Daily Archives: March 28, 2007

Betty Lynd Thompson: “Art Imitating Life”

ThompsonFor Betty Lynd Thompson, the phrase “art imitates life” perfectly captures the spirit of her 44-year legacy of dance at Oregon State. Having specialized in the study of creative dance at the University of Wisconsin, Thompson sought out further training in the New York City studios of modern dance innovators such as Martha Graham, with whom she regarded as a friend as well as a mentor. When Thompson came to Oregon State in 1927 to fill the post of Assistant Professor of Physical Education, she was solely responsible for all dance coursework taught on campus. In this position, Thompson not only taught basic rhythm and movement in addition to her specialty of modern dance, but she also instructed students in a wide range of dance styles-from square and tap to ballroom and folk. After 1945, the addition of other faculty in dance allowed Thompson to focus her teaching efforts into the areas of modern and creative dance.

Away from the hardwood floors of the Women’s Building, Thompson was also known for her scholarship in the field of dance. In 1933, she wrote a textbook for dance instructors, Fundamentals of Rhythm and Dance and founded the Oregon State chapter of Orchesis, the modern dance honorary society, in 1931.

During a volunteer stint with the USO in 1946, Thompson discovered another passion: ceramics. Dance movements that inspired Thompson to devote her life to instruction and study began to take form in clay in a hobby she called “danceramics.” To refine her sculpting skills, Thompson took a term off to study ceramics at the University of Washington. Her talent in shaping clay into figurines engaged in modern dance positions earned her a spot in an exhibit of Northwest artists at the Seattle Art Museum in 1948.

Reported in a 1948 Barometer article as having a kiln and pottery wheel in her basement studio on campus, Thompson sculpted at least a couple dozen of the clay dancers (see photograph above). Some of the figurines were designated to be trophies for recipients of dance-related honors such as the “Orchesis Senior Award.”

Even toward the very end of her life, dance still defined Thompson’s soul and being. In 1971, the last year of her teaching career, Thompson still actively taught classes in conditioning and dance. At a 83rd birthday celebration organized for the longtime instructor by her friends, Thompson got on a stage and demonstrated that she could still move with a grace exemplified by the dancers she molded in clay.

A month later, she passed away.

Documentation of Thompson and her life of instruction, dance, and art at OSU can be found among photographs, films, newspaper clippings, correspondence, and examples of her “danceramic” sculptures in the Betty Lynd Thompson Collection in the OSU Archives.