Memories of Arlene Raven - Anne Cavallaro
I just discovered Arlene's passing through a random online search...by typing her name into google. Hardly a civilized way to discover someone I admired and who had such an impact on me, would no longer be with us. I suppose my searching Arlene's name wasn't exactly "random"—I have been thinking of her for sometime, having lost her contact information, and also remembering that I didn't hear back from her the last time I dropped her a line. I was wondering what she was "up to", wondering if I could see her, and what she was doing. I know now, that she must have been dealing with so much, and must have been fighting in her last years, months, and minutes.
I met Arlene when I ended up in her "senior seminar" at Parsons School of Design about 7 years ago. Little did I know how much she would inspire me to change my life. There I was: a disgruntled, and disenchanted fashion student...and Arlene gave me the encouragement and the permission to feel that there were bigger things for me...ideas beyond hemlines and cleavage. Arlene's class was riveting. No homework or tests—she just introduced us to the work of as many working artists as she could. Every week a new artist would show up—slides of their ambitious work in tow. It wowed me to see so many people taking on so much with little more than their own will and resolve.
When artists didn't come to our classroom, Arlene took us on field trips to different artist's studios. I saw the spaces where these "artists" worked. I thought, "...maybe I can do that too". Arlene took the romantic notion of the artist and turned it on its head. For me, she showed me that artists are real people, just like you and me, just living in their determination to create.
Arlene and I stayed in touch for several years afterward. She helped me get a job assisting the artist Lesley Dill which turned out to be a fascinating experience. We stayed in touch through her regular postcards letting me know about her friend's exhibits close by in our Brooklyn neighborhoods. We met for coffee once, I remember (right after I became a public school art teacher). Another time, Arlene had me over her new spacious (but heavily under construction) home. There was no doorbell (I think you had to either scream or rap wildly on the heavy door!). Arlene, was so generous to me. She loved to pass on her wisdom, and after seeing her I would always leave bearing bouquets of artist's catalogues whose prefaces she had so eloquently composed.
I am so sad to hear of Arlene's passing. There is so much I still want to say to her and so much I still want to hear her say. But Arlene has left us having lived a most remarkable life; a life which has left an unmistakable and inspirational imprint behind.
Farewell, Arlene. I will never forget you.
Your student forever,