THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
Dr. Nancy Topping Bazin
“It’s important to vote for democracy in the books that we teach, the insights we convey and the teaching methods that we use – our future depends upon it.”
Interviewed by Michael Bazin, August 2020
MB: Thank you for letting me, your son Michael, interview you for Veteran Feminists of America. Let’s begin with you giving us your full name and when you were born.
NTB: Nancy Grace Topping Bazin and I was born on November 5th, 1934.
MB: Briefly tell us about your parents and where you were raised.
NTB: I was born into a lower middle-class family. We lived in a pretty little town called Oakmont, Pennsylvania, a little north of Pittsburgh. My father had a difficult life, because he was only thirteen years old when his father died of the Spanish flu. As a result, my father had to stop going to school in the daytime and get a job. He went to high school at night and continued that way through his first year of college. After I was born, he worked as a tool designer for the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Like Oakmont, ALCOA was situated along the Allegheny River.
My mother was born into a family of six children. Her mother was an Irish immigrant, and her father was Pennsylvania Dutch. Early in her life, she had been Secretary-Treasurer to the Pittsburgh School Board and late in her life, she was Secretary-Treasurer to the Oakmont School Board. She was a model for me, because she was always reading and because she always sided with the victims rather than the perpetrators of prejudice and intolerance.
MB: Would you tell us a little about the development of your political consciousness? In other words, what led you to become a feminist?
NTB: Well, the path to activism and feminism was diverse. I had gotten myself baptized at the age of 18, which took a lot of courage. But then when I was 20 at Ohio Wesleyan University, I wrote a little essay for a university publication and said that I thought religions really had to expand to include science and democracy. Another thing I did was picket a barbershop where they would not cut the hair of Blacks–or of foreign students whose hair they didn’t like. Those students had to go all the way to Columbus to get their hair cut, which was about an hour away. The third thing is: I was a member of the Chi Omega sorority. Most of those sororities were founded in the South, and they did not allow Black girls to become members. There were two older girls in the sorority who were deactivating because of that–as a protest–so I joined them and deactivated.
Later in 1965, I was in Princeton, New Jersey, and joined a seminar on nonviolence. We read Gandhi and Martin Luther King, A. J. Muste, Gene Sharp and some other people, and we began to pass out leaflets against the Vietnam War. I was particularly trying to convince some people who were going into church one Sunday to have a conscience, and I gave them photos of what napalm was doing to the Vietnamese people. One woman looked back at me with such hatred.
In 1970, I began to teach at Rutgers College, which, at that time, was one of the five colleges of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. As a university English teacher, I immediately began to attend the Modern Language Association conventions. The feminist speeches there raised my consciousness about the importance of feminist literary criticism. There was also a big conference, Women in the Arts, in Buffalo, New York. It was nine days long, and it was the first time I had been in an all-female environment like that. Those early experiences made me a devoted feminist from then on.
MB: What would you say was your role overall in relation to the women’s movement?
NTB: As a teacher and a writer, my role was to educate people. I educated the students, first-of-all, but also the heads of departments, members of the community, and sometimes the media. One can pass a law, but if people don’t change their minds, they may not follow the law. So that was what I did. We have to do that if we want to get rid of systemic sexism and have a more just and equal society.
After I went to Rutgers College and started their Women’s Studies program, I went to the University of Pittsburgh and for one year managed their Women’s Studies program. After that, I went to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia and developed theirs. That was how I played a role in the women’s movement; and it was from 1970 until I retired in 2000.
MB: Tell us more about what you did at Rutgers.
NTB: When I arrived at Rutgers College in 1970, they had had a debate for several years about whether to go coed. WEAL [the Women’s Equity Action League] had an active chapter there, and they wrote to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was teaching law at Rutgers Newark, to ask her to write a letter to Rutgers, which she did, to tell them that they were very likely, as a big state university, to get sued if Rutgers College did not go coed. That convinced the administration that the all-male College had better be coed. Therefore, they planned for it to go coed in 1972-73.
