by Carrie Kirk
In April I lost a friend. She was good and strong and capable. She could make a sailor blush with her ballsy language, but anyone who was included in her circle was cared for and loved. Cynthia Knabe rallied for the underdog -- most often for the downtrodden woman or child. Her last job at the Julian Center focused on developing programs for healthy relationships, encouraging others to have a solid foundation of friends and family as Cynthia did.
But before many got to know Cynthia, they first knew of her husband Walter. On the shorter side and bespectacled, Walter is an artist who got his start in New York 30 years ago, but he has called Indianapolis his artistic home. A painter, his work morphed into full-scale wall coverings along with textiles and home décor. He has many high-brow fans living throughout the country and probably has received many air kisses through the years.
On a chilly afternoon in early May, Walter and the couple's two daughters, Anna and Gwen, hosted a lovely gathering at the Woodstock Country Club. As I drove in, the groundsmen were tending to the spring-green golf course, and the freshly laid mulch and newly planted pansies lined the walkway to the reception. So many old friends I knew from so many lives lived in Indianapolis were there. Over here were the good-looking 21-year-olds who I had taught as kindergartners at St. Richard's Episcopal School. Over there were the friends from late-night parties when 10:30 p.m. didn't seem so late. Young and old were sharing their memories of Cynthia.
My favorite story that completely illustrates Cynthia came from our friend Jeff. They had both been at the same pool one summer back in the '90s, and Jeff -- thinking Cynthia looked interesting with her pile of books and large Anna Wintour sunglasses -- dove in, got out, grabbed his towel and sort of splashed her in the process. Having gotten Cynthia's attention, Jeff said, "You know, has anyone ever told you that you look like Heidi Fleiss?" Not missing a beat, she looked up and responded, "Bite me." And with that caustic little reply, a friendship was born.
And although that is my fave Cynthia tale, Walter shared something that got me thinking. As I spoke to her husband and told him how I loved the many times we were at the same party (since Cynthia enjoyed a good time and never wanted the fun to end), Walter confessed that although folks initially would be excited to meet him because of his artistic career and exposure, it was Cynthia with whom they fell in love. And Walter loved that. He could set aside his portfolio and artistic resume and enjoy the fact that it was his wife who a public adored. With the many years of having this lovely woman beside him and sometimes behind him, Walter loved to see her step out and relish her own limelight because of her own talents and vivacious personality.
The artist's spouse can offer so much to his or her artistic partner who is exposing so much of oneself to the world. Some artists' partners can provide a business edge, almost marketing the art and navigating the necessary profitable outcome from a talent practiced. Other spouses can "ditto" what the artists' fans say and stand by his or her person declaring that "Yes, you are wonderful, my love!"
For Walter, Cynthia provided a grit. She had the ability to raise the children he loved and cared for so much. She had the ability to turn his head here or there, all for the good of the artist and his work. Cynthia championed this artist, loving Walter and providing the steady path from which he could deviate from for the creation of an incredible piece but then return to with all intact -- the good, the strong and the capable.
I once saw a photo of the Sarcophagus of the Spouses. It was found in Cerverteri, a town in Italy, just north of Rome. It is the site of a large Etruscan necropolis (cemetery) that has hundreds of tombs. The sarcophagus is of a couple reclining as equals as they participate in a banquet of some sort. What makes this interesting is that the Etruscan society's Greek neighbors saw women as very different from their husbands. They did not attend anything public with the husbands, otherwise they were thought of as courtesans. However, respect and equality between an Etruscan man and woman were the norm. We all -- artist or not -- are deserving of that person who supports us in the way that is most needed. It is in this way that respect and equality provide the life raft in a long relationship. Walter and Cynthia had many years of good floating. Bon Voyage, Cynthia.