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Q&A: Durango storyteller and artist receives 2023 Extraordinary Woman Award

Judith Reynolds is recognized for national Women’s Month theme, ‘Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories’
Judith Reynolds’ self caricature is what she plans to use for her obituary. (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)

Durango resident Judith Reynolds was presented with the 2023 Extraordinary Woman Award last week by the Women’s Resource Center of La Plata County. March is Women’s History Month. The national 2023 Women’s History Month theme is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” The theme honors women in the community who have devoted their lives and talents to producing art and news, pursuing truth, and reflecting society decade after decade.

Reynolds was born and “more or less” raised in Michigan. She attended the University of Michigan where she earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in art history. “I'm fascinated by history and it's a wonderful way to think into history by looking at it through the lens of art,” Reynolds said. She taught in colleges and worked as an artist and an administrator. She was freelancing for a local newspaper as an art critic at age 50 when she chose to leave academia with its “slow pace and decision by consensus,” which she said drove her crazy, to become a newspaper reporter and then editor in Rochester, New York.

“I thought, I wish I had done this 30 years ago,” she said. “I wish I had gone into journalism as a younger person because it suits my temperament.”

In addition to working as an educator and administrator, Reynolds is a cartoonist, playwright, critic, author and graphic artist. She founded the 23-year-old Life-Long Learning Lecture Series at Fort Lewis College. She is also a regular and longtime contributor of editorial cartoons and arts & entertainment features at The Durango Herald.

Reynolds and her husband moved to Durango in 1994. Her husband of 46 years died in 2007. Writing has been a lifeline, she said. She has one son and two grandchildren who live in Oregon.

Reynolds has dipped her toes into a variety of careers, but says she wishes she would have started in journalism 30 years sooner. (photo courtesy of Judith Reynolds)
DH: Listing all your accolades would easily fill a newspaper page. When you take in all the praise and accomplishments and success you've had – what does your heart say?

JR: I guess I continue to define myself as a journalist. I found the right career for me at age 50. My heart tells me I'm (an) extremely curious person. I live in a community and I want to be part of that community. And my energy level is constantly zipped way up for an upcoming interview, or covering an event or something else. So being present to my community – that’s sort of using current language – is how my heart tells me that I'm doing what I really love doing.

How about all the praise you received? How does that make you feel?

Uncomfortable. Very. Because I'm fundamentally an introvert. I happen to have extrovert skills. I don't like situations where I'm the center of attention. And that was an extremely interesting and heartwarming evening last week, and I was relieved when it was over.

What does winning the Women's Resource Center's Extraordinary Woman Award mean to you?

It means a great deal. I don't seek out recognition. The journalist is not the story. It's the story you're writing, it’s the person you're interviewing or the event that you're covering. So to me it honored the act of journalism, the practice of journalism. It honored the Herald because that's where I have been a journalist for the last 28 years.

This year's theme was Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories. What is it about storytelling that intrigues you most?

It's what makes us human. And there have been plenty of books written on this – the book “Sapiens.” That's its central message is that we are a storytelling species. And aren't we lucky that we're journalists and get to ask people questions and they respond by telling us their story?

You've written articles, plays, reviews, worked as a graphic artist, teacher, cartoonist and more. Do you have a favorite medium?

My graduate work was in art history and I was an art history professor when I was in academia. So painting, sculpture, etc. That's what I was sort of trained to do. But I've always been interested in literature, and drama and music. And I played piano, clarinet and oboe when I was a youngster and through high school. I don't have one that I prefer more than another. I'm interested in them all. We have a vibrant cultural community here in Durango. I’m referred to as an arts journalist, which means visual art exhibitions, all the plays and musicals, etc., that are in town. And I in the past have reviewed films and books. So theater, etc. And I'm writing a review now of the Messiah that I attended yesterday. So no, I can't give you a favorite. Whatever performance I'm attending – that's it.

Who inspired you when you were a girl?

Many people. I happen to have grown up in Michigan, where they still have an excellent public school system. We had an emphasis on the arts. We had a little orchestra and a band in my elementary school and a little theater program and an arts program. I grew up thinking everybody knew how to read music. So what inspired me as a girl is a really, really remarkable public school education.

Was your mother an inspiration?

Yes she was. My mother was an inspiration. I am going to take a little sidebar here and say that my father was the teacher in the family. He taught me to draw. He got his engineering tools out and I could use engineering tools to draw perspective and all that before I was 12. He was the storyteller in the family. And the singer. Whenever we went on trips, we always sang as a family, and that was due to my father's ebullient spirit. And he is the Fin. I call myself a Fin American. He's Finnish American.

What advice would you give to girls and young women today?

Be curious. Look outward. Love the world and learn about it.

If you were to write your own one-sentence epitaph, what would that sentence be?

I've written five versions of an obituary: a comic version, a serious version and a “What did I learn version.” But you're asking for one sentence. Judith Reynolds loved life, was interested in every person she met, wanted to see the whole world and wanted to reflect and write about it.

The first editorial cartoon Reynolds published in The Durango Herald. She was concerned it would be “too dark” for the times. (courtesy of Judith Reynolds)
And finally, for a journalist, the classic journalistic end to the questions question: Is there anything you would like to add that wasn’t asked?

I have produced over 800 cartoons for The Durango Herald. And early on Morley Ballantine hired me. When my husband and I moved to Durango late in 1994, I took my portfolio down to the Herald. They suggested that I meet Morley because I had a lot of illustrations among my writings. And Morley saw the illustrations and she said, ‘We've always wanted to have a political cartoonist who would comment on local issues. And it looks like we might have a match here. So I had to quote “audition for the part.” And this was a Friday interview. And Morley looked at me and smiled and said, “Could you come back in on Monday with one or two cartoons that we could look at?” And I said, “Yes, I'll absolutely do that.” And I had already been following the local issues, and going to City Council meetings and reading the Herald and all that. So I decided I really wanted to dazzle everybody at the Herald and I worked really hard and I brought in nine cartoons on local issues. And there was one that was pretty dark. And I thought, “Oh, I don't think I better take this one. This will turn them off.” And my husband said, “Take it in. Take all nine cartoons. You will learn something about the people that you may or may not be working for.” And Morley looked at all nine and she just pointed to the dark one. By today's standards it's not all that dark. But she pointed it out and she said, “That's the one. Let's print that one next Sunday.” And I can't tell you how overjoyed I was. (laughs) It was a great moment.


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