AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL
- -- Thomas John Ardis, Austin, Texas USA
NOTE: Katherine Ardis Ux passed away 1999 May 22 in Mt.
Pleasant, Michigan USA. She was born
1909 August 22. At "almost 90" she was active with her
students, her family, her friends... and her art... until a brief
illness that took her from us.
Friends and relatives of Katherine may send their remembrances
of her for inclusion in this web site. We would especially appreciate
photos of Katherine, or of her works of art, which can all be returned
- Thomas John Ardis
- P.O. Box 162042
- Austin, TX 78716-2042
My Aunt "Kate"
Katherine Ardis Ux was my aunt... an older sister to
my father, Evart William Ardis of Irvine, California USA. They grew up together in McBain,
Michigan USA, in the 1910s and '20s.
My dad will miss Katherine. They had a special
affinity with each other since childhood. In recent times, separated by
great distance, they wrote to each other several times each week.
Katherine and Evart had both outlived their other siblings... Margaret,
Burke, Doris, and Bernard Ardis.
[NOTE: Irene Doris Ardis died from cholera as an infant... 1913
A Family of Merchants and Shopkeepers
Katherine's father, Samuel George Ardis, owned a
general store in McBain. Her mother, Katherine Burk, was from a Scots
family in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan USA.
It would be from her mother that Katherine Ardis would receive her
introduction to, and love for, art. The senior Katherine was
self-taught, but a sensitive artist and painter.
The Ardis family was active in
supporting school and church activities in their small farming community
in rural Northern Michigan. The large Victorian house on Euclid Street was
open to a steady stream of overnight visitors... preachers, politicians, lecturers,
and artists... who made their way to this northern outpost in surprising
Surrounded by Family
Katherine's dad was born in Evart, Michigan USA, in the next county
to the south of McBain... the town for which my
father, her brother, Evart William Ardis was named.
Katherine's grandfather, William Ardis, had been born in
Armagh, Northern Ireland UK. William owned a livery in Evart. An adventurous
sort of man, he had gone to Ireland and to England a number of times and
returned with boatloads of horses to trade on the burgeoning American
William had several brothers and sisters in America with him,
including Robert Ardis, who farmed just outside of McBain. Other uncles
and great-uncles to Katherine owned stores in several of the surrounding communities in Northern Michigan. Katherine also
grew up with "Boyd cousins" in McBain... actually third-cousins,
who were related from back in Armagh in Northern Ireland, UK.
The Dutch and The Irish
The people in McBain that weren't "Irish" were mostly
Dutch Protestants... in fact, they were the majority. The Ardis family was of staunch Presbyterian stock...
"Scotch-Irish", really... rather than Irish Catholic. Many Dutch people attended
the Presbyterian Church in McBain. It later went out and was replaced by
the Dutch Reformed Church, and the Ardis family became members. It
seemed like an easy transition... all coming from good
"Puritan" stock as they were... both the Presbyterians and the
Neither Katherine, nor her brother Evart, were really
cut out for either small-town life or the merchant trade. Katherine
became a teacher and attended Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo,
Michigan USA, to work toward
a degree. Evart followed later and they both graduated with bachelor of
science degrees from Western Michigan University in 1934.
Evart Ardis wound up a school superintendent and later an administrator at The
University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan USA.
Katherine Ardis continued to teach... first as a public school teacher.
She then obtained the position as Instructor at Alma College, where she
established their first ever Department of Art. Katherine later
completed graduate studies and secured the position as Professor of Art at Central Michigan University
in Mt. Pleasant,
Hilton Ux was a "Dutchman"... with family ties to
the communities of Eastern Pennsylvania USA. He and Katherine met in New York City. Hilton
was working there for Westinghouse and Katherine was studying at Columbia University one
It was an "easy" match for both of them, and it led to
a deep and lifelong love affair... and partnership.
Small Town Life of a Different Sort
Katherine and Hilton settled in at Mt. Pleasant.
Katherine had her teaching... and her art. Hilton became involved in the
oil industry, which was developing its regional center for Michigan and
the Midwest, in Mt. Pleasant. He specialized as a
"landsman"... securing the necessary leases for the
"wildcatters", prior to oil
exploration and drilling.
Hilton Ux worked as far away as Oklahoma and Texas. He
never liked to be away from Katherine, however. As their careers
progressed, and their investments grew, Hilton was able to turn down
work in the "oil patches" of the Southwest. He continued to
work around Michigan and the Midwest, developed a sideline selling the
Helio Courier (one of the first STOL... slow takeoff and landing...
aircraft) to oilmen, and generally adopted an approach to business that
allowed him to maximize the time with his beloved Katherine.
A Partnership in Life
By the early 1950s Katherine was wanting to seriously
expand her artistic horizons. As a professor she had her summers off and
the ability to ask for longer sabbaticals, on occasion. Hilton, as an
independent contractor in his oil work, was able to accompany Katherine at these times without
jeopardizing his business.
It was on this basis that most summers were
spent either at Cranbrook Institute in Rochester, Michigan USA, or
elsewhere... with Katherine studying, teaching, or perhaps doing a
combination of the two.
The Academic Life
Katherine made two major sabbatical journeys into her
art, each lasting a year or more.
In June of 1955, my parents and I visited Katherine
and Hilton on the luxury liner S.S. United States in New York
Harbor. They were preparing for departure to Stockholm, Sweden.
