One of the more than 60 artists listed in the Bellefonte Art Museum’s registry is Margaret Duda. Here is her statement:
I had the perfect childhood for an artist. I was an only child who needed to entertain myself and enjoyed the silence required for my imagination to take flight. My Hungarian immigrant parents came from tiny villages and did not teach me English until I had to go to school. Most of our relatives and friends spoke Hungarian and inspired characters in stories I was to write later in life. They also gave me a natural interest in cultural anthropology and the strength of the human spirit.
As the years went by, I let my creative energies take me where they would. I published my first poem at 14 and my first short story in a national magazine at 17. College, marriage, and a degree in English literature and philosophy followed, but my PhD in cultural anthropology was put on hold by the birth of my four children—my greatest creations—in three-and-a-half years. I turned back to freelance writing and photography. A short story about a Hungarian immigrant steel mill worker made the Distinctive List of Best American Short Stories. The New York Times published photos I took on my travels. The Gamble Mill Gallery gave me my first one-woman show on my photos taken in the Turkic minority bazaar of Urumqi, China. Poet Robert Lima wrote poems to accompany my photos in our combined show entitled “The Eye of the Beholder.”
On a trip to Tijuana, I discovered the Mixtec Indian women begging on the dusty sidewalks. I sat down to talk to them in broken Spanish, needing to understand what gave them the courage to spend their days begging as tourists and shopkeepers alike derided them for their station in life. What I discovered was a determination to earn enough to feed their families, a deep religious faith, and the support of other women doing the same. After gaining their permission, the women let me photograph them and even live with them in their one-room shacks on my five successive trips. My third son Paul, pursuing an MFA in fine art photography, joined me on the last three trips and we collaborated on a large show entitled “The Marias of Revolution Road,” which was eventually exhibited at the Albert Schweitzer Institute in Hamden, Connecticut. My son documented the struggles of these families while I concentrated on their triumphs over seemingly insurmountable odds. After viewing the show, 17 high schools in Pennsylvania helped us collect more than 1,000 boxes of clothing, shoes, school supplies and elementary books in Spanish to send to the Mixtec families. Our project won the Keystone State’s Celebrate Literacy Award for contributions in the area of family literacy.
A New York Times assignment to photograph and write about hand-crafted jewelry components in the open markets of China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Burma enticed me to create jewelry of my own. I combined elements from four or five countries in each of my creations, celebrating the artistry of many other craftsmen and cultures, and eventually sold them in seventeen boutiques and art museum gift shops.
Eleven trips to China enabled me to come full circle and write two books on antique Chinese adornment, which combined my interest in cultural anthropology, writing, photography, travel, art, and hand-crafted jewelry. Four Hundred Years of Silver was published in 2002 and Traditional Chinese Toggles: Counterweights and Charms, was published in 2011. In dynastic China, personal adornment overflowed with symbolic significance, allowing us to understand what their owners held to be important and the beliefs that helped them to endure.
Today, I am still listening to my creative instincts. I am still taking photos. I am still making jewelry. I am working on another book with anthropological significance. And I am still searching for answers, trying to understand the human spirit and the forces behind it that allows humanity to not only survive, but prevail.
The Bellefonte Art Museum celebrates the human spirit through the arts, recognizing the importance of art in our lives. In 2011, the museum experienced a large increase in attendance, private donations and membership and completed refurbishing the historic Linn House. The museum opened three new galleries: the Children’s Creativity Center, the Anna Wagner Keichline Gallery and the new Louise Bloom Sieg Gallery. The museum is opened Friday through Sunday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Phone 814.355.4280