A professor at the School of Art for over 30 years, Sheila Pitt, passed away on April 30, 2020. As an educator, she taught art students printmaking, but as an individual, she taught us all the power of determination, perseverance, and resilience. Her life was turned upside down after a catastrophic accident in 2008. She was thrown from a horse, breaking her neck and becoming quadriplegic. Sheila had to relearn how to make and teach art. She returned to the classroom in 2009, after one year of surgeries and challenging rehabilitation.
“I decided to major in art specifically because of Sheila Pitt,” alumna Mora Kelleher-Smith remembers. “At the beginning, I thought she was really hard, but her confidence in me has given me confidence in myself. She has taught me that I can always do better.”
Sheila was a woodcut printmaker. After the accident, she learned to sketch with her non-dominant, mostly paralyzed hand, on a computer, which she continued to do, along with teaching, for nearly 12 more years.
A passionate teacher and a generous colleague, she will be greatly missed.
Friends and Colleagues Remember Sheila
Sheila was my inspiring colleague and dear friend for 30 years. We were very different: she was the artist, I the historian; she thought of herself as a fierce warrior, I thought of myself as a cautious diplomat. And yet we connected deeply through a mutual love of art, teaching, and horses. Sheila was also my riding buddy and we stabled our horses and rode together for many years. Sheila often challenged me, she even pushed my buttons, but she also encouraged and supported me, and that push and pull made me a stronger, better person. I suspect she did the same for her students. An astute and energetic colleague, she also enjoyed considerable artistic success, as did many of her students. Courageous, critical, funny, and loyal, Sheila was a force to be reckoned with because she cared so deeply. Of her numerous gifts, the most powerful was the joyful passion with which she embraced every aspect of life. I am honored to have been her friend.
Dr. Pia Cuneo, Professor, Art History
I met Sheila Pitt when she was finishing her graduate studies at the University of Arizona in printmaking. She exuded energy and enthusiasm as a Teaching Assistant and her work was powerful and direct. She had no qualms about experimenting with content and mixing media. Her technique was well mastered.
Later, when I hired her as a new faculty member I was not surprised as she rose to the position of Head for the Print Area, working closely with colleagues to foster excellence and national recognition. The student and faculty print exchanges that she and Andy Polk began quickly moved into national and international exchanges of portfolios. Some of these print portfolios are in museum collections here and across the country. Sheila’s art was exhibited across America and in Eastern Europe. In addition, she participated in artist residencies in Europe and China.
Sheila was a colleague who did not hesitate to critique my work and asked me for mine in return. She was the best friend and colleague, an artist with talent and integrity. In my 44 years of university teaching, I find it rare to have had a colleague who felt comfortable participating in such an open dialogue with other colleagues. She was honest, direct, and driven, never complaining about things, offering solutions to difficulties.
After her paralyzing accident she remained upbeat, did not complain and was eager to continue teaching and sharing her knowledge, skills, and experiences with students. Her sense of humor, her generosity of spirit and her willingness to commit her time to others was truly remarkable. These impressive traits of Shelia Pitt, along with her smile, remain a memorable gift to all.
Moira Geoffrion, Professor Emerita
Revered by students and colleagues, Sheila Pitt’s mark on the School of Art should never be underestimated. An internationally active artist, an outstanding teacher, and a hardworking colleague, she was an inspiration to all who knew her. She never held back from speaking her mind – her candor could be brutal – but this is part of what she was loved for, especially because it was backed by knowledge, insight and passion. Her students knew the benefits of taking her instruction seriously. Her classes were widely popular.
It was a terrible tragedy when she lost the use of most of her body, but being who she was, she did not give up. She continued to teach and to make art with the same excellence that had distinguished her previously. No one should have to endure the immense physical hardships that plagued her as a paraplegic, yet she rarely complained and always managed to have a positive attitude. I will always think of Sheila with awe and admiration. She inspired me with her strength and tenacity, and I am grateful for having been witness to her example.
Andrew Polk, Professor Emeritus