In preparation, in 1971-72, the dean set up a committee to decide what to do when the girls came, because the men were very nervous about adding these girls. They did not take any places of the boys; the administration simply added a few places for the girls onto each freshman class. They did that for four years and then, after four years, they decided they wanted to admit students by merit. However, they discovered that using merit as the basis for admission would result in having more girls than boys, so they created a 50/50 quota system!
I was a member of the 1971-72 committee about the arrival of the girls. One day a female graduate student in history, who also served on this committee, declared: “We might have to change the curriculum for these girls, because I looked in my American history books and I could find nothing about the suffrage movement, either in the index or in the text.” The Dean stood up, slammed his hand on the table, and said: “If this curriculum has been good enough for the boys, it’s good enough for the girls”; and that ended the conversation.
But I went home that night and looked at my American history books and, sure enough, there was nothing about the American suffrage movement. It went on from 1848 until 1920–many years with a lot of imprisonments and forced feedings, which were horrific for the people working to get the vote for women. There was obviously a need to change the curriculum. Men would often say to me, what about men’s studies? But they already had men’s studies. They had simply left out fifty-one percent of the population, the females. We had to change that.
One thing they asked me to do while I was on that committee was to talk to the teachers in physical education, because they were particularly nervous about teaching girls. Those male teachers said that they had been taught in graduate school that you couldn’t throw a ball at a girl’s chest because you might hurt her and that she couldn’t roll on her stomach; they also thought she couldn’t swim one week out of four. I tried to soothe their concerns about that misinformation.
As a member of that committee, I was also asked to set up programs to welcome the women students when they came to Rutgers. I and a few other women created a lot of programs; we ended up with thirty-three. To my amazement, the Dean didn’t give me any budget; so I had to go around and get money from all the different organizations, not only at Rutgers College but at some of the other Rutgers campuses in the New Brunswick, NJ area.
We had marvelous programs there. We had Toni Morrison – she had just written her book called The Bluest Eye, the very first book that she did, and in 1993, she won a Nobel Prize. I invited Anais Nin, famous for her published diaries. There was also Marge Piercy, the poet and novelist, and Violette Verdy, who was a ballet dancer, Barbara Ehrenreich, who has written many different books, and Robin Morgan and Mary Daly, who were well-known feminists. In addition, there were poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Diane Wakoski. We also had some local poets, Alicia Ostriker and Adrienne Rich, and a couple of artists Eva Cockcroft as well as Faith Ringgold whom I had met at the Women in the Arts conference; both had exhibits of their artwork. We had a wonderful time; we all learned a lot from it and enjoyed it very much.
Later, when I was temporary director of the Women’s Studies Institute for one semester, I set up talks for the female faculty members who were at Rutgers University. There were people like Ruth Whitney in religion and Judy Walkowitz and Dee Garrison in history, and a number of other people, like Carol Smith, in different fields; and they had an opportunity to talk about their own research, which is why we had created the Women’s Studies Institute–because we wanted to encourage the women to publish. There were 440 male professors at Rutgers College and only 40 women. Most of those women were in the lower ranks. We had to help the women get tenure.
At the same time, I was also talking to the heads of various departments to persuade them to offer a Women’s Studies course, and I talked to various faculty members to persuade them and give them some ideas of what those courses might be. Eventually we got quite a few courses together. William O’Neill had written a book about the history of feminism in America, so he offered a course. There was Ann Parelius who did the Sociology of Sex Roles and Sociology of the Family and La Frances Rose, who offered a course called The Black Woman. There was Phyllis Boring who gave a course on Hispanic Women Writers; Judy Sterns gave a course on Psychobiology of Sex Roles and John Bird gave a course on Sex and Pregnancy. I taught two interdisciplinary courses–one with Judith Walkowitz called Victorian Women in Literature and History and one with Dee Garrison entitled 20th-Century Women in Literature and History.
