Crafting a Career

Lynn Duggan at heart of Nazareth College’s studio art program

By Lynette M. Loomis

Lynn Duggan is planning to retire this May. “My husband and I both love to travel and I am looking forward to more trips to Italy.”

There was little art in the childhood home of Lynn Duggan and no family trips to a gallery or art museum. So what prompted this artist to pursue her career spanning more than four decades?

“My best friend’s mother gave me my first set of acryclic paints and a canvas. I was intrigued to say the least. I think growing up in a rural suburb in Kentucky also influenced me. My four brothers and I played outside all the time. We hiked, dug up animal skeletons and the occasional fossil. We cherished every bird nest we carried home. In middle school, I wanted to be an archeologist. That changed. In high school, much to my academic counselor’s dismay, I took art classes rather than physics and pursued painting in my early college years,” explains Duggan.

These combined experiences prompted Duggan to take not only painting classes but also courses in microbiology, botany and astronomy. A need to fill another slot in her college schedule led to her to take a studio class working with metals.

“Up to that point, I had not taken any classes working in three-dimensional mediums. I was enthralled. In fact, because I complained so frequently about the difficulty in securing as much studio time as I wanted, the professor gave me a key to the studio,” she said.

She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in creative arts from Purdue University and her Master of Fine Arts in jewelry and metalsmithing from Washington University.

Duggan has been a professor of art at Nazareth College in Rochester, where she has taught jewelry and metalsmithing, for close to 38 years. Professor and chairperson Ron Netsky, director of the studio art program in art, has worked with Duggan during her tenure at Nazareth. “She has never wavered in her energy level or her excitement about art. That has made her a great teacher because students have responded to that kind of enthusiasm,” he said.

People often ask Duggan what has kept her at Nazareth for so many years and she says there are a variety of factors.

“It is the perfect size for collaboration between all disciplines. As a small liberal arts school, the cross fertilization and the dialogue has been incredible. I have learned from, and made friends with, people from different departments, with unique points of view and varying personal and professional experiences. In larger schools, even a single department can possess a silo mentality and become territorial. It has never been this way at Nazareth,” she said.

Her colleagues echo her sentiments about the esprit de corps in their department. Mitchell Messina, professor at Nazareth, states, “Her involvement in the art department at Nazareth and her positive impact on the lives of students and faculty is undeniable. She has and always will be a role model, mentor, and inspiration for me. Lynn is genuine, concrete and real. She is the one person that I go to when I need a critical eye on a piece that I am working on. Her feedback is never superficial, but thoughtful and searching.”

As any professor will tell you, there is pressure to publish or create depending upon the discipline. Duggan admits it wasn’t always easy to teach, be married with three sons, and still make time to create.  “A great nanny, Aunt Julie, helped us find some balance to our lives. Also, I have always found working with the torch, my favorite tool, and shaping metal to be relaxing and calming. It puts me in a tranquil state of mind. Filing? Not so much,” she laughs. “I hate filing.”

Global appeal

“Plaything” is a tongue-in-cheek pull toy made of brass, copper, silver, wood and other objects. Duggan says it addresses the relegation of women to the domestic sphere. This “ideal woman” cooks, cleans,  serves and services, she says.
“Plaything” is a tongue-in-cheek pull toy made of brass, copper, silver, wood and other objects. Duggan says it addresses the relegation of women to the domestic sphere. This “ideal woman” cooks, cleans,  serves and services, she says.

Duggan’s work has been featured locally and nationally and she has been a visiting professor for the University of Georgia Studies Abroad Program in Cortona, Italy. Nazareth acknowledged her work with an excellence in teaching award. She was awarded two New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships and did an artist residency at JentelArts in Wyoming.

Duggan said inspiration may come from any place or any person. Louise Bourgeois, a French-born artist considered a female pioneer in three-dimensional art symbolizing the feminine psyche, beauty, and psychological pain, heavily influenced Duggan.

“I think every experience has the potential to influence one’s work. Certainly my childhood experiences playing outside — exploring in the woods, catching crawdads in the creek — taught me about the cycle of life and death in nature. Perhaps that is why bone imagery finds its way into much of my work,” she said.

“My father, a mechanical engineer, always puttered. He eventually transformed broken glass into what was leaded glass works of art, although he never intended these to be seen by anyone and he would not have considered them to be art. They were. We used old-fashioned blowtorches (blow pipes and alcohol lamps) together and shared tools. His joy was working with his hands and I share that sentiment,” Duggan said. “My older brother also is an artist. In terms of strong female role models in my family, my mother went to school for chemistry at a time when that was not a typical path for a women. My aunt was a WAC in World War II, also not a traditional career choice for women.”

According to Netsky, Duggan’s work has steadily evolved over her tenure at Nazareth. “Lynn is not only a master craftsperson, she is a highly conceptual artist. Her metal work often combines the seductiveness of traditional materials — like silver, gold and jewels — with subversive, hard-hitting messages,” he said.

Messina adds, “As an artist, Lynn continues questioning what she knows and is comfortable with. She pushes herself to extend the boundaries of her materials and always strives to elevate them in fresh new ways.”

Although retiring from Nazareth in May, Duggan is not retiring from her art. “I loved teaching, was stimulated by my colleagues and greatly enjoyed my students. That said, I am looking forward to having more discretionary time. I have a studio in our home so it will be a treat to have more time to create. I love films, am an avid reader and play tennis. My husband and I both love to travel and I am looking forward to more trips to Italy. I am moderately fluent in Italian, speak a bit of French and am looking forward to learning Chinese,” she said.

“There are some issues around which I am passionate. I am deeply touched by the discrimination and oppression faced by so many people. It is essential that everyone finds a place where they are respected and they can respect themselves. Everyone deserves to be valued. In retirement, I will volunteer my time where I can make some small impact,” she added.

Many retirees wonder about taking up a new hobby or pursuing a passion left dormant while working and raising families.

Duggan’s advice?

“Try it! If I can take Chinese, you can try something new and enjoy it too,” she said.

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