bob. The setting was in the woods above his home. The bright orange antique dental chair was one of several that could be found scattered along walking trails through the woods of Bob and Barbara Sudlow’s country property. It speaks perfectly to Bob’s practical, yet whimsical spirit.

Bob once told me that if I wanted to find out if I’d like to be a painter, the Flint Hills offered a solution. Rent an inexpensive loft in one of the small towns in the Flint Hills, paint for a year, then examine your work and how you feel about the experience.  With a family that wasn’t practical at the time. However, I give Bob complete credit for introducing me to the beauty of the Flint Hills. The prairie is the landscape surrounding a host of intriguing characters whose lives I find fascinating and whom I count as friends. Through the years I have found more satisfaction in incorporating the landscape as an element in my painting, combining still life and portrait with it. I continue to plein air paint and sometimes take my grandchildren. When painting the weekend after Bob died, I could imagine that shock of thick white hair blowing in the wind as he stood before his tethered easel, beautifully capturing that elusive time of winter’s exit and spring’s arrival. He loved chasing spring. I am so very glad to have known him.

Painting with Maxx