Celebrating Local Ladies in the Arts

Photos by Bonnie Manning

You are touching greatness here… There are so many talented women in the Fort Wayne area with stunningly diverse backgrounds, it would take a whole issue of this magazine to cover them! Just a few are profiled below and this writer wishes there were enough space to do justice to all of them. Presenting: Betty Fishman, Dorothy Kittaka, Kate Black, Karen Gibbons-Brown, Dianna Thornhill Miller and Nancy Honeytree Miller.

Betty FishmanBetty Fishman, semi-retired artist, graduated salutatorian at Hicksville High School in Ohio; cum laude at Ohio State University, earned her master’s degree in Art Education from St. Francis College, received an honorary doctorate of humanities from St. Francis College, and also received the Lifetime Achievement Award for dedication and contributions to arts education from the University of St. Francis.

The former executive director of Artlink Gallery for 10 years, Fishman taught art at the Fort Wayne Art School for 10 years and for 22 years with the East Noble School Corp., served eight years as a fine arts appraiser and was named Sagamore of the Wabash, picking up an impressive list of hon- Betty Fishman, Dorothy Kittaka, Kate Black, Karen Gibbons-Brown, Dianna Thornhill Miller, Nancy Honeytree Miller ors and awards along the way, including the Esther Collyer Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 1995, Mayor Paul Helmke proclaimed May 3 as Betty Fishman Day; in 2005, Mayor Graham Richard awarded Fishman the City of Fort Wayne’s Certification of Appreciation in recognition of her contribution to the arts.

What drove Fishman to success was “a curious and fearless desire to explore the world, and my ability to cope with whatever possibility was presented. Especially demanding was teaching and managing Artlink plus working other simultaneous activities.

“I am also concerned with animal welfare and right now I’m vitally interested in feeding a lone duck that is surviving in the local pond. I take things as they come day by day. It is taxing just having lived 90 years and to still be working!”

Nancy Honeytree MillerNancy Honeytree Miller, Christian recording artist and songwriter began writing songs in the 1970s and performing at the Adam’s Apple coffeehouse, mentored by John Lloyd.

“He was the evangelist who told me about knowing Jesus,” said Miller. “We sang and played guitar together at all these venues. When I had 10 songs written, Pastor Paul Craig Paino and I cut a custom album in Nashville, which was backed by the Oak Ridge Boys and picked up by Word Records. In 1973, I recorded my first album, which we called ‘Honeytree,’ because that was my hippie name; my birth name ‘Henigbaum’ is German for Honeytree,” said Miller, who was influenced by Joan Baez, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.

“I come from a musical background and played cello in school. My mom and dad are classical violinists and so are my sisters. Also, my dad is a conductor.”

Miller has made 17 albums. The most recent is “Call of the Harvest,” which was recorded in English, Spanish and Urdu.

“I did two songs in Farsi and now I am working on it in Arabic, with the goal of making the whole ‘Call of the Harvest’ CD in Arabic, which I hope to have completed by 2015.”

Miller, who frequently jammed with American guitarist Phil Keaggy, continues to perform solo with guitar. “There are so many things I like about performing live. I like how you feel nervous before you start but then that energy propels you to sing for others. I love that sweet connection that you feel with people, and especially when people connect with Jesus as a result of hearing me sing!”

Karen Gibbons-BrownKaren Gibbons-Brown, executive and artistic director of the Fort Wayne Ballet, learned the hardest thing about her career was living up to her own expectations.

“I was told early on that it was my responsibility to carry the torch, which I took seriously and still do,” said the ballet matriarch who has made several guest appearances nationally and was frequently invited to instruct in Italy and France.

A favorite motivational quote the ballerina uses in her teaching is, “A diamond is a piece of coal that stuck to the job.”

Career highlights include being named as one of the world’s 18 mostrespected ballet masters, pedagogues and artistic directors by noted choreographer Dean Speer in his 2010 book, “On Technique.” Gibbons-Brown earned the Outstanding Dance Artist Award in 1997 and served as juror for Concours International de Danse Classique in Paris in 2000.

The blonde ballerina is married to former Fort Wayne Arts United executive director Jim Sparrow (now CEO of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, N.C.) and the couple shares five blended children and two residences, rendezvousing at least monthly.

“Dance is such an amazing field and each day I feel fortunate to be a part of it,” concluded Gibbons-Brown. “My greatest joy is sharing it with anyone who will allow me!”

Kate BlackKate Black, actress, walks a fine line balancing her acting, her certified personal trainer job at the YWCA, and her family, among other critical tasks in her life.

“Fortunately, my wonderful husband and sons get my need to perform and support me,” said Black, a South Side High School graduate who earned her B.S. in Theatre at IPFW and has been acting since 1971, with her professional theatre and camera life beginning in 1982. The Wabash native also spent 10 years acting in San Francisco before returning here in 1993.

In addition to acting, Black teaches “Fundamentals of Performance” for the IPFW Theatre Department and is a member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild.