Katherine studied ceramics there for a year. Returning in July of 1956,
they arrived in New York on the liner Stockholm. It was on the
very next return voyage to Europe that Stockholm rammed and sank
the Italian liner Andrea Doria, off Nantucket Island.
A few years later Katherine went to Latin America,
possibly for two (2) years. She and Hilton traveled by "tramp steamer",
traversing the Panama Canal, and stopping at
places in South and Central America for Katherine to study. She worked with both trained and "primitive" artists among the
native people. It was this trip that really shaped the future
accomplishments of Katherine Ardis Ux in weaving, textile design, and
the art of tapestry- making.
A Partnerhsip in Art
This trip also cemented the partnership between
Katherine and Hilton... one which would more and more focus on her
career and her art. Always the devoted husband, Hilton Ux emerged as the
artistic helper, personal promoter, and skilled business manager that
would let Katherine concentrate on the things she loved... and avoid the
"business details" that she often found distracting and
Katherine had rejected the "merchant life"
that had been led by her father, and so many of her uncles. Even in art,
however, she found that everyone has to "sell something"...
even if it is just themselves. Perhaps Katherine had known all along that she
had married the right fellow to help "manage" a career.
Perhaps it was just good luck.
Finding Her "Voice"
At any rate, Katherine began to concentrate on her
"weaving". She designed beautiful fabrics... acquiring the
finest of hand-built, hand operated looms... custom- built just for her.
Hilton handled the
negotiations, the finances... and the hauling of the
"stuff" all around. He secured sources for the raw materials
that she needed for her art. He negotiated contracts and sales, he
developed the wonderful studio space in their home where she could work,
made their travel plans. He also arranged for her art to be sent to the
many displays and exhibits, which were becoming more and more in demand.
All of this while Hilton was still keeping a hand in the oil business.
Katherine was free to concentrated
on her art, on her teaching... and on her learning.
"I'll Show You 'Art'"
It was with this background that, at some point,
Katherine must have decided to move beyond just "making
cloth". Perhaps she was stung by the criticism that "weaving
is not an art"... not like painting and sculpting, in the view of
some. Katherine knew that weaving was, by definition, a
"craft"... but, she also knew that it was "art"...
that, in fact, it could be "high art".
She began to explore
more and more the world of "tapestry"... textiles not as
clothing, rugs, or bedding... but textiles as "decoration"... as
"displays"... as "exhibits"... as "art".
A Special Life
I hope to soonbe able to show you more about
the actual work of Katherine Ardis Ux. Let me just say for now that it
is hard to imagine anyone that has done more to advance the art of
textiles in 20th Century America.
As with pioneers in any other field
(say, Frank Lloyd Wright, in architecture) you must view her work in the
context of the times in which she created it. Her bold colors, textures, and designs may seem
"contemporary" today... even "comfortable", or
"easy"... if still "striking". It wasn't
"easy"... not when she did it... nor the way she did it.
world was not always ready for its lessons from this little 90-pound
Irish girl from McBain, Michigan. Still, Katherine got her points across. And today we are all
the beneficiaries of her talent... and her drive... to produce.
A Legacy of Art and Ideas
Katherine wanted to do
something "different"... and she leaves her body of work that
shows what a clear vision she had. We also have a whole "army" of
her students across the land... striving to make such wondrous things
more "commonplace" for us all today.
The art of Katherine Ardis Ux survives in a number of
museums and private collections. We hope to eventually share with you
some photographs of these works, as well as catalogs from her numerous
exhibitions. Katherine Ardis Ux was honored with "one-man
shows" at Cranbrook Institute in Rochester, Michigan USA, The
Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC USA, and other venues across
the United States.
A Very "Public" Statement
One of the more interesting aspects of a very
interesting career is Katherine's participation in "public"
and "architectural" art. This came about through her lifelong
friendship with architect Alden B. Dow. Mr. Dow was son of the founder
Chemical Company in Midland, Michigan USA. A disciple of Frank Lloyd
Wright, Mr. Dow was named Architect Laureate of his home state of
Michigan, shortly before his death in 1983.
As a result of this partnership many extraordinary
Katherine Ardis Ux now adorn public and private buildings across
Michigan and the rest of America.
Rather than being mere displays of "public
art"... these works have been made "integral" to Mr.
Dow's designs for the buildings themselves.
Thus, we have a rather unique sort of "joint statement" by two artists... each quite different in
their outlook... but, with a deep and abiding respect
for each other. The result is art in a public place... but, as an organic
part of that space... and not as an afterthought, a distraction, or a
A Life Complete
With her recent passing I have a sense that Katherine
Ardis Ux had a life not just completed... but complete.
Katherine would be happy and proud looking back on all of this.
wasn't always easy, but Katherine did what she wanted to do. Along the way she
touched a lot of people and she left an amazing legacy of art. She
honored "primitives" and "native peoples" with her
study of their art, with her attitudes, and her teaching of their ideas
and their techniques.
Katherine Ardis Ux broadened the definition of "art"
for all of us. She contributed significantly to the larger transformation of
American culture since the 1950s. She taught us new ideas about color and
texture. She forced us to re-evaluate our notions of "fineness" and of "quality".
Finally, she helped us re-organize our
notions of art... what it is... and what its place should be in our
society and culture.
Goodbye, Katherine. And thank you... for a life