Power, grace, come in all forms

Artists as community builders

Learning can't be separated from where it is found. Don Thibodeaux Sr. found it in a bump shop, where he wielded a torch every day. He found it in the boxing ring, where he threw his own punches and helped lead such Kronk fighters as Tommy Hearns to more than 40 championships. He was also a true integrator of disciplines, who taught himself how to capture those moments of extreme physical tension in metal sculpture. In his mitts, chrome fenders and steel rods were transformed into statuesque icons of extraordinary likeness. "A Study in Power," his full-scale metal sculpture of Muhammad Ali, was unveiled at Madison Square Gardens.

Photographer Ameen Howrani's education was written in the faces of those around him. An ardent Detroiter, his camera captured Detroit's CEOs, street kids and celebrities. Howrani never made work that announced itself as "art" or as "advertising." Instead, each portrait was like an invitation to an encounter. His sister, Mary Catherine Ashley, says, "He would often comment that not a supermodel could ever improve on the face of someone who looked like your uncle, the neighbor lady or the postman."

Mary Laredo Herbeck absorbed wisdom from above and below, back and forth, slowly and carefully, as a flamenco dancer and guitarist, an artist, educator, curator, gallery director of Ellen Kayrod Gallery and community activist. Her persona resonated across the city.

These three artists were community-builders, a term that seems unwittingly trite when considering how deeply they lived. Here are a few lessons to be learned from them: Skill and endurance are the underpinnings of work and life. Passion and compassion will lead you across major divides. Last but not least, re-imagine your concept of "the good life."

Don Thibodeaux Sr.
Oct. 6, 1941-Oct. 8, 2010

All Don cared about was people who really work. He had no respect for those who could just "turn off" being an artist. He also didn't like gallery openings or parties. He complained about that a lot. The man had no time for bullshit. But I'll also remember him as someone who loved his children and his beautiful granddaughters. His granddaughter Olivia (Don Jr.'s daughter) was learning to weld by age 4. —Jerome Ferretti, painter, sculptor

Ameen Howrani
March 11, 1941-Oct. 2, 2010

I met Ameen thru the "Detroit Men's Club," which was a politically incorrect men's group he started. It was a monthly lunch gathering. This was 10 years ago. What I was most struck by was that we had people from all walks of life there, in terms of economic, political and racial strata — though mostly Democrats. He was an immensely talented photographer who lived his life wide open. ... The people who accompanied him were from all walks of life. He didn't recognize the normal barriers that society puts up. That's why he was endeared to hundreds of people. —Ric Geyer, community-arts developer

We collaborated on many fine benefits, but none quite as special as the support given to an aspiring young artist, Isaac Moreno. We met him in a drawing gallery of the DIA on a First Friday. The artist was accompanied by a mentor from the Hispanic community, and we got to chatting. We wanted to somehow be a part of this kid's journey. Isaac was in need of support to create a portfolio, and file expensive applications with elite art schools. Before the evening was over, we had a plan: Ameen would photograph and print the submission pieces, mother and I would cook a dinner for 50 close friends, and Isaac would prepare 25 charcoal drawings that would be sold at the dinner for $100 each. —Mary Catherine Ashley, sister

Mary Laredo Herbeck
Jan. 21, 1955-Oct.1, 2010

She taught others how to heal. She shared a tremendous wisdom for life and love of the natural world. Her many public art projects include a garden park where her steel sculpture "Cocoon" trumpet vine annually blossoms and reaches out to the sky. Projects like this in southwest Detroit continue to be a testament of her strength and courage to believe in the true spirit of community for the common good. We share this vision. Look for her next project of four mosaic columns over Vernor Highway to be completed spring 2011 in southwest Detroit. She will always be the shining star in my heart * we love you, Mary —Vito Valdez, partner, artist, educator

The Earth is our mother. We have a great many stems linking us to our Mother Earth. There is a stem linking us with the cloud. If there is no cloud, there is no water for us to drink. We are made of at least 70 percent water, and the stem between the cloud and us is really there. This is also the case with the river, the forest, the logger and the farmer. There are hundreds of thousands of stems linking us to everything in the cosmos, and therefore we can be. Do you see the link between you and me? If you are not there, I am not here. That is certain. —Excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh: Essential Writings selected by Mira Burack, artist, Kresge Arts in Detroit

