From Com­pas­sion in Her Youth To Courage Amid Her Own Pain

The Washington Post Sunday - - Obituaries - By Pa­tri­cia Sul­li­van

As an artist, a teacher and an en­tre­pre­neur, Sarah Hyde had a cer­tain some­thing that made peo­ple take no­tice. “Peo­ple could get very quickly and eas­ily swooped up in her en­ergy, in­fected by her en­thu­si­asm,” said her hus­band, Jack Kline.

“You would cer­tainly know she was in­tel­li­gent, she was lively, she was in­ter­ested in life. You might not know she was an artist or a teacher,” said her col­lab­o­ra­tor and neigh­bor, Dianne Hunt.

“She was great,” said Carlisle Wal­ters, a friend since 1971. “She had a won­der­ful sense of hu­mor, not in the sense of telling jokes, but be­ing able to laugh at life’s ironies. She had a great laugh, too.”

The 59-year-old wo­man of many in­ter­ests died of com­pli­ca­tions from a brain tu­mor March 8 at her home in Takoma Park. She had fought can­cer, and the ef­fects of the treat­ment, since 1999.

“She just dealt with it,” said Kline, a so­cial worker. “It was un­be­liev­able just how much aplomb, fo­cus and courage she brought to it . . . and she never lost a cer­tain dogged stamina to al­ways try to do what was right.”

From her child­hood in Water­town, N.Y., she struck oth­ers as a com­pas­sion­ate per­son, watch­ing out for other chil­dren on the block and suf­fer­ing at the death of her eldest brother when she was 13. She be­came flu­ent in Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage and af­ter col­lege and grad­u­ate school worked as a teacher of hear­ing-im­paired chil­dren with mul­ti­ple dis­abil­i­ties. She also wrote and pub­lished a cur­ricu­lum for those stu­dents and con­sulted across the coun­try on its use.

She was so skilled that she was of­fered an ad­min­is­tra­tive po­si­tion at Gal­laudet Univer­sity, the na­tion’s pre­mier col­lege for the deaf and hear­ing-im­paired. That was a turn­ing point; she and Wal­ters dis­cussed it for hours un­til Hyde de­cided to throw her­self into her orig­i­nal love of art, de­spite con­cern for her fi­nances.

Hyde hung out at the Joy of Mo­tion Dance Cen­ter near Dupont Cir­cle, draw­ing fe­male dancers in all man­ner of poses. She found two who be­came her reg­u­lar mod­els for dra­matic por­traits. Some of her art shows were ju­ried by Alice Neel, a grande dame of por­trai­ture.

“Sarah could cap­ture the mys­te­ri­ous in women, she could cap­ture the trauma of wom­an­hood and she could cap­ture the joy,” her hus­band said.

Hyde was com­mis­sioned to draw dancers at the Wash­ing­ton Bal­let. In 1983, Hunt, who is a chore­og­ra­pher, ap­proached her about an idea for a dance and vis­ual art per­for­mance.

“Look­ing back, I think frankly that Sarah’s paint­ings were at a higher level of artistry than mine at that point,” Hunt said. Over the next 18 months, they cre­ated “Life Draw­ing,” in which black-leo­tard­clad dancers, their hair spray-painted blue, per­formed around and with six larg­erthan-life paint­ings of dancers. The paint­ings, which moved on wheels, fit to­gether like a child’s puzzle. On the op­po­site side was an ab­stract color-field paint­ing, and glow­ing red stripes marked the edges.

“For me as a chore­og­ra­pher, it was the most com­plete col­lab­o­ra­tion I ever had,” Hunt said. The piece was per­formed at least three times in 1985 at lo­cal venues.

But that was not all Hyde was work­ing on. In ad­di­tion to her mas­ter’s de­gree in ed­u­ca­tion, she re­ceived a mas­ter’s cer­tifi­cate in sculp­ture and paint­ing from the New York Academy of Art and a doc­tor­ate in fine arts from New York Univer­sity in 1994, af­ter six years of work.

Though raised as a Pres­by­te­rian, she be­gan study­ing Hindu and Bud­dhist tradi- tions in the 1960s and 1970s and con­sid­ered join­ing an ashram led by Swami Muk­tananda. She re­treated from that re­li­gious tra­di­tion in the 1980s but in­cor­po­rated her knowl­edge into her doc­toral the­sis.

She taught at the Corcoran School of Art dur­ing the 1990s and started a preschool, the Al­legheny Learn­ing Cen­ter, in her home so she could be with her new­born daugh­ter, Sophia. The teach­ers were fel­low artists, and a wait­ing list quickly formed for po­ten­tial stu­dents.

“She was do­ing a mil­lion things,” Kline said. “She did not want to get a video of her daugh­ter’s first steps or a tape record- ing of her daugh­ter’s first words.”

When can­cer struck in 1999, the in­domitable artist forged ahead for a year. But then she be­came dis­abled from ra­di­a­tion treat­ments and was un­able to drive or paint or teach.

“It was a strug­gle for her to find words and com­mu­ni­cate what she wanted to com­mu­ni­cate. She dealt with it with such dig­nity and hu­mor and moved for­ward as best she could with her life,” Hunt said. “No self-pity. She cer­tainly ex­pe­ri­enced frus­tra­tion and ex­pressed it at times. But all of our neigh­bor­hood was amazed at her for­ti­tude and good cheer.”


One of Sarah Hyde’s en­deav­ors was start­ing a preschool, the Al­legheny Learn­ing Cen­ter, in her home so she could be with her new­born daugh­ter. Teach­ers were fel­low artists.

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