Lila Nelson Celebration: Claire Selkurt

Lila – The Gentle Activist

There are so many aspects of Lila’s full life that are worthy of admiration. I first met Lila in 1969 when I was at St. Olaf. I had come into Minneapolis to interview Marion for research for my Senior Honor’s paper. Lila and Marion had just recently won a red Mustang in some charity raffle. It was their first car. It made a big impression when Marion pulled up to take me to their home from the bus station. After graduation, I moved to the Cities and took my first weaving class from Lila at the Weavers Guild.

To me, as Marion’s doctoral advisee, Lila was always the warm and gracious hostess, the woman behind the great man.   It wasn’t actually until after Marion’s death that Lila and I began to form a closer friendship. I came to recognize Lila as a very talented artist with a streak of playfulness, who, for example, loved joining our friends for performances by Lily’s Burlesque.

Beyond this, I also discovered that she was something of a political activist. Some of you may recall that basket of magazines that she kept in her weaving room – publications for the most part left of Mother Jones. During her active computer period she would occasionally forward left wing screeds that made even my hair curl. She proudly stood beside Dianne and me during more than one GLBT rights rally and, as you saw in the slide show, she was also out there protesting the war in Iraq. (See the slide show here.)

Among my favorite tapestries are Lila’s animal terrorists – Lila’s commentary on what she saw as a paranoid government infringing on basic civil rights. Most stunning of all was her tapestry inspired by Abu Ghraib, in which she juxtaposed the iconic hooded figure against a crucifix. These works embody many of the things that made Lila special: her intellectual curiosity; a sense of humor that could be wry, even subversive, but never cynical and her great compassion for others. These were also qualities that made her a wonderful friend and a role model for all of us.

Claire is an art historian who taught at Minnesota State University, Mankato and the University of St. Thomas. 


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