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Effusion by Kate Friedman
  • Effusion by Kate Friedman
There are very few people who really live their aesthetics, and even fewer whose aesthetics are worth living. More than anyone I've known, my friend Kate Friedman seemed to understand how to live a genuinely beautiful life. She was exquisite—not in a brittle, fussy hothouse way, but as a consequence of everyday, material-world choices. She had a sweet soul and a cultivated, generous eye that she shared with the Reader for several years, first as a production assistant and later, from 1994 to 1996, as art director.

Kate died Friday at the age of 56, after defying cancer for over four years.

"She was one of the kindest, most even-tempered people I've ever met," former Reader editor Alison True told me by e-mail. "Her manner was always warm and receptive and funny. I never saw her speak a sour word about anyone or anything."

"Kate," adds Robert McCamant, a Reader founder and its first art director, "was the best designer I ever hired to work for me at the Reader."

Kate's tenure as art director included a major redesign of the paper. It "was controversial, more outside the paper than within," recalls Reader media columnist Michael Miner. "I remember the editor of the Tribune asking me how I liked having my column in such small type. My response, which I mostly kept to myself, was that I thanked God for it, because it allowed me to write at whatever length my column called for. . . . More generally, the stateliness of the original Reader had become suffocating, I thought, and the paper needed to break out of it. Kate did. Yet she adhered to the inky b&w ur-concept that stamped the Reader as the Reader. . . . I look back at Kate's paper as the Reader at its most assertive. It was intense, attractive, and didn't indulge readers who just wanted to rifle through it absentmindedly."

Kate Friedman with Nightless Night of Birches
  • Cheri Eisenberg
  • Kate Friedman with Nightless Night of Birches
Kate ran her own graphic design firm for years, but more recently focused her energy on creating art. Fascinated by the interaction of the natural and built worlds, she based a lot of her work on digitized and abstracted topographical images. She had several gallery shows here and in other cities, and her installation, Reading the Landscape (a steel arch inscribed with words that counterpoise competing visions of nature and urban life), can be seen at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in Fort Sheridan. For another installation called Nightless Night of Birches, she took over the grounds of a Hyde Park home, adding glowing artificial trunks to the stand of birches that was already there. It was, yes, exquisite.

One of her friends writes: "Kate and I went out to lunch a couple of weeks ago. She described the installation she was preparing of the dark, sky night [sic] for the Evanston Art Center. Kate spoke of how she imagined her body rising up to join the stars and the sky, and becoming part of the night. Kate knew she had limited time, and she envisioned friends and family collaborating on the night sky with her and ushering her to the next place. It gave her peace to envision her life and death this way."

Kate's first marriage ended in divorce. She met her second husband, Dan Brauner, as a result of my wife's attempts to hook them up. But those efforts failed. A true citizen of Readerland, Kate didn't actually get together with Dan until he answered her Reader Matches ad. When she found out she had cancer, she did Zumba, and when she died, she was finishing work on a new studio in her backyard. She's survived by Dan, their combined children (Mearah, Aza, Cameron, and Ethan), a big birth family, and many fanatically loving friends.

A memorial is scheduled to start at 4:30 PM today, Wednesday, February 15, at the Women's Club of Evanston, 1702 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

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