October 3, 1928 – October 10, 2017
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 creative and frugal to get by. She told the story that when she was five, there was not enough money to buy her a snowsuit, so her mother took an old Army blanket and trimmed it in red felt for a snow suit for her. “It was actually quite fashionable, though not like anyone else’s snow suit,” she said. An early harbinger of Gloria’s confidence in her own judgment and originality. She wanted to be an artist, though at the time 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. 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 he 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 Institute 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 and vacuum-forming plastic into molds and an early form of computer graphics–combining them into innovative mixed media artforms. In 1977 she made “The Jaded Princess,” a life-sized replica of an ancient Chinese jade burial suit made from the earliest 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, widely 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 and served on the Board of the Santa Cruz Art League. Divorced from Bob Alford in 1986, the following year Gloria met author, poet and teacher, Robert Sward. He saw Gloria as glorious…his 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 (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), and Nicholas Sward (Pauline Hymus, Toronto, Canada). She is preceded in death by her parents Izzie and Rose Kramer, her sister Shirley Ratner, and her former husband Dr. Robert Alford.
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
Donations in honor of Gloria are appreciated and 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