The first course I taught in Women’s Studies was called Female Roles and the Feminine Consciousness. I had eighteen men plus three women who had come over from Douglass College, which was all female. That was an unusual Women’s Studies class. The graduate students wanted to have a course, so they drew up the list of books they wanted to read and wrote the course description. Then they asked me to teach it. When they went to the graduate adviser to sign up for the class, he said it was just a fad and they shouldn’t take the course, because it wouldn’t do them any good in their career. That was his attitude. However, thirty students signed up anyway.
I was also, for a while, President of the Women’s Caucus at Rutgers University, and we were asking for daycare centers for the children of the faculty and the students. We did get daycare centers on the various campuses. We also had the Women’s Studies Institute, which we got approved. Four of us went to ask for it and we did get a building over on the Douglass campus. I directed it for the first semester, the fall of 1974, and Guida West took it for the spring semester of 1975. We were waiting to have Mary Hartman from Douglass College take it over after she got tenure. She took it over in the fall of 1975.
I left Rutgers in the spring of 1977, because I did not get tenure. We had been told that getting a book published was what was required to get tenure. I did not get tenure despite having a published book called Virginia Woolf and the Androgynous Vision (1973) and, in addition, I had published two articles as well as a long bibliography on androgyny. I think the men in the department then did not really understand or appreciate or respect women’s studies or feminist literary criticism or Virginia Woolf. They probably hadn’t even read Virginia Woolf. She became very popular later. Her reputation was not as great at that time, but obviously she was being taught at Stanford in the 1960’s when I was a graduate student. Certainly, she was an excellent writer.
I did not challenge the tenure decision. I had talked with Elaine Showalter, who was in women’s studies at Douglass College. She emphasized that it would cause me a lot of stress and that if I challenged it and then wanted a job elsewhere, maybe they wouldn’t hire me because I had challenged it. Therefore, I did not file a complaint.
MB: In ‘77 you left Rutgers College and you went to the University of Pittsburgh. Tell us about that.
NTB: I got to teach in that marvelous building called The Cathedral of Learning. It is a Gothic skyscraper, and I had always loved it. I went to Pittsburgh, because in a way it was my hometown. In 1977, the problem was that all the budgets in the universities had been cut. They were drastically slashed and there were long lines of cars waiting for gasoline; the gasoline prices had gone way up. We were going through a difficult economic time. In the whole country, there were two–maybe three–Associate Professor jobs available.
I applied for all kinds of university positions, but only in the last part of July did I get this offer from the University of Pittsburgh. It was only for a part-time job directing their Women’s Studies Program, although I could teach classes for extra money; and that’s what I planned to do. The good thing about it was that they gave me a three-year contract. I did go there. I was separated from my husband by that time, and I had two children: one was seven and one was fourteen. It was really necessary that I get a job.
At the University of Pittsburgh, it was a much happier situation, because there were a lot of women among the students and a lot of women on the faculty. I remember at Rutgers, I looked up when a girl walked by because her hips were different from hips I was used to seeing, with all the males around me. That’s the way men would react also. But earlier at the University of Pittsburgh, when the first women faculty arrived, they too had some problems. When they went to eat in the faculty dining hall, they had to sit behind a screen so the men couldn’t see them.
At Pittsburgh, I carried out what they were already doing: they had a big women’s film festival, and I also helped them get more internships for the students. Most exciting was that we had an event for the anniversary of the first woman to get what we now call a Ph.D. That was an Italian woman whose name was Elena Cornaro Piscopia. In 1678, she was not only the first woman ever to get a doctorate, but she was also the first woman ever to get a degree from a university. She was very good in mathematics and did teach mathematics at the University of Padua for some time. Her tutors thought she was so bright because, by the age of seven, she already knew five languages. She was an exceptional child. Strangely, her father was a nobleman, but her mother was a peasant. I don’t know what the story is behind that, but it’s an interesting detail. Although the Pope had said she could not get a doctorate in theology, which was what the tutors first asked for, she could get (after they insisted) a doctor-of-philosophy degree. So that’s what she did.
