Teachers Matter

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Art by Elise Winters

A few Words for the Memorial of Elise Winters

March 3rd, 2019 at the Jewish Memorial Chapel in Clifton, NJ

by Sandi Higgins, February 2019

Boulder, Colorado

If I have anything to share in the radiant memory of Elise Winters, it is mainly thanks to my high school English teacher, Woody Rudin, who bragged affectionately about her every chance he got. I graduated from Northern Valley Regional High School Old Tappan in 1999, but Woody was still sending me personalized emails exploding with pride about his wife’s accomplishments all the way into 2010: Elise’s jewelry was showing at the Newark Museum, Elise’s jewelry was being worn by Gwen Ifill on PBS, Elise’s jewelry was rolling down the runway on the fashion models of Cynthia Rowley (and Woody was upset that the young fashion models were taken out of school indefinitely to work as models)… 

I have only met Elise Winters in person briefly with her husband, but I can tell you, she was always there with him even when she wasn’t. 

The last I saw Elise was with Woody after a theater performance that I gave at the Bergen County Players in Oradell, NJ in the summer of 2017. They had graciously attended my show, Chapter Two, and joined me and high school friends at the coffee shop next to the theater after the performance. Woody and Elise were vibrant as ever and exemplified the meaning of togetherness in every sense. I wondered what could be in their water because they both had such a glow. They appeared to me as the perfect symbiosis, a natural partnership that anyone could envy.

Rumi says, “Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.” There may be no goodbyes for those who love with more than their eyes, but there is still grief for those who can no longer see the ones we love. Upon learning of Elise’s passing, I have tried like many to imagine: what words of solace could make a difference here? What words are strong enough to help lift the weight of grief?

As a teacher-figure, Woody has always encouraged my creative endeavors, in particular my writing. He has always given me an utmost sense of “being on to something”. That is the best way I know how to describe Woody as a mentor: he listens to what you have to say and looks back at you like you’re “on to something” (not “ON something” but “on TO something”). The joy with which he listens, the look in his eye, it all seems to suggest that there is something wonderful ever waiting to be discovered if one just follows their thread of inspiration. He doesn’t impose his own vision but naturally gives you the hope that yours has promise, that you have something of your own to develop. This is the quality of a real teacher. 

Years after I had graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, while still struggling to make a living in the gritty, grimy, go-go-go of NYC, I got an invitation from Woody to join him at the Joyce Theater for a dance performance one night. Honestly, I felt ambivalent. I was uncomfortable in my own skin at the time. And is there anything scarier than facing someone who believes you have promise when the world has shown you how easily promises can be broken? Despite my ambivalence, I went to meet Woody. Of course, I heard more praise about Elise. And after our meeting for the dance performance, I somehow felt more hopeful. There were still good people in the world. Maybe I was still one of them.

Thank you Elise and Woody for sharing “a certain quality of light that seems to illuminate from within.” Peace be with you!

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Woody Rudin & Elise Winters
Obituary for Elise Winters (received by email)
Elise Winters, an artist and arts educator residing in Haworth, has died at the age of 71, having survived and thrived during 16 years of treatment for cancer at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey.
Winters’ artwork resides now in the permanent collections of six major museums in the country, including: the Racine Art Museum in Racine, Wisconsin; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey; the Museum of Art and Design in Manhattan, and the Mingei International Museum in San Diego.
In an article published by Ornament magazine in 2009, Winters was quoted as saying, “I have never been this happy about what I’m doing…the work I’m doing now feels like I found my voice and it’s flowing off my fingers.”
The article describes Winters’ one-of-a-kind art jewelry as having “a certain quality of light that seems to illuminate from within. This shimmering characteristic calls to mind the radiant sunlight of early dawn.”
She was chosen to be featured in the 2010 New Jersey Craft Arts Annual, titled “Make Me Something Beautiful,” held at the Newark Museum. Virtually all of the promotional advertising for that exhibition included images of Winters’ creations.
Prior to becoming a full-time artist, Winters taught art classes in various school systems, including the Dumont Schools, where she created a three-year program for photography which led a number of her students into careers as professional photographers.
She is survived by her husband, Sherwood Rudin of Haworth and two brothers: Aaron Winters of Rochester, New York and Dr. Dan Winters of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
A memorial gathering is now being planned to celebrate Elise’s life and her contributions to polymer art and to arts education. This will be held at the Jewish Memorial Chapel in Clifton, New Jersey on Sunday, March 3 at 2:30pm. The date was set to give adequate time for friends, family and former students to make travel arrangements and to prepare remarks they might like to offer. Everyone receiving this email today should consider themselves invited to attend and to speak, if desired.
Those wishing to make donations in Elise’s honor should consider a contribution to the Oncology Department of the Englewood Hospital, or to the Racine Art Museum, in Racine, Wisconsin.

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