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50 years stateside: Duff brought 5 decades of art -- and that charming accent -- to U.S., Culver

September 22, 2012

For many of the past 30 years or so, Anne Duff -- and late husband Charles -- helped bring art and culture to the fore in Culver, even before the community's increasing identity as a resort and cultural destination made it the obvious fit it is today.

Oh yes, and she charmed Culverites along the way with that endearing Scottish accent, which fifty years in the U.S. hasn't dimished, according to her family members across the pond.

Anne arrived in the airport in Miami July 28, 1962, unprepared for the sulty temperatures, in a light wool coat.

"I felt as though I was falling off the edge of the earth," she recalls with a smile. "It was quite brave, actually."

Born on a family sheep farm in Selkirk, Scotland, at age 6 her family had moved to the lake district into "mountainous Beatrix Potter, Wordsworth country." Soon it was to Fulkirk, between Edinburgh and Glascow, in an industrial area of Scotland, though Anne points out she lived "out in the country all my life."

She recalls traveling to school by steam train from age 7 through her first year of college, which was the Edinburgh College of Art, which is where, she says, there was this American.

Charlie Duff had finished college and served in the U.K. in the U.S. Air Force as us officer. He returned to the Scotland he'd visited, this time to study art, already possessing an undergraduate degree in geology. Both Anne, who would finish her art degree in Scotland and teach a semester before her sojourn to America, and Charles were students when they met.

"We became engaged," says Anne. "He said I followed him over, but he actually invited me over!"

Anne's family, she says, kept a northern European "stiff upper lip," and at the time she had no idea what they must have been going through to watch her leave Europe for America...not, she says, until she had children of her own.

Once Anne was safely in the United States, the couple drove to Charles' parents' home in Jacksonville and were married as soon as the license came through, on August 6, "in a dear little Episcopal church under trees covered in Spanish moss."

If Miami was culture shock, the couple's next move -- to Brooklyn, New York -- was even moreso. Charles attended graduate school at the Pratt Insitite with a Fine Arts concentration in printmaking and painting.

The couple lived for a time on Long Island where son Tim was born, leaving in 1967 for southern Maryland where Charles worked as a cartographer and illustrator for the oceanographic office there -- and where daughter Susannah was born. Three years later, the family found itself in the mountains of Virginia, where Charles taught grade and high school, and Anne substitute taught.

At that point, she explains, "Our children were growing up and we were concerned about their education. We looked for a private school, and it happened to be in Indiana, of all places. That was a new frontier for us. Culver came up through an agency -- we expected something on the east coast."

So in the bicentennial year of 1976, the Duff family was introduced to Culver and vice versa. It happened to be the year Anne took two of the children (a third, Jeremy, was by then age 3) to Scotland, where "they found an older country."

For the next three years as Charlie taught art, Anne worked in the hallowed halls of the Legion Memorial Library, the precursor, of course, to today's Huffington Library on the campus of Culver Academies. This was followed by a stint in the summer school teaching art, which by 1980 had segued into the winter school as well.

Anne Duff taught Fine Arts at Culver's winter school for 22 years, spending eight of those years, starting in 1990, as chair of the Fine Arts department.

"I had theater, dance, music, and art in my jurisdiction," she adds.
"The hardest thing was for the students to fit Fine Arts in their schedules. We had large classes, mostly boys. The girls were encouraged to do dance to get their Fine Arts credit."

Charles, an art historian, taught art history, etching, printmaking, photography, and drawing and painting -- "All the honors classes," notes Anne, in addition to ceramics.

"There was enough work for us both, and Nancy McKinnis was a counselor, but she also taught art."

Anne herself taught "the gamut": drawing and painting, studio art, art history, and more.

"I loved the job, actually," she comments. "I would almost have done it for nothing."

Many in Culver will recall that she also taught art to many in the community on Saturdays and weekday evenings. As part of Culver's Tri Kappa sorority, she headed up the long-running and quite well-received "Art of the Stairs" program at the Culver Public Library in its pre-renovation phase in the 1980s and `90s. The idea, she says, was to promote local art.

The Duffs gradually became more and more involved in various aspects of the community, eventually moving into town proper -- to Anne's present home on Lakeview Street -- in 1989.

"I thought it was a good transition for us," she says of the move, "to get to be part of the real community of Culver...I joined Tri Kappa -- or rather, accepted the invitation to join, because at that time they had one-third lake, one-third Academy, and one-third town membership. So I got to know different people in different parts of the community.

"And its very much our home," she reflects. "The town's been very good to us."

Charles Duff retired in 1996, replaced by present-day Fine Arts instructor Bob Nowalk -- and Anne in 2002.

Ten years later, Anne ruminates on her five decades in America, 36 of them in America. She'd become a citizen in 1971, having delayed a bit because, she explains, "it's hard to denounce allegiance." She applied for citizenship in Maryland, where one of the qualifying questions was her opinion of Spirow Agnew.

When she's here, she muses, she calls Scotland home, and when there, calls America home. But she's been in Culver longer than anywhere else in her lifie, and Lake Maxinkuckee, she says, reminds her of Scotland.
And, she adds, "I like to garden; it's a British thing."

Were there adjustments to life in America? Strange ones, says Anne, such as transitioning from the Scottish norm of leaving windows open, and the sense of claustrophobia from closing or screening them in, in America. There was learning why southerners walk so slowly ("It's so hot!") and being reminded why one walks briskly in Scotland: to keep warm.

"When I first came, I sometimes was accused of not having a sense of humor," she adds. "But I found that Americans laughed hard at obvious jokes --it's not subtle like Scottish humor."

Her dry, refined wit has certainly endeared Anne Duff to many a Culverite through the years, as has that accent one doesn't usually encounter in the small-town Midwest.

"I used to talk very quietly because people's ears pricked (when I spoke)," she admits. "But now I just bash on! Most people are very kind about it. Apparently it hasn't diminished. When I go home to Scotland, they say my accent hasn't changed at all."
Charles Duff passed away in 2008, leaving Anne on her own for the first time in her life. This year would have been the Duff's 50th wedding anniversary as well.

"I realized," she says, "that the widowed are very brave. I have tremendous respect for them."

She has moved into what had been Charlie's studio, where she says she thought about seriously working at her chosen artistic vocation of painting, "but I decided to do it because I like it."

In the near future, she says, a showing of her work will open at the Culver Coffee Company. A retrospective of Charlie's is planned for next May, during Culver Academies' alumni reunion weekend.

In the meantime, though Anne Duff pines for grandchildren in the Cleveland and D.C. areas, Culver is home.

"I have lots and lots of friends here," she adds. "I feel as though I know everybody or they all know me. They're all my friends."

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