My own contribution that year was to teach an interdisciplinary course by myself rather than team teaching. I taught a course called Introduction to Women’s Studies. They planned to keep that as a core course in their Women’s Studies program. I wasn’t going to leave there, because I was so exhausted from applying for about two hundred jobs the year before–for any kind of job in academia. I was going to stay. But then I learned there was a position open as Associate Professor and Director of Women’s Studies at Old Dominion University. So, I did apply, and I did get that job. Therefore, I left the University of Pittsburgh in June of 1978.
MB: Tell us a little bit about Old Dominion University, since that was where you spent most of your career. What was your experience like there?
NTB: My reception there could not have been warmer: the Dean (Heinz Meier) had a big party and invited all the faculty in the College of Arts and Letters to his house for a reception to introduce me to them. I had his authority supporting me which was very welcome. The women there had had a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, or NEH, the year before, and under the direction of Carolyn Rhodes, they had started five courses that year, four of which were team taught. The agreement with NEH was to hire a full-time director the following year.
Old Dominion University was a big state university in Norfolk, Virginia. It probably had about 20,000 students when I arrived. They had a women’s basketball team that won the national championship in 1979, 1980, and 1985. They were well-known for that basketball team. Also, it was a very young university: it had been a branch of The College of William and Mary, but in 1962 it became a four-year college. In 1969, it became a university. They were hiring in the 1970s when the older schools were not hiring, and this meant that they got a lot of wonderful faculty, including a lot of women, from very excellent schools; they put together a marvelous faculty.
My first priority was getting more women’s studies courses. We had courses like Women in Crime, Communication between the Sexes, Sociology of Sexuality, Women in Autobiography, Women’s Quest for Utopia, and Women in the Arts. And of course, we had the usual courses of Psychology of Women, History of Women, and Women Writers. I developed more interdisciplinary courses there, like the one I had done in Pittsburgh. I created a course called Women and Power, another one called Mothers and Daughters, and a third one called Women’s Spiritual Quest. I also had an introductory course for the undergraduates and graduates. For the undergraduates it was Women in a Changing World, and the graduate course was called Women’s Studies and the Search for Truth.
My second priority was to have a lot of faculty development. I had two daylong faculty development workshops every year, one in the fall and one in the spring. With the help of my assistant, Gloria Putnam, who was wonderful, we put these things on. The night before, the speaker would give a public speech open to everybody. Then the next day, always a Saturday, we would offer two workshops, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Some of those speakers were: Peggy McIntosh who was the Director of the Wellesley Center for Research on Women, Florence Howe who had been President of the Modern Language Association and was then Editor of The Feminist Press where she found books by women that had gone out of print and got them back into print, Susan Friedman who was from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Elizabeth Minnich who was a philosopher and a writer.
In addition, for the public-school teachers, we had special faculty development courses. The curriculum supervisors found classroom locations close to their high schools. I taught Women Writers or Women in the Developing World, both in Hampton, which is an adjacent city, and in Virginia Beach, another adjacent city. We live in what is called Hampton Roads which consists of seven adjacent cities. Toi Derricotte alternated with me. She was already a well-known poet, and she was teaching African American Writers. It was really wonderful, because the high school teachers were very enthusiastic students, very good students; and they actually put these kinds of readings into the curriculum and were very much supported by their supervisors for doing that.
There were two special faculty development programs that we had. One was for the History Department. The Dean gave us money to take the history faculty to a hotel in Williamsburg (approximately an hour away) to learn about women in history. I invited Lois Banner who had written a book on the history of American women and Elizabeth Pleck who was there for the history of British women. A male history professor had said to me once that women’s history must be boring, because I guess he thought women had never done anything. Fortunately, these two women were able to demonstrate how much women had contributed. They both came with enormous bibliographies that had been put together. We also showed a couple of films: there was Rosie the Riveter and Women on the March, a McGraw-Hill documentary about the suffrage movement (which was a rare film to see at that time). There was another faculty development day we had for the biology and nursing faculty; and Sue Rosser, a biologist, came to talk with them.
