It’s always fun to do these interviews but even better are the surprises revealed during the conversations. I have known who Verda Lund was for some time but I didn’t know how incredibly talented she is. I got to see some of her art up-close and personal. “Wow” is a good description for what she has created.
Verda has always loved art but never had a plan to develop her talent into a career. After high school, she attended the University of South Dakota but quit after two years as she thought it was costing her parents too much money. She spent the next seven years as secretary and administrative assistant to the president of the School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, SD, where she met and married Lyle. They went back to the University of South Dakota with various campus jobs and the help of the GI Bill. Lyle received his degree in mathematics; Verda in art education. She would later earn a Master’s in art education as well. They celebrated their sixty-third wedding anniversary in August with their son, Britt, his wife, Linda, and their grandchildren, Zach, Madi and Mitchell.
Verda taught art for one year in South Dakota but “didn’t enjoy it very much.” When Lyle started working at Vernon Electric in 1962, Earl Jaeger, Lyle’s boss, found out Verda was an art teacher and recommended that she be hired to start an art program in the Westby Area School District. Until Verda came, art was not part of the school curriculum. She took responsibility for more than 300 students each week, teaching them art history and ceramics, drawing and color theory. Each year, she added new ideas and ways of presenting them to keep things interesting for her students. She carried supplies from school to school, pushed her “art cart” from room to room, and washed paintbrushes in the janitor’s sink. Verda told me that she loved her students, being in Westby and the beautiful area. She retired after thirty-two years and teaching thousands of students. She is proud that some of them went on to make successful careers as art teachers, commercial artists, designers and art directors.
Even though Verda is now retired, she certainly has not retired from art. Her time has been spent making jewelry, designing greeting cards, woodcarving, quilting, painting and doing embroidery. She has taken classes from some very talented teachers because she said, “you should never stop learning.” Currently, Verda is creating what she calls “wall hangings.” I call them amazing. Verda has drawn over 100 patterns and doesn’t think she will ever be able to turn them all into finished pieces because she keeps adding to the pattern pile. Starting with a piece of fabric, Verda uses quilting, sea shells or beads, yarn, ribbon or maybe piping, to actualize a background for circles, or “flowers,” made with pheasant feathers. A circle, depending on its size, can be made with as many as a hundred or more feathers. Meticulously cutting and placing each feather in fine detail, Verda matches the size and color of the feathers to make each circle a blended work of art in itself. Some pieces that she has finished have several circles. Did you know that pheasant feathers grow in different colors on different parts of the bird’s body?
The intricate designs that I saw would require many hours of work, starting with the preparation of the pattern, the selection of the materials, and the construction of the art. And then there are the changes that come about during all of this because Verda explained that her creative process doesn’t stop just because the pattern has been drawn. As she is working, Verda allows the art to guide her and makes the necessary changes as she gets inspiration.
In addition to her art, Verda keeps busy with other interests. She loves to garden and has surrounded her home with many colorful flowering plants. She also reads a lot, mostly biographies, travel and historical fiction. I could have guessed that. But when she told me she recently finished a 600-page life story of David Bowie, now that was one of those surprises I referred to earlier.
As we were finishing our conversation, I asked Verda where her inspiration comes from, thinking maybe I could learn how to develop my very inartistic abilities. She explained that she considers her talent a gift that is “just there,” and she left me with a thought. “Each of us has been given special talents. It’s up to us to discover them and use them to the fullest.” Spoken like a true teacher!
Please contact the Westby Area Historical Society at 608-634-4788 or email@example.com if you have a story to share. Better yet, come to our meeting on Monday, October 1 at 5:30 p.m. at the Thoreson Museum.