Wise Women Wednesday: Elizabeth Perrill

It's Wise Women Wednesday, each week I interview a woman that I believe is inspiring, living abundantly and following her passions.  These are all women who live a life of abundance and bring creativity into the world.

Q. Who are you? What is your background?   
A. There’s a certain practical, no-nonsense part of me that comes from being an Iowan. I’ve been living in North Carolina for nine years, but there is a Midwestern straightforwardness that I have no interest in abandoning.  I’m a “do-er,” as well as an intellectual, so I enjoy project-based work. 
I was raised in a small town of about 12,000 people in a very flat part of the world, but I’ve traveled a lot. Being from a relatively ‘quiet’ land makes it so you can appreciate the subtlety of most places and I enjoy traveling most anywhere. I’m married to a Swiss musician and we have a daughter who’s almost 6, and two step-children in Switzerland. The grandeur of the Alps gets me every time we visit my husband’s hometown. But, because I was raised in the same house from the age of three weeks until adulthood, I like to have a home base and adore my little house in Greensboro. 

Q. What is your work?  
A. I’m a professor, a curator, and I do art history based consulting work. I am an Associate Professor of art history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. For the past five years I’ve also been the Consulting Curator of African Art at the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) in Raleigh. And, just recently, I started a four-year post on the Development Board for the Advanced Placement Exam in Art History. That exam is taken by 25,000-27,000 students annually and there are only nine people on the board. We vet questions and I try to be the voice defending the sophistication of African art. 

So, I’m busy. 

Q. What is one project you are excited to be working on right now? 
A. The project that I’m most immediately exited about finishing up is the complete re-installation of the NCMA permanent collection of African art in Raleigh. The reinstallation is going to open with a set of events between June and September. There’s a website to keep up with the details if you’d like to share that: http://ncartmuseum.org/african/african_new_reinstallation  I can’t wait to see the acquisitions, design work, and writing all come together. The installation is expanding from 2,000 to 6,000 square feet, so this project has been huge! 

I’m also writing a book about Zulu ceramics and this art form’s emergence into and marketing within the global market for coil-built pottery. I hope to complete most of that manuscript by June as well, so it’s a pretty intense point in my career right now. 

Q. What is one thing you've done recently that's scared you and took courage, but you're glad you did?  
A. Calling my senators to object to the immigration ban and several cabinet appointments. I hate the phone, but I’m making those calls anyway.  
I also took my daughter to the Women’s March here in Greensboro, but I wasn’t scared about that, just happy I did it. I also try to do something every day to impact my local community, be it a donation, building local ties, or showing up at a political activity. It’s going to have to be a habit.   

Q. What is the work you most want to be doing and are you doing it?  If not why not what's stopping you?   
A. The work I most want to be doing is to help people realize that global art traditions from all over the world are ALL amazingly rich and theoretically complex. I do it every day.  

Q. What would you tell your high school or college self?  
 A. Probably, you go girl!   

I was very self-driven from the get go. My mother was always supportive and didn’t set too many boundaries.  I half-jokingly say that I benefit from being under-socialized – I don’t care about beauty regimes or diets, I never know who’s playing in the Super Bowl, I’m clueless about the most recent home décor trend.  I’ve always looked at the world and noticed there are so many extremely worthwhile things to do, to change the world for the better. Focusing on superficiality or games (of any kind) has always frustrated me more than anything. It doesn’t always make one popular to disregard these parts of popular culture, but popularity is not my goal. 

That core of self-confidence comes from both family support and some grain of early stubbornness that I never lost. I signed up to be an exchange student in Istanbul, Turkey for what would have been my senior year in high school. I had to do two years of P.E. classes in one year (despite being on the Swim Team) because Iowa law said I had to have four years of physical education. It was absurd, but I did it because I had a goal.  

My mother and my step-father were rooting for me every step of the way through college, internships at museums, my M.A., and my Ph.d., so I was lucky and always knew I had someone to turn to.  

Now, as an adult, I realize that I need to acknowledge the privilege that has been given to me by virtue of my family, my skin color, the well-funded educational system I grew up in. I do whatever is in my power to help others, even getting up and volunteering at my daughter’s school once a week (which is brutal, as I’m no morning person). I figure I get some good done in the world during the hours when I’m not that productive at work anyway…. practicality, that’s the thing. 

Q. What's one piece of advice or motto you love and use in your daily life that you would like to share with my sweet readers?  
A. I really have always had a bit of a gag-reflex about mottos or pat pieces of advice. Life’s too complex for that. Again, my opinions don’t make me popular all the time…  

But, I do have a cross-stich that hung above the door at my grandmother’s farmhouse. It was right above the door where everyone left to go do the work they had to. When all asked what piece of embroidery or cross-stich each grandchild wanted, it’s the only one I thought of.  

It says:  


That seems a fitting motto for the age we’re living in, for political activism, not deferring doing the things you love, spending time with the people you value. 

Q. What keeps you creating when you don't feel like it?  
A. The knowledge that there is so much injustice in the world helps keep me on track. With a little perspective I quickly realize that my own small worries and the things distracting me from my goals are very, very trivial. To be honest, I feel like doing and creating all the time, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.   

Q. Anything else you'd like to share?  
A. I am just about the worst motivational speaker in the world because lots of things people do don’t seem logical to my ridiculously straightforward brain. I guess, I would like to mention that I drink wine regularly and love being read aloud to. My husband reads to me every night and it’s better than any TV show.  

There are many distractions people have in life that don’t bring true relaxation or joy. I would say try not to get caught up in anything that is part of a fad or superficial popular culture. Try to find leisure activities that slow you down. We actually have an amazing amount of leisure time when you think about it, and if I can say that with three jobs and a child…. probably it’s true.  

Q. What's your favorite yoga pose?   
A. Downward dog, keep it simple. I also have a tightness in my tailbone area, so it’s perfect. At times I’ve practiced yoga five times a week, sometimes only once every couple of weeks, but I do tend to come back to it.   

Q. How do you live a life of abundance?  
A. Maybe fewer things, but more travel and experiences. No, I’m lying…. I have lots of things… mostly lots of ceramics, art, and books. It’s just that stuff is not integral, more like icing on the cake.  If I ever had to move abroad for family reasons I could sell most everything without thinking twice.