Women’s Studies also had conferences. I had set up a new course called The American Male and asked a male psychologist to teach it. We were both surprised by the result. He went on the first day expecting a class full of males but found instead a class full of females! But there was an Episcopalian priest in a religious center near the campus who wanted to have conferences for American men, so we helped him organize that. But then we weren’t allowed to attend because he wanted just men there, which was appropriate. He did that for two years, and they were quite successful.
There were two other conferences. One was inspired by my Women’s Spiritual Quest course. A woman heard about it who was a principal, and she belonged to a Black church. She had observed that the church women did all the fundraising, and the men always decided how the money should be spent. She wanted to have an event built around this idea of women’s spiritual quest. The students in my class helped me organize an all-day event; and these women from the church came, as well as other students and people from other churches.
The other conference was a much bigger affair: it was the Symposium on Women in Virginia from 1600 to 1945. This was the idea of Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, who was the wife of our governor, Chuck Robb. She had asked history people in Richmond to put together objects that told the history of women in Virginia–a diversity of women including American Indian women, Black women, white women, all kinds of women who had lived in Virginia. And the historians put together an exhibit.
They brought the exhibit to the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk. Suzanne Lebsock, who taught history at Rutgers University, had been asked to write a book about this exhibit called A Share of Honour: Virginia Women 1600-1945, and she came the first night to speak in the Chrysler Museum. Her talk was built around that exhibit and there were lots of photographs from the book. It is a beautiful book; I think it’s still available. She was the first speaker. Then we had Robin Morgan, a feminist, and Toni Cade Bambara, a writer, speak. The next two days we had 600 people a day in the Holiday Inn downtown. In addition to the speakers, we had panels on different topics like Women in Economics or Women in Social Policy or Women, War, and Peace. That was an energizing event.
The most important accomplishment of Women’s Studies was expanding the idea of affirmative action to include the curriculum. The President had given the Affirmative Action Officer (Dr. Maggi Curry-Williams) quite a bit of power; he put all his prestige behind her and made her an important person. I asked her if she would be willing to expand the concept of affirmative action to include the curriculum. She was enthusiastic about that, and she set up meetings with our wonderful President (who was supportive of women). His name was Al Rollins.
He liked the idea, and they were changing the mission statement and the strategic goals at that particular time – the timing was right. I suggested that they put in that mission statement a general statement of our commitment to equality. The second thing would be a commitment to having the curriculum include materials about all women as well as the men in minority and developing world communities. The third goal would be to hire faculty who are experts in those areas so they could contribute to this. This material was to be included in courses required for graduation. For instance, in the English Department, every English major was to take either Women Writers, Literature of the Developing World, or African American Literature.
After seven years, I changed. I went from being the Director of Women’s Studies to become Chair of the English Department. I did that for four years from 1985 to 1989. Then I went back into the faculty, but I was still the Literature Coordinator who did all the advising for the students whose focus was on literature. I also created a lot of public programs to benefit both the faculty and the students.
MB: Did you want to talk about your publications? Did you make any special contributions to feminism through publications?
NTB: Yes, I had written that book, as I told you, on Virginia Woolf called Virginia Woolf and the Androgynous Vision. I was one of the first people to recognize that she was a feminist. Many people thought she was totally apolitical, which she wasn’t at all. She was very political. I also wrote about her manic depression, which people had not done before, and how androgyny connected with her idea of her mental stability, balancing the mania and the depression, and also how she related that to her aesthetics.
