Gloria Kramer Alford died peacefully in the early morning of October 10, 2017, surrounded by her beloved family – her husband Robert and children Heidi, Jonathan and Elissa. Gloria was a woman of many talents and many friends, who found a soul mate in Robert Sward with whom she shared the last thirty years of her life.
Gloria was born in Chicago on October 3, 1928, to Izzie and Rose Kramer, immigrants from Galicia (now part of Ukraine). It was the beginning of the Depression and the family had to be innovative and frugal to get by. At an early age Gloria developed confidence in her own judgment and originality and wanted to be an artist, though she didn’t know exactly what that meant. Her first foray into art was designing her own clothes in high school where she won first prize for a blouse, for which she was singled out by the teacher: “Remember her because she is going to be a famous designer.” Gloria continued to have a strong sense of design and color as reflected in her clothing, her home and her art. Two days after arriving at UC-Berkeley in 1948, she went to a new student dance where, because she was tall (and wearing high heels), she was paired with the tallest boy there. His name was Bob Alford. They married the following June. Gloria received a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology, psychology and anthropology. She taught art at the elementary level to help put Bob through school for his Ph.D. in sociology. They had three children, Heidi, Jonathan and Elissa – smart, talented and compassionate people whom Gloria bragged about and delighted in. In 1961 the family moved to Madison, WI, for Robert to take a faculty position at the university.
Gloria was always doing crafts – “anything you can do on a kitchen table and clear off.” In 1967 at 39 when her kids were older, she took a printmaking workshop at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, which she considered her first authentic art class. Over the years she studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia University, Pratt Graphics Center in New York City and UC Santa Cruz. She was a Visiting Artist in Paris as part of the United States Cultural Exchange Program in 1974-75.
She and Bob moved to Santa Cruz, CA for him to take a position at UC Santa Cruz in the mid-seventies where he later became Chairman of the Sociology Department. Gloria devoted herself to screen printing, vacuum forming plastic into molds and an early form of computer graphics – combining them into mixed media artforms. A major work in 1977 was “The Jaded Princess,” a life-sized replica of an ancient Chinese jade burial suit made from the earliest green computer chips, representing the duality of technology as a force for good, but also destruction since the circular chips covering the princess’s brain are bomb detonators. Gloria felt that that sculpture, extensively exhibited, established her as an artist. In the 1980s Gloria worked with hand-made paper to produce pulp paintings and sculptural pieces and also explored mono-print techniques. In 1990 she began painting abstract images in acrylic, later incorporating gold and silver leaf. She was featured in Who’s Who in American Art by Jacques Cattell Press and North American Artists in the Twentieth Century by Jules and Nancy Heller and had numerous exhibitions of her work, as well as being in permanent collections of several museums and corporations. Gloria participated in the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County’s Open Studios event for 25 years.
Divorced from Bob Alford in 1986, the following year Gloria met author, poet, teacher, Robert Sward. He saw Gloria as glorious… muse, lover, best friend. After she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2008, he became a loving and attentive caregiver. Robert, 2016-2018 Poet Laureate of Santa Cruz County, has written poems for and about Gloria, as well as a dramatic work entitled “Love Has Made Grief Absurd – Gloria, A Monologue,” capturing her day-to-day blunt, amusing, often poignant, commentary. These writings and a gallery of Gloria’s art can be found on this site.
