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White Neon: A Sandy Chism Memorial


We returned to Ohio in the early morning hours of the 10th of March from attending Sandy’s memorial service at the Chapel on Tulane’s campus in New Orleans.

It was wonderful: everyone’s words, seeing familiar faces again, wandering around the art building. I, of course, botched my own small part in reading the eulogy by mistakenly foregoing the introduction and forgetting to start the Powerpoint. But thanks to the help of others, including Blake, I finally got going on presenting the wonderful eulogy written by Sandy’s mentor, Judith Burns-McCrea, with accompanying PowerPoint.

Since I know many of you were not able to make the memorial service, I wanted to present the eulogy online with the images so that you could attain a part of the experience. There were so many other wonderful presentations by Aaron Collier, Brian Hitselberger, Sebastian Lourido, Teresa Cole and many others. I wish I could share it all with you.

Even during the service, images were stirring in my mind, and I hope to collect the wonderful texts spoken by the above mentioned folks and turn them into a Story Map print, replete with images of 7 cakes, arch support, cigarettes, vitamins, coffee stains, ice burgs, bees, gardening implements and other remembrances of Sandy.

In any case, here it is, including the introduction I botched. If only I could fix reality with digi-tality…


The eulogy that I am about to present was written by Judith Burns-McCrea for Sandy’s funeral in Great Bend, Kansas earlier this year.

Judy met Sandy in 1987 when Sandy began her Freshman year at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, where Judy was teaching painting and drawing. They formed a bond of friendship that lasted until Sandy died in January of this year. Judy was an early mentor, and persistent advocate for Sandy throughout her career.

While still at Bethany, Sandy suffered a deep personal tragedy and told Judy that she was going to quit school. But Judy persuaded Sandy to continue her studies, and the rest is now history. Incidentally, if Judy had not persuaded Sandy to stay in school at Bethany, Sandy would probably have never met Lane, who fell in love with her a year later and eventually became her husband.

The following eulogy is a wonderfully poetic tribute from a loving friend and fellow artist.

Eulogy — Sandy Chism

I like to think of Sandy Chism as a slender young woman sitting on the back steps of a white house in Great Bend, Kansas on a melancholy grey afternoon. She picks up a stick to draw lines in the dirt, then tired of that, she finds a piece of string and part of an abandoned nest to wrap and shape into a version of the bird that once lived there. Only then does she feel satisfied….close to the creatures around, kindred lives. In this way, by staying close to nature, Sandy’s life was made whole and the soul of an artist was born.

In addition to the genuine loss and uncertainty that we experience after anyone’s death, when an artist like Sandy Chism passes from this world, a pathway is closed. In addition to losing all that was the person, we will be sad to not see new beautiful paintings.



Her art, whether in painting or sculpture, was profound in its connection to nature. Sandy gathered cast off bits of stone, string, wood, shards of metal, found objects of all kinds, in the same spirit of directness and lack of artifice, as the European movement, Arte Pobre.


Sandy possessed a gentle life force.



As an artist, she had a profound connection to materials proving that fire, water, wind, and flesh were the connective tissue linking our lives to the world.



Her familial roots were important in defining her life. Kansas, offering the free space of wide-open prairie was the perfect resting place for families from many different parts of the world as well as older established areas of the United States. Determined, work worn individuals settled here, folks who preferred to draw their own boundaries. Clan like, they held close to family.
Sandy carried forward that cultural DNA.


Sandy was a true intellectual. Constantly reading and probing, she was a student of art and science.



If the core of abstract expressionism carried a narcissistic interest into the psychological nature of the artist, then Sandy took that energy and gave it a consciousness and spirit that searched for completeness in the natural world.




Accordingly, Sandy and Lane were married under the protective branches of the largest tree in Kansas.



Sandy studied at Bethany College in Lindsborg and at KU in Lawrence, earning a BFA in painting and received the MFA in 1993 at the University of Arizona in Tucson. After teaching at KU as a visiting instructor, she was hired, then tenured at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. There she was renowned for excellence in teaching. She began showing in 2000 at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, a well-known contemporary gallery in New Orleans. In Louisiana, Sandy enjoyed year around gardening, working in the studio with windows wide open all year long. But her vision and identity never left Kansas. Opened vistas, tornadic wind, and the dusty blurs of the prairie never left her work completely.



Sandy was possessed with a fearsome talent and intelligence. As a friend, this meant she was always helpful, a good listener; the person who’s response you craved to hear.




While working as an artist there are dramatic, almost scary moments, when the object of affection seems to come alive and beg its creator to break free. Like life, the illusion is fragile and must be nurtured through labor and devotion. As forms develop, they hover between the futile reality of their materialism and the appearance of realness. What is real and unreal?



Dichotomies fascinated Sandy and each part of her life, particularly the process of teaching, was an opportunity to probe the layers of preconception that threaten to numb our experience. Sandy was the most un-numb person I have ever met…. which is why it is so very difficult to feature her as still.

Sandy’s art changed in response to the horror and destruction of Katrina. She painted the innocent and abandoned,






…. And apocalyptic images of damaged remnants.






Now we are left with memories and lessons. Some people in the world know quite a lot about art; far fewer are able to relate that knowledge with such care and acuity. Sandy was full of information and that made her the best sit-down coffee friend and one of the best teachers around.


For the many relatives, friends, colleagues, and students who loved Sandy, life has been tough these past weeks. Sadness comes and goes in big waves. We had to hurry to try to define the woman and the artist who we already missed so much. After all, Sandy Chism was irrepressible and irreplaceable. Now we are left with the responsibility to value our time. She would want us to continue on…arguing, laughing, loving, cursing, and making art.

JEFF RIDGWAY a friend of 25 years who lives in Lawrence Kansas reflects:

“Sandy was kind, generous, immensely talented and often a little goofy by choice. She liked a good joke and had an adorable laugh. It was impossible not to reciprocate when she grinned.”




“I’m sure that we all wish that we could hear her voice again, inclining slightly when she would softly drawl “Well, you know..” because we almost never knew what she was going to say. More often than not though, it was interesting. We all learned something from her. Her paintings and artwork will have to suffice now, to teach us things that she might have said. And what a glorious legacy they are.”


This found object sculpture is Sandy’s final work of art. She seems to have created a vehicle to carry her passing.


I would like to read one of Sandy’s Artist Statements that seems relevant to this sculpture and fitting to this service.


Everything is pure information
When you get down to it
Your true love
My little black dog
The virus that just wants to live

Cooperation breeds form
A unit becomes a structure
A flock swarms
The one joins the many
only to escape one dark night

Caprice breeds potential
An empty space
A fall from flight
The dispersion of decay

Whole nations rise and fall
In my backyard everyday
I attend this grand parade
Where the single is marching with the multiple
And the coming with the going

Everything is in between
And as I fall into step
I solemnly swear
On my honor
To do my duty

Good morning
Good night
All is well


I hope to have my own thoughts to relate here at some point, but I know they will take me some time and sifting. All of this moving around has so removed me from everyone I know and love, that I feel I am always packed in dry cotton and cardboard. Reality of a loss feels distant, a deafening sonic boom that has left me in silence. I feel I experience loss so selfishly, longing for one more conversation or letter or critique. Thinking of all the things I should have asked her, while she was here to answer. Now I can only imagine her response, projected through a guffaw, a coffee stain, a piercing gaze through slitted, smiling eyes.

3 thoughts on “White Neon: A Sandy Chism Memorial”

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