Cynthia Schira, professor of design, receives the award tonight at the 21st annual meeting of the Chancellors Club at the Lawrence Holiday Inn Holidome.
Schira's weavings are included in the permanent collections of museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Chicago Art Institute and the Museum Bellerive in Zurich, Switzerland. She has received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and in Kansas has been recognized with the Governor's Arts Award.
Since joining KU's faculty in 1976, Schira has been instrumental in building a textile design program known throughout the world. As a teacher, she has served as mentor to some of the leading artists and educators in the field, and in recent years, her pioneering work in the area of computer-aided design has made KU's program a model for those of other schools.
The Chancellors Club, established in 1977 by the Kansas University Endowment Association, is KU's major-donor organization. Its annual Career Teaching Award honors a senior KU faculty member who exemplifies the University's commitment to outstanding teaching. KU faculty members, students and alumni submit nominations for the $5,000 award.
"I'm very honored to receive this award, and also very honored that my colleagues put this nomination together for me," Schira said. She credited her success as a teacher to her love for her work, "When you're really involved, it's easier to pass enthusiasm on."
Mary Anne Jordan, associate professor of design at KU, nominated Schira for the award. Highlighting Schira's generosity as a teacher, she wrote: "Professor Schira's vigorous research has always been a resource for her teaching. Her artwork has opened doors for her that she has consistently and selflessly opened again for her students."
Writing in support of Schira's nomination for the award, Joe Zeller, chair of KU's design department, said that Schira had a gift for helping her students achieve success in both the professional and personal artistic domains.
"Her teaching has prepared students so effectively that KU graduates are the first choice for opportunities in the arts, including university art teaching and industry design," he wrote. "Cynthia's teaching is a combination of rigor and nurture."
Schira has been known as a trailblazer since the 1960s, when she was among a group of innovators who began using traditional craft techniques in nontraditional ways. During the past four years, Schira has used and taught computer-aided design (CAD) programs that are used in commercial textile design and production.
Schira said she was fascinated by the important place textiles occupy in the history of many societies. Although ceramics are the art forms most often recognized as anthropological messengers from ancient culture, she said, textiles are equally eloquent about the history of countries such as Peru and China.
She received her bachelor of fine arts degree from Rhode Island School of Design in 1956, then studied for a year at L'Ecole d'Art Decoratif in Aubusson, France. She received a master of fine arts degree from KU in 1967 and an honorary doctorate from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1989. Schira's work has been featured in 14 solo art exhibitions and included in more than 40 group exhibitions. She has lectured at symposia, conferences and art schools throughout the world.
Her husband, Richard Schira, is professor emeritus of art at KU. They have two grown children, Marcie and Eric, and two grandchildren.
The KU Endowment Association is an independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fund-raising and fund-management foundation for the University of Kansas. Founded in 1891, it is the oldest foundation of its type at a public university in the United States and one of the largest.
Story by Val Alexander Renault, (785) 832-7400