Originally, my book was called The Aesthetics of Virginia Woolf and at the last minute, as I had become a feminist at Rutgers, I decided I should change the name of the book to Virginia Woolf and the Androgynous Vision. When I talked to my editor about that, she thought that it was probably not a good title because the booksellers and the librarians wouldn’t know what the word “androgynous” meant. But she said I could go talk to the main editor about it. So, I did. And he said, “Well, we never know which titles are going to be good and which aren’t. So, go ahead if you want to do that, call it Virginia Woolf and the Androgynous Vision.” So, I did that.
My book came out in April 1973. Surprisingly, other works on androgyny came out at the same time–April 1973. Carolyn Heilbrun brought out a book called Toward the Recognition of Androgyny. And Mary Daly brought out a book (Beyond God the Father) that talked about androgynous being. Likewise, the poet Adrienne Rich had a poem called The Stranger and at the end there was something about the birth of the androgyne, the hope of the future. Androgyny meant basically a wholistic vision rather than a dualistic vision of opposites. Eventually there were even whole conferences devoted to androgyny. I was lucky to have chosen that title.
In 1974, we gave papers for a major panel on androgyny at the Modern Language Association. There was a whole issue of Women’s Studies devoted to androgyny–Wendy Martin’s feminist journal called Women’s Studies–and we had our articles published in that.
The second person I became interested in was Doris Lessing, who also was not very well known at that time, but she got the Nobel Prize in 2007. Before she was very well known or popular, I taught a women’s studies course at Rutgers College called Lawrence and Lessing. I was active in the Doris Lessing Society (and in the Virginia Woolf Society) at the Modern Language Association. We had organizations for both these writers, because we were all admirers: we put on panels and people published articles and books. Therefore, the reputations of both writers grew enormously.
Nadine Gordimer was my next interest, and I wrote nine articles about her. She was a white South African, so all her characters are involved in apartheid–the movement and the situation. I and Marilyn Dallman Seymour coedited a book called Conversations with Nadine Gordimer (1990). Marilyn had been a graduate student of mine, and we coedited the book, getting together all the interviews with Nadine Gordimer. Gordimer had spoken all over the world, because people were very interested in what was happening in South Africa. Although white, she was on Nelson Mandela’s side and she helped him write his own autobiography. She got the Nobel Prize a little earlier than Lessing, in 1991.
Another topic that interested me was Black African women novelists. The inspiration for looking at the African women was that I went on a faculty development trip to the Ivory Coast and Tanzania. They weren’t the countries of the first Black African women who were publishing at that time, but I was exploring that anyway. I was talking about Flora Nwapa and Buchi Emecheta both from Nigeria, and Mariama Ba and Aminata Sow Fall both from Senegal, and Bessie Head from Botswana. Mostly, I wrote about Buchi Emecheta and Bessie Head. I wrote eleven articles on these women, sometimes in combination with other writers. I joined the African Literature Association because I was interested in that. The reputations of these female African novelists went up, too, because of what I was writing and publishing.
Another topic of mine was alcoholism and literature; and this came about because all faculty were supposed to take ten minutes out of class time and speak to the students about drinking and alcoholism. I had had a speaker in class that day, and he had talked about a character who became a humorous character when he was drunk. My class was reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye that week, and I pointed out to the students that usually alcoholism is not funny at all–it’s usually tragic for the other members of the family and a very painful situation.
I could tell the specific students in the class who had alcoholism in the family, because I could see their faces freeze and just stare at me in this strange way. I could almost pick out who had this problem at home. Why did women, especially feminists, support prohibition? Charlie Chaplin, in his silent films, made fun of these women and made people laugh at them and think they were ridiculous. But the women did not want their husbands drinking, because that often left no money for food for the family–especially the children. The mothers had a good reason for supporting prohibition and wanting their husbands to come directly home rather than stopping at the bar and spending the money for the week.