Black’s professional experiences include an estimated 75 plays, along with many commercials and industrial training films such as those for Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Sun Micro Systems. Her biggest influence was her SSHS drama teacher Robert Kelly, an avowed Shakespeare fan.

“My greatest and most humbling honor was when he wrote me a letter of recommendation prior to my job at IPFW,” said Black, the recipient of several Anthony Awards in past years. “I read it every now and then to make sure I keep hitting my mark.”

Black’s name is a familiar one with area theatre-goers, who have seen her performances in such venues as the Civic Theatre, First Presbyterian Theatre, IPFW and the Arena Dinner Theatre.

“My husband, Bob, and I once did a production of ‘Twilight of the Golds’ at First Presbyterian,” recalled Black. “As it was controversial, there were after-play discussions and at the end of one of these. One woman who’d sat quietly through the beginning, spoke up, saying that her son was gay, as was the protagonist of our play, and she had always wanted him to be like everyone else. She’d pestered him and been annoyed at his ‘choices,’ but said after watching ‘Twilight,’ she understood something new about her son and his life, that she felt she could love and accept him in a way she never could before. We all felt that was truly art impacting life in that most moving and tangible way possible.”

Dianna Thornhill MillerDianna Thornhill Miller, nationallyrenowned Midwest artist and Fort Wayne resident, credits her high school art teacher Yoshio Nakamura in California where she was born with being her earliest mentor.

“Later on my most important professional mentor was my late husband, Jim Miller, an architect who left his practice to join me in founding Omni Art Design LLC (www.omniartdesign.com) for collaborations in architectural scale, site-specific, commissioned art. Together we produced hundreds of works of art, from coast to coast and abroad for 20 years,” said Thornhill Miller, who continues to produce largescale commissioned works internationally, often assisted by her son, Branden.

Working in mixed media (leather, fiber, mobiles, wood, metal, repurposed items), printmaking, sculpture and painting, Thornhill Miller, who lived and studied in Europe and Mexico, treasures the intuitive process as she creates project after tremendous project.

A local honor was being included as one of the “100 Best Things to Remember about Fort Wayne” and being put into the city’s 100-year time capsule, said Thornhill Miller, who completed her B.A. in Fine Art at Anderson University and also her M.A. at St. Francis College.

Accomplishments include being the first woman artist to have a solo exhibition at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, being the only American invited in 1983 to exhibit at the Salon d’Automne in the Grand Palais in Paris and also presenting and exhibiting at the International Association of Women Architects’ symposium, “Art Related to the Child” in Paris. She also created “Diversity, Unity, Community,” displayed in the city-county building.

“Without a doubt, the greatest challenge during my 40-year career was the ‘New Bloom’ sculpture installed last April at Harrison Square by Parkview Field,” said Thornhill Miller, of the 25-foot-high stainless-steel abstract iris with programmed light that gives it color vitality at night.

“Complex as the process was, the most difficult part was having to assist the New Bloom committee to find the funds to make it possible to create this gift for Fort Wayne. It was a great joy when Mayor Tom Henry dedicated the sculpture in the presence of 200 people and proclaimed it ‘New Bloom Day!’”

Dorothy KittakaDorothy Kittaka, vocalist, retired educator and co- founder of FAME, rose from the ashes of an American concentration camp where she was sent at the age of two with her family for three years, along with 120,000 other Japanese-Americans.

Amid the gloom at the base, the little girl heard her earliest memory of music from the poignant notes of a single trumpet player. And in that sweet childhood moment, a wondrous and fruitful career path was born.

Kittaka, who earned a B.S. in Music Ed from Northern Illinois University and a M.S. in Education, has an enviable background in the arts, having served as past president and co-founder of Foundation for Art and Music in Elementary Education, director of Music Institute at the University of Tennessee, the Indiana Music Educators Association, State Chair for Circle the State with Song and SAI National Music Education Chair. She has sung with many orchestras, including the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.

Though the talented opera singer has accumulated many awards and honors throughout her life the one that “changed my life was in 1984 was the first John F. Kennedy Fellowship for Teachers in the Arts with a three-week residency and soprano solo performance at the Kennedy Center,” said Kittaka, mother of three sons. “It opened up my duel career as an educator and as a soprano soloist.

“However, receiving the National Teachers Hall of Fame award in 1999 was such an honor because it recognized my educational career, which I feel is the most important vocation in the world, since we touch the future of our children to go on to be the leaders of our country. Another surprising honor was the ‘As They Grow’ award bestowed by Parents Magazine, and presented to me by former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

Kittaka, an ambassador with the Fort Wayne Sister Cities, International, Inc., is a frequent global traveler who cherishes learning about other cultures in her quest to, “Rewire, Refire, Reboot my life and find out what I really want to do when I finally grow up.

“Music is powerful and has the ability to bring people together, to heal, to be happy, to inspire and to enjoy life more,” concluded Kittaka. “Nietzsche said it all: ‘Without music, life would be a mistake.’”


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