Remembering Linda Carson, 1960-2021

Monday, November 29, 2021

Linda Carson portrait
It is with deep sadness and respect that the Department of Fine Arts honours the life of our friend and colleague, Dr. Linda Carson, who passed away on Wednesday, November 24.

While Linda was officially based in the Stratford School, Fine Arts was fortunate, with the support of the Faculty of Arts Dean's Office, to benefit from her broad range of experience and expertise over the years. Linda's personal scientific research explored the psychology of how we see and make sense of visual experience. For our department, Linda created and delivered two very popular courses:  The Art, Science & Technology of Color and Figure and Anatomy, lecture/studio courses which meshed the relationship of "desk" and "studio" work, and introduced students to the scientific principles associated with perception and artistic expression.

Linda was passionate about studio art learning and teaching. One of my fondest memories as Chair of the department are the several discussions we had about our shared interest in foundational studio pedagogy and her vision of the possibilities and potential of our current curriculum. As a scientist, Linda knew that we all see and understand in different ways, and as an artist, her teaching reflected that reality. We discussed ways of making difficult or foreign concepts understandable, personally relatable and more fun to visualize. We talked about how to expand the foundation curriculum in response to student needs, and the broader innovations emerging from the academic field. I always made sure I did my homework before those meetings, because I knew the topic at hand would dive deeper than expected. I’d come away inspired that I had seen something familiar from a different angle… in fact, one time Linda asked me to participate as a so-called “expert” artist in an experiment which was, as my remedial understanding allows, to try to determine if there was something essential to the expert’s psychology that gives them the edge over the amateur. Memories of those intimidating public school I.Q. tests flooded back to me! Linda seated me before a traditional still-life – familiar enough so far! – except that she asked me to stay seated and draw the scene as though I were viewing it from a position seated ninety degrees to my right. I was immobilized before the subject – an anxious state of affairs for an expert, to say the least. Eventually, I was able to jot down a reasonable approximation within the given time limit, but I knew my drawing was not correct. Of course I was intrigued with, and I have to admit, embarrassed by, my incompetence. While the science is beyond me, I ended up realizing her experiment would be a fun way to introduce visualization methods and drawing from the imagination into my drawing courses. Eventually, I got the nerve to ask her if anyone amongst the multitude of subjects had gotten the drawing challenge right. Apparently, there was one: a “non-expert”, non-Fine Arts staff member. Perhaps she was viewing the still life with fresh eyes.

Linda had a talent for keeping abreast of the things people younger than we teachers are interested in, and then seamlessly integrating them into her lessons. She could translate dense art theory into accessible language, and students related to her. She could find a way to talk about Renaissance painting and Lady Gaga in the same lecture. If there was an opportunity to hear her teach or speak, I took it enthusiastically, because she was entertaining and could enliven the most potentially arid subject with punctuations of her typically wry and subtle humour. You had to listen closely to get it, though, and Linda expected that focus of attention from you, anyway.

Linda's history with Fine Arts stretches back to the late half of the 1980s when she was a student in our very own department, graduating with her BA in Fine Arts (Honours Studio) in 1990. When I arrived at Waterloo as a newly-minted assistant prof, I regularly heard her name mentioned by my colleagues, and that she operated a private art school for children in Uptown Waterloo called Black Pig Studio. As years passed I noted when local students mentioned it as their introduction to art. Maybe some of them have kids who like to make things now. The breadth of Linda's interests is well known: she achieved undergraduate degrees in Math and Fine Arts from Waterloo, Masters degrees in Fine Arts and Kinesiology from Saskatchewan and Waterloo, and her doctorate in Psychology from Waterloo. Her truly interdisciplinary curiosity gave her a unique perspective on studio art practice and pedagogy. We in Fine Arts are the grateful recipients of Linda's depth of knowledge, her vast intelligence, and her generosity of spirit. She always had the wellbeing of students in mind, and we will miss her. I learned that Linda had entrusted some of her art materials and texts to me to give to our grad instructors for their teaching research. When I recently replied to thank her, she wrote back simply: "My pleasure!" The pleasure was all ours, Linda.

Doug Kirton
Associate Professor, Department of Fine Arts

Dr. Linda Carson was best known for her outstanding contributions to interdisciplinary teaching and creative collaboration. She is one of the few individuals to be awarded degrees from three different faculties at the University of Waterloo, BMath (1985), BA (Fine Arts, 1990), MSc (Kinesiology, 2004), and Ph.D. (Psychology, 2013), as well as earning an MFA from the University of Saskatchewan (1993).

Linda taught throughout the UW campus, including in Arts First, Digital Experience Innovation, Fine Arts, Global Business and Digital Arts, Independent Studies, Knowledge Integration, and Psychology. Closest to her heart was anything involving drawing or interdisciplinary collaboration. She was the primary developer of the Bachelor of Knowledge Integration program.

She had a passion for improving access for students, especially those from marginalized groups, and was a mentor and advocate for countless students, faculty and staff. Linda designed courses to assist students with the transition to academia, to enrich existing program offerings, and to provide new opportunities for creative collaboration.

Outside of academia, Linda designed and delivered distinctive professional development experiences to clients and staff for Overlap Associates, taught art to hundreds of children and adults through her Big Black Pig Studio, wrote and produced numerous theatre productions, and created and exhibited her artwork.

Linda has set up a bequest to the University to establish two new student awards:

  • The Linda Carson Memorial Interdisciplinary Award will be awarded to full-time undergraduate students (from any Faculty) based on the excellence of an interdisciplinary project that has been completed for academic credit.
  • The Belonging Award will be awarded to support students who may feel, for whatever reason, like they do not belong in post-secondary education.

Condolences to the family and memories of Linda can be offered online.  A private memorial service will be held at the Erb & Good Family Funeral Home, 171 King St. S., Waterloo on Wednesday, December 1 at 2:00 pm. The service will be livestreamed with a link available on the Funeral Home site

Donations to The Linda Carson Memorial Interdisciplinary Award or The Belonging Award are appreciated and can be arranged through the University of Waterloo.