Along with this, I wrote about fifteen articles on what we were doing in women’s studies and, also, about the impact of feminist questions on the various disciplines and on the teaching of English. I said that feminists were asking: Who writes literature? Who decides which literature gets into print? Who decides which literature is good and which is bad? Who decides which literature gets taught? Who decides which literature is included in the literary canon and who decides how we read literature?
Since becoming an artist after I retired, I’ve pondered the same questions about art. Who buys the art that gets into the museums? Who decides that that’s the good art? Who decides that those are the paintings that we should all admire and love? Very interesting questions! I also asked in one of these articles, what we had learned from the second wave of feminism? I ended that article with the reminder that we must preserve the gains we have made and continue to move forward.
The canon question, namely, what books should we teach, falls within the larger context of what selections of literature, knowledge, and pedagogy best support the development of an inclusive democratic society? It’s important to vote for democracy in the books that we teach, the insights we convey, and the teaching methods that we use. Our future depends upon it. Nothing is more urgent than that right now.
In the College of Arts and Letters, I was the second woman to become a full professor after Carolyn Rhodes, who was the woman largely instrumental in hiring me. I was the third woman from Old Dominion University (ODU) to win an Outstanding Faculty Award in a statewide competition sponsored by SCHEV (the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia). I was also the third woman at ODU to become an Eminent Scholar. Only a few full professors–male or female–earn that title. In 1996, when I became an Eminent Scholar, at least more males, certainly not all of them, but more males respected feminism, women’s studies, and feminist literary criticism. Our female Provost added this to the letter naming me an Eminent Scholar: “You have been a pioneer in gender studies; your scholarship has broadened literary analysis and fundamentally changed the discourse.” So that was pleasing for me after all those years of doing women’s studies.
MB: You mentioned art. What have you been up to since your retirement from Old Dominion University? What have you been doing with yourself since retiring in 2000?
NTB: I had always loved art. I was chosen in eighth grade to attend free Saturday art classes in the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh. The much-loved Joseph C. Fitzpatrick taught these classes for fifty years. I did lots of art in high school but decided not to major in it in college. However, after retiring from Old Dominion University in 2000, I noticed SOFA (The Studio of Fine Art) in Norfolk. A young woman (Missy Berent) who had recently graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University decided to use her art degree to create a small art school. I started going there; and it was especially nice because it was small. There was only room for eight or nine of us in a class. It was a warm, nurturing kind of environment.
After I’d taken a number of classes there, I started to branch out to the other cities that surround Norfolk. I went out to Virginia Beach or up to Newport News or Hampton to take classes there. Eventually, I started going to other states to attend workshops. There were professional artists who came from all over the United States to teach these workshops. I did all kinds of art, from realism to abstraction, until I discovered my signature subject matter and my signature style. In 2012, I began to paint birds in a unique way, and my style was whimsical. I even published a little book titled Why I Love to Paint Birds (2015). Although I continued to do other works, I focused increasingly on creating a series of forty large, colorful paintings of whimsical birds.
Behind me you can see a couple of the early ones that I did and, more recently, I’m doing them in a square format like the one in the middle. Anyway, that’s what I did. One of the highlights of my life was when I had a display of these whimsical birds and Jeff Harrison, who was the curator emeritus of the Chrysler Museum, said about my artwork: “Creating an entire world is an uphill battle for any artist. But Nancy Topping Bazin has done just that, populating a whimsical realm of fantastic, feathered creatures, a world of brilliant color and bold semi-abstract patterns. It’s a charmed place of pure imagination that offers hours of joyful contemplation.” So that was a highlight in a different field. I had totally switched from literature to art.
MB: I want to thank you for doing this interview and telling us about your life and work. I also want to say that I’m grateful that I was raised by a feminist. I think of myself as a feminist, however imperfect. I’m also grateful for the work you did and for the work other feminists did that has made the world a lot better place to live in for everyone. So, thank you very much.
NTB: And thank you, Michael, for doing this with me.
MB: My pleasure and honor. Thank you.