She was a beautiful, inspiring, creative woman who fought the battle of cancer with dignity and grace, too young to leave us. I wish she would have been able to live out her dreams and experience the light she truly had inside. She will be missed by many. The loss of Mary Herbeck, Ron Allen, Marty Quiroz and Mick Vranich leaves a huge hole in our Creative Community. These people were unique individuals, who, by being themselves, were able to enrich and understand all who knew them. —Diana Alva, sculptor, painter

Don Thibodeaux Sr.

Walking along with Don Thibodeaux in a strip mall one afternoon a few summers ago, we were approached by a biker who seemed to know Don by the way he began a casual conversation with him.

"Never saw the guy in my life," Don said after the biker had gone on his way. "I wonder why the guy thought I was a biker."

"Look in the mirror." Had he done so, Don would have seen a man of average height, but one with a flowing white-red beard, exposed meaty arms, and a barrel chest atop a Franklin stove gut that accounted for much of his 300-pounds.


Don then exploded into his characteristic, infectious laugh, a laugh that always made those around him feel good. How not to like someone who laughed at one's mediocre jokes, one's ironic comments?

Don always let you know he was there, listening and responding to everything you said and did. He was never a pauper with the praise as well. This is to say that he was good company. That is, until the last couple of years — when diabetes sugar attacks were a regular occurrence. "The sugar is kicking my ass," he'd say. Sometimes, while watching a boxing match on television (the occasion for more than 100 of our meetings over the last dozen years), he'd fall asleep in the middle of fights. "I'm sorry," he'd say. "I just can't stay awake." Sometimes the attacks would so disorient him that he would forget to eat after breaking out into the sweats.

A week before he fell into a coma in late September, he talked about his impending 69th birthday on Oct. 6. "I never thought I'd make it this far." When his 62nd birthday approached seven years before, he said, "I always thought I'd be dead by 62." Pain from the sugar attacks and multiple heart procedures limited his work as a sculptor to scarcely more than aspirations in the last few years. Swollen legs cut down on mere walking. When Barack Obama was elected, he had plans to make a sculpture, a bust that would show the nobility of the man. "When he was declared the winner, it made me so proud."

The clay was bought, a representation was made, but Don wasn't satisfied. He scrapped that version for a smaller one, but he confessed, "I can't do it. My arms are shaking too much." Still, he wanted things moving around him. He had plans. Men were installing new flooring in his 75-year-old house when he fell into unconsciousness. I miss him. Lindy Lindell

Mary Laredo Herbeck

Mary was and is one of the greatest people I have ever known. I missed her when she was here, and I will miss her even more now that she is gone. Mary's art is supernatural, and so is her spirit; and the universe surely knows it. The five years we performed flamenco together were some of the best years of my life. Like that song says, goodbye doesn't mean forever; the memories, the art and the music will live on. —With love, Djeto Juncaj

I knew Mary for more than 15 years. I met her in Philip Fike's metals class at Wayne State University early in her studies, and we were roommates for several years afterward. She was the most driven, focused, determined artist I've ever met, no matter what media she was exploring — sculpture, jewelry, painting, dance, classical and flamenco guitar. She was a serious student of everything she fell in love with. She had left a safe, steady corporate job to take the brave plunge many of us never do in order to pursue her passion full time, and she didn't waste a minute of it.