Gloria is survived by her husband, Robert Sward; her children, Heidi Alford (Albyn Jones, Portland, OR), Jonathan Alford (Anki Alford, Oakland, CA), and Elissa Alford (Peter Gilford, Northampton, MA); her sister Ruth Zagorin in Washington, D.C.; grandchildren Kelsey Alford-Jones (Washington, D.C.), Eli Alford-Jones (Portland, OR), Jordi and Kiran Alford (Oakland, CA); six nieces and nephews; and her stepchildren, Hannah Davi Sward (Los Angeles, CA), Dr. Cheryl Cox (Cal Macpherson, Grenada), Kamala Joy (Austin, TX), Michael Sward (Jerome, AZ), Nicholas Sward (Pauline Hymus, Toronto, Canada). She is preceded in death by her parents Izzie and Rose Kramer and her sister Shirley Ratner. The family would like to thank the wonderfully supportive caregivers who were happy to spend time with Gloria as she laughed and joked and was alert enough, even in the last day or two, to acknowledge and enjoy their presence: Susie Struzanski, Alicia Nulph, Flavia Estrada, Teresa Quintero, Milissa Martin, Cherry Roberts, Erika Hernandez Ramirez, Nicole Muckenthaler, Maricela Rivera, Melissa Leung and Ellie Silva.
Gloria treasured her women friends, sharing a glass of wine, painting together, gathering for a monthly film group. She was also famously direct and unfiltered: what Gloria said was what she felt and what she felt, she said. She could find the positive side of every situation, and anyone who knew her recalls how often she said, “I’m the luckiest person in the world.”
A Celebration of the Life and Art of Gloria K. Alford is planned for Dec. 3. For details, email email@example.com
Donations can be made to:
Alzheimer’s Association https://www.alz.org or https://www.alz.org/norcal/
Hospice of Santa Cruz https://www.hospicesantacruz.org/
Arts Council of Santa Cruz County http://www.artscouncilsc.org/
Santa Cruz Art League www.scal.org
A WORD TO THE READER
Welcome to MONO-BLOG, aka, Gloria, A Monologue. Please understand that every word in MONO-BLOG is my wife’s. My sole contribution is that of lover, husband, caregiver and partner for 30 years. My qualifications: Feature writer, journalist for the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail in Canada, CBC Radio interviewer and Programmer. I bring what limited skills I have to attend, to listen, to listen, to listen to and serve as best I can one of Santa Cruz’ most gifted and deservedly best-known artists, Gloria K. Alford wife, my wife.
Following a car crash, Diagnosed in October, 2008 as having dementia, Alzheimer’s, Gloria went through a period of extreme anger, rage and over-the-top Everything.
Frightened, unsure of what to do, learning that caregivers often die 10 years earlier than they might otherwise, I confess, I lost it.
Anyway, less than helpful, I fell into a depression, considered suicide… planned to drown myself. Diagnosed as clinically depressed, I took a variety of prescribed meds, anti-anxiety pills, antidepressants, and began each morning to write and write and write, and of course to listen as closely and attentively as I could… what else could I do? I love-loved-love her… one way and another, I turned around, I began listening to my wife as I’d never before listened to anyone. I thank God that I’ve been privileged to have spent the last decade or so in her company.
So it is I have this 125-page manuscript, “Love Has Made Grief Absurd–Gloria, A Monologue.”
I can’t stop. The thing has taken on a life of its own. It keeps me going and, oddly, I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life. Heart trouble, Parkinson’s disease, asthma, I don’t care. All I want to do is write and yet, what can I say? 99.9% of the words I set down on the page are hers, not mine.
The story continues and I plan to proceed as I have been, only this time I’ll be sharing the project, day by day, in the form of a blog, hence the title, MONO-BLOG – Alzheimers.com
What comes next? Read on… like you dear reader, I have no idea.
I’ve been actively engaged in working in several mediums over the past 35 years. Using acrylics, I am currently painting on paper and canvas.
I spent the 1980s working with hand-made paper to produce pulp paintings and sculptural pieces. I also explored different mono-print techniques.
In the 1970s I devoted myself to screen printing, vacuum forming plastic into molds, and an early form of computer graphics, all of which were combined into mixed media multiples.
The latter part of the decade I got “off the wall” and completed two major pieces, Solar Sound Sculpture and The Jaded Princess, a replica of an ancient Chinese burial suit.
Gloria K. Alford
Thanks to Rabbi Eli Cohen for his encouragement and support, to videographer Ed Garner, and video editor/website administrator Phoebe Zajac.
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