ON MOTHERHOOD: SUSAN DUVAL
Mother of Kathryn Duval, Development Director of MAG America (Mines Advisory Group), and Finance & Operations Associate at the Burchfield Penny Art Center
"Bloom where we're planted."
Kathryn Duval got the job as Development Director of MAG America (Mines Advisory Group), but left the interview convinced it was a flop. She had celebrated her mother for half of the interview when responding to the question: who inspires you? She credits her mother, Susan, not only for the job (ha!), but also for an incredible upbringing through the personal sacrifices she made for her family. Despite graduating as Valedictorian of her high school class, she didn't have the chance to get her advanced university degree until she was into her 60s, after which she landed her dream job at the Burchfield Penny Art Center in Buffalo, NY.
You in a word—
Relentless (also hungry).
"My mom became a mother at 25, and again at 38... she returned to school in her 60s."
I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York; home of the chicken wing and beef on weck. But the older I get, the stranger the word "home" becomes. In a few years, I'll have lived away from Buffalo longer than I lived there growing up. Yet every time I see a Sabres NHL jersey, or hear the "Shout!" song, or pass a Wegman's, I'm instantly filled with immense pride for my hometown—and an insatiable craving for wings. Today home is Washington, D.C., and I'm deeply in love with the architecture, greenery, and history that make this place home.
On work and purpose—
For the past year, I've been working with the team at Mines Advisory Group (MAG) America. My job is to raise funds and awareness for MAG, the humanitarian NGO that removes landmines and other remnants of war from countries that have experienced conflict. I'm motivated by the bravery and dedication of my colleagues in the field, people who get up every morning and walk into a dangerous area so that they can make it safe for other members of their community. MAG teams all around the world are removing more than 100,000 landmines and unexploded devices from the countries where we have operations every year and I want to make sure people know about our goal to rid the world of landmines and how everyone has a role to play in this lifesaving work.
On a formative memory—
My mom is the single greatest influence on my life. She was the eldest daughter of six children to a career Air Force pilot, and for her entire childhood, she had to pick up and move every few years and make a new home for herself in a strange place. Where I am terrified of change, my mom thrived. She made new friends in each city, joined different clubs, and when she was finishing up school, was named valedictorian of her high school class. It was the late 1960s, and for her efforts, she was given a year-long subscription to Reader's Digest.
"Her life has taught me that there is nothing that cannot be achieved with vision, good humor, and persistence."
"I have been given an extraordinary opportunity to make a life for myself from someone else's hard work. "
The salutatorian, a boy with a GPA lower than my mother's, was given a full scholarship to Cornell University. This didn't faze my mom in the slightest — to this day she thinks it's "no big deal" — and she went off to college on her own. She met my dad while she was in undergrad, and just after turning 20, she married him, dropped out of college, and took a job to support them both while he went to graduate school. She became a mom at 25, and again at 38. She put her entire family through school, working to support each one of us. After more than 30 years in the workplace, she returned to school in her 60s to finish her bachelor's degree in art history. She volunteered at art museums in Buffalo and audited classes outside of her program, always wanting to learn more and grow. She graduated from Buffalo State University summa cum laude in 2014, and our entire family was there to cheer her on as she crossed the stage almost 50 years after giving her valedictorian address. For the past few years, she has been living her dream, working for the Burchfield Penny Art Center. Her life has taught me that there is nothing that cannot be achieved with vision, good humor, and persistence; and that I have been given an extraordinary opportunity to make a life for myself from someone else's hard work. I am overwhelmed by how lucky I am to call her my mom.
You in a word—
I was born in Central New York State. As the daughter of an Air Force pilot through the intense stages of the Cold War, our family was transferred every few years to bases in Nebraska, New Mexico, and Upstate New York. As each new city became my new home, I started out terrified and lonely. But each place soon became my favorite, and more difficult each time to leave. Mary Engelbrite's phrase may be trite, but I believe in her ethos to "bloom where we're planted." I've been lucky enough to have that opportunity, to meet new friends, see new areas of the nation, and attend new schools with different dynamics and ideals. Conversely, for almost 50 years, my husband and our family has lived in our first and only home together, and our children have had an opposite experience, sometimes bored, sometimes content. And yet, they, too, have bloomed here.
"Bloom where we're planted."
On a formative experience—
Becoming a mother has been the most transformative experience of my life. Hearts have a way of expanding exponentially, and the love and concern we develop for another person transforms our lives beyond what we could ever have imagined.
On the transformation of motherhood—
I don't think there is a greater transformation in who we have perceived ourselves to be until we be-come mothers. It becomes impossible to imagine life without this new person, and your old joys (nights out on the town, beautiful clothes without spit-up stains on them, or even the need for sleep!) take a backseat.
On work and purpose—
My favorite exhibition at the Burchfield Penney Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York (where I am lucky enough to work) was the "War Ongoing" project by Ben Perrone. You enter into a cavernous, dimly lit space and notice what first looks like a massive child's mobile, with dozens of small black boxes invisibly threaded from the gallery's ceiling and moving gently in the air. In the far corner, hundreds of small black bags are heaped together along with broken wheelchairs. As you approach, voices of soldiers rise from the empty chairs, relating their experiences in combat. On the opposing wall, faded, scratchy news-reel film projects gruesome, random images of war across the space. A lingering image of caskets being pulled off a plane from Vietnam stopped me cold as I walked through the exhibition, and that visceral feeling has remained with me since.
"I don't think there is a greater transformation in who we have perceived ourselves to be until we become mothers."
On motherhood today—
If I were to become a first-time mother today, I would be totally and irrevocably overwhelmed trying to determine the "correct" path in raising a child. There is an over-abundance of information (and misinformation) on every facet of child-rearing, from the benefits of back sleeping vs. front sleeping, the fights between swaddlers and free movement gurus. I would feel uncertain yet forced to research everything that might apply to my child's well-being before I could make a judgment call. It was much easier when my children were little and my only resources were my own maternal relatives and our be-loved pediatrician, instead of an internet full of self-appointed experts.
My daughter Kathryn inspires me. She is not, nor ever was, a follower. Rather, she is completely true to her own self. She is fearless (sometimes too much so for a protective mom like me!), more intelligent than I could ever have imagined, and always kind— even in difficult situations. She makes no judgments of others but rather embraces the cultures and rights of every person. She can sometimes be a bit single-minded, yet she intuitively makes the right decision to achieve the best outcome.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty... In each of these pieces, the beauty and significance of the jewelry can only arise from the truth of its devastating origin."
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty." I think ARTICLE22 jewelry is the epitomic visual interpretation of the oft misunderstood words of John Keats. In each of these pieces, the beauty and significance of the jewelry can only arise from the truth of its devastating origin. I wear my original story bangle (and my new "Love is the Bomb" necklace!) almost every single day, and every time I wear them, someone stops me to ask about my jewelry. The unique incandescence and weight of the material begs many requests to look more closely and try on the pieces. Upon reading the inscription, each person to whom it's shown becomes quiet, then thoughtful, and then a bit mesmerized by this combination of beauty and truth. The efforts of MAG to clear such deadly devices combined with the stunning ability of Laotian artisans is perfectly captured in ARTICLE22 jewelry, and I feel so lucky to share its important story with others.