True to her generous nature, she shared her time, knowledge, skills and creative talents with her community as well. She was deeply committed to bringing more art and cultural activities to southwest Detroit, and was a longtime resident and supporter of the city of Detroit and its vibrant art scene. Those of us who were close to her will miss her terribly, but the impact of her absence will be felt much farther out. The biggest impression she left me with was how to be fearless, to practice compassion and generosity, and to remember, even in the face of great challenges, that life is a joyous dance, and we must celebrate every moment. —Diane Townsley

I knew Mary for 14 years. She was a very positive person whose attitude always was "I can do that." During the time I knew her, she mastered: metalworking, painting, sculpture, flamenco dance, Spanish guitar and probably a few more things that I'm forgetting. Mary loved Detroit and used her vast talents to make the city an even more beautiful and wonderful place in which to live. What's more, she managed to draw in members of the Detroit community, of all ages, to participate in and experience the joy of her projects. Mary created community gardens in southwest Detroit and fabricated gorgeous mosaic benches; both projects involved young people living in the area. Mary was the curator of the Ellen Kayrod Gallery at Hannan House in midtown Detroit and organized shows that featured the work of senior artists. In addition, she taught workshops for aspiring senior citizen artists. Mary was instrumental in forming the SouthWest Artists Network of Detroit, which brings together numerous artists and community members to create and participate in gallery exhibits, art film screenings, poetry readings and artist lectures.

Mary was tireless. She brought all of her boundless energy and enthusiasm to every project she took on. I lived with Mary for a number of years and I don't remember her sleeping very much. Even though Mary was not given nearly as many years as she should have had, Mary managed at least three or four lives' worth of living in that time. Mary was, and continues to be, an inspiration to all who knew her. —Rebecca Ellis

OK. I am writing these at almost 2 a.m. with a couple of beers on me soooo, judge from that, but from the bottom of my heart want you to know how much I love and respect this woman from the moment I met her 15 years ago.

Most inspiring, grounded go-getter person I've known. She taught me some of the biggest lessons in my life: Do not waste a minute of my life. Work hard on what I want, and don't give up till you get it. Empty my mind and give it time to absorb today, yesterday no regrets, tomorrow who knows and today is all you got. She also taught me to listen and to be quiet... big one for someone like me who loves to talk, LOL. And one of the main ones is: She showed me through example how to be a friend, a true and unconditional true friend. I don't know what to say about the most amazing woman I've known in my life.

She was an inspiration of dedication, persistent and hard work. She lived her life with the understanding that, whatever you want, you just have to work very hard on getting it. She fought for her life with such dignity that the people around her learned that it was never about the illness but actually the attitude that you take about the whole problem. Cancer for her was just a small thing that came her way and she won the battle in her own way, she never lost herself on the way, she knew that the illness was never stronger than her and it was how she faced it that mattered. Mary Herbeck embodies what we women all aspire to: Strength, persistence, talent, resilience and, most importantly for me, how to always be an amazing good friend. Love you, Mary, and you are with me every day. —Valeria Montes

Honoring Mary, with an assemblage
of words from Pablo Neruda,
Robert Creeley
and Mary Oliver.

in the natural disorder of life,
Someone loved and younger
To become one's ancestor.

Mary always carried herself
with a calm dignity,
Continuously kind, gracious
and in service to others.
in being full of self,
because she knew that who one is,
is important
only in relation to others.

She was like an armature
of steel,
with butterfly wings.
And Vito, by serving her in his love,
Demonstrated his own strength
of gentleness.
Love is a journey
of water and stars.

Every breath taken in
by the man who loves,
And the woman who loves,
to fill the water trough
where the spirit horses drink.

What are you
going to do
with your one,
and precious life?

—Marilyn Zimmerwoman

Mary was amazing. ... She was firmly implanted in the corporate world as a sales assistant for Prudential Bach, and had been for many years. Mary went to an art festival in Birmingham, at 40 years of age or nearabouts. Mary purchased a $5-$10 bracelet made from safety pins, beads, and elastic bands but very attractive. After taking it home and admiring and examining it she said, "I could make one of these, ..." and the book of Genesis of Mary's artistic journey started unfolding. Mary proceeded to do "beadwork" for a while, but this wasn't challenging enough; she wanted to create, it was as if a creative nuclear detonation unleashed inside of her, dispersing in a multitude of areas and directions. Mary started playing flamenco guitar, one of the most difficult musical forms to play, and she started dancing also. All the aforementioned took place after Mary was 40 years of age! Not only was she my heroine, she was and is a paradigm. —Dwight J. Holt