Oct. 12, 1938 ~ Jan. 3, 2013|
Deborah Ann Keniston, artist, teacher, poet, and naturalist, died in Salt Lake City, Utah, on January 3, a victim of Lewy Body Disease, at the age of 74.
She was born in Long Beach, California, to Earl Keniston and Florence (Mae) Harris. Her formal education included a B.A. from Long Beach State College, and an M.A. in Art from California State College at Fullerton. In her varied career, Deborah taught at schools in Orange (CA) Jr. High School; Santa Ana (CA) College; The TASIS School in Greece; Windsor (Vermont) High School; and Santa Catalina School in Monterey, CA.
After graduation from Long Beach State, she married Dr. Hugh L. Smith, Jr., her former English professor. She was widowed at the age of 29 when Hugh died suddenly of a heart attack, and she returned to college to earn her M.A. in Art.
A subsequent five-year marriage with artist-teacher Douglas Debber was dissolved by amicable divorce. While living in Santa Monica with Doug, Deborah moved in the 1970's Los Angeles area art scene. As a visual artist herself, she was skilled in drawing, painting, photography, and printmaking. Throughout her life she had an exquisite sense of color, line, and proportion. Her notebooks and journals are enhanced by her distinctive sketches and drawings.
Deborah was instinctively a student of the natural world, and throughout her life felt a kinship with plant life. For awhile in Santa Monica she became a professional horticulturist, raising, placing, and arranging plants as her business. It seemed as if leaves and flowers loved her. As she once wrote of another plant person, everything beautiful responded to her hand.
Deborah first met Edward Lueders in 1957, when he was a professor at Long Beach State. They became friends when, as Hugh Smith's wife, she served virtually as a fourth editor of the widely-known 1966 modern poetry anthology, "Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle," edited by Stephen Dunning, Edward Lueders, and Hugh Smith. Lueders was at Deborah's side at Smith's funeral and memorial service.
In 1992, after years of friendship and deepening mutual affection, Deborah and Ed were married in Salt Lake City, where they lived for 11 years. Meanwhile, Deborah designed and they built a second home near Torrey, Utah, and Capitol Reef National Park, where they explored the red rock canyon country they both loved.
Deborah had traveled in Europe and Africa and the Middle East during the years when she taught in Greece. She camped and hiked extensively in the American Southwest and New England when she taught there. She was an early and avid member of The Great Old Broads for Wilderness.
In her active years before her long illness took over, she spent three summers in Vermont, where Ed was on the faculty of the Bread Loaf School of English. They visited her mother's birthplace in Nova Scotia. She spent time with friends in Monterey and Carmel Valley, and explored the Pacific Coast as far south as Mexico's Baja California and the Sea of Cortez. With Ed she visited her stepson, Kurt Lueders, in Paris, France, and added some weeks living in Zurich and northeastern Switzerland with Swiss friends she had met on river trips. She traveled widely through Japan and the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa) with Ed and his ex-student, the Japanese poet Naoshi Koriyama and his wife, Ryoko. Deborah and Ed ran rivers in Utah, Colorado, and Idaho, and spent three weeks canoeing and camping in the remote Ouetico Wilderness Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Canada with her Idaho friends Linda and Ken Steigers.
Deborah's unassuming natural beauty and spirit, her personable modesty, quiet intelligence and honesty freshened the lives of everyone who ever met her. The better you came to know Deborah Keniston, the better your life became for it.
She survives and abides especially in the memory of her brother and sister-in-law, Dustin and Lyn Keniston, of Fallbrook CA; her ex-husband, Douglas Debber, of Santa Monica, CA; her closest friend of many years, Sharon Ford, of Orange and Aspendale, CA; her step-sons, Kurt in France, and Joel (Christy) Lueders, of Kayenta, UT; and her ever-devoted husband and loving partner, Edward.
Our gratitude goes to Gia, Joyce, Tracy, Sean, George, Debbie, Fernanda, Dasha, David, Dr. Fehlauer, and all the caregiver associates and staff at Silverado Senior Living, who became Deb and Ed's caring family during the closing years of Deborah's diminishing life.
Deborah kept to herself, private and unpublished, her accumulation of wonderfully perceptive personal poems, written throughout the maturing decades of her life. Among the last poems Deborah stored in her notebooks, where they have only recently been discovered, this typically sensitive lyric, "Whatever Is Rising," will appear in the collection of her poems, entitled "Visiting the Oracle/ Poems from a Life," being arranged for publication by her husband with an appreciative Foreword by their friend and ally, Terry Tempest Williams. The poem now seems fitting here as Deborah's own epigraph:
Whatever is rising fell not long ago.
Last night soft rain over oak leaves.
Before that, my hands in sleep, my body
after I lay down. The rest is
the rising if you are free,
if you enter the downward course
in the oak branches, the oak leaves.
You hear the breathing that comes
with air which is
earth, what we are offered
when we hold a child,
when we give our bodies away,
when we descend like rain.
Published in Deseret News on Jan. 16, 2013