Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, which introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece includes a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her personality.
Nancy Belle Douglas
Nancy Belle Douglas was born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1928, on the cusp of the Great Depression. At the age of 4, her family moved to Wisconsin, and she has been here ever since.
Douglas showed an early interest in the arts and, after high school, went on to earn art history degrees from both the University of Minnesota and Vassar College in New York State. Upon graduation she traveled to Europe, later coming home to marry her husband, Richard. The couple had three children, Sarah, Anne and David.
Douglas took advantage of her education when she began teaching art history at the former Milton College, where she taught until the school closed in 1982.
A longtime advocate for the arts, both locally and regionally, Douglas has been past president of the Janesville Art League, and she currently is a curator for the league’s permanent collection. She also acted as historical surveyor for the Rock County Historical Society during the country’s bicentennial (1976) and became a member of the United Arts Alliance Hall of Fame in 2004.
Tonight, Douglas will be honored with the Life of an Artist Award at the UW-Rock County Foundation’s Taste of Culture event. The program runs from 6-9 p.m. in the Frank Holt Gym on campus.
1. What was school like when you were a young girl? It was tough. I remember my sister and I wearing cotton dresses to country school. Of course, the johns were outside—one for the boys and one for the girls. In winter, once or twice, I skied to school just to say I did it.
2. My dad always said he walked five miles, uphill both ways, each day to get to school. Was he lying, or is that how you remember the commute? That was the story. For me it was two and a half miles and, very often, our mom drove us. Uphill both ways … yeah, right. But when the weather was good, we walked two and a half miles. We got our exercise.
3. Who was the last politician you trusted? (Laughing) I’m all for (U.S. Sen.) Ron Johnson (of Wisconsin). He’s a good guy. He’s honest, and he backs up what he says. He’s had experience in the real world and didn’t start out as a politician.
4. It is said we learn throughout life. Share a life lesson that it has taken you years to understand. We really, really need to think about other people. I’ve met some amazing people in my life—Buddhist, teachers and so on—and traditions. I’ve learned we’re just part of something so much bigger than ourselves. It takes years and years and years to understand because we all start out thinking about me, me, me.
5. If you could have any superpower, what would it be? (Flexing) To be able to get above it all, and to be able to do something about it. I don’t mean get it above it all by being some big honcho or something, but with things getting worse and worse and worse, I just want to be able to do something about it.
6. What is your worst habit? Procrastination. Oh, am I bad. But I’ve gotten better, I think.
7. Have you ever played video games? No. Never once. I like to do stuff outside like ride horses and anything else besides sit around on my butt.
8. Who are your favorite artists and art pieces? Almost since I was a kid, Michaelangelo and Rembrandt have been my favorites. One because he was so magnificent (Michaelangelo) and the other because he just painted with such heart.
9. You taught art at Milton College. How did you keep your students engaged? People always say I was enthusiastic about it. Art history was like bringing history alive and then seeing how people reacted to it. But this was also the time of the Vietnam War, and there were some people (in college) who were there avoiding the draft. I remember asking, “Why are you wearing those dark glasses all the time?” Another guy would just sit there, and you could just tell that he was grooving on those lights in the cathedral windows. It was a crazy time.
10. Share something people would be surprised to know about you. Sometimes I have the sense to keep my mouth shut when I’m so ready to explode.
11. Are there any modern-day musicians you particularly enjoy? If not, who are your personal favorites? I was glad to hear Cheap Trick got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And Paul McCartney is playing this summer at Summerfest. I like both of those.
12. Are the best things in life truly free? They’re not. Sometimes it’s about sweat equity. Absolutely nothing is free. Even your choices are driven by something.
13. Name the one item you own that you could not live without. My mind and my memories. There was a program on public TV last night about Alzheimer’s, and I was about scared out of my wits.
14. What would you say is the greatest accomplishment of your life? My kids. Children are miracles, if you give them a chance. Sometimes you don’t see it at the time.
15. What is your favorite color? Why? Red, then blue. Depends. I love them all.
16. What are the main responsibilities of being the curator for the Janesville Art League? To maintain and keep the permanent collection going. I’ve had so much help from people that have done so much more to getting good restorers who gave time freely.
17. Are you an early bird or a night owl? Depends on how tired I am.
18. You were born right around the time (1930) Grant Wood created “American Gothic.” Was that image a correct interpretation of the time? It really was, yes. That is one of the reasons (the painting) has become an icon of the time and not just a sometimes cover on a cereal box.
19. If you could share one piece of advice with kids from this generation, what would it be? Keep your mind open, and don’t believe everything you hear. Keep questioning, build up your own sense and have compassion for others.
20. What is the difference between growing old and being old? Being old can be many things, but I like to think about Native American and Eastern cultures that appreciate the wisdom that comes with being old. Growing old is not for the young.