Jody Williams

Obituary of Jody Louise Williams

Many would agree that it’s the little things in life that matter.


For Jody Louise Williams, who passed away among friends in her South Minneapolis home on 10/17/23, it was all about the little things. This was true in her personal and family life, in her lovely home, and in her illustrious career as an artist - printmaker, small-book creator, and tiny-object collector - and teacher at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. 


Those who knew Jody understood and admired her affection for the little things. In fact, when she was awarded the 2019 Minnesota Book Artist Award, one of the judges noted that her celebrated entry, “For Now,” was “small in scale, but monumental in terms of creative achievement.” 


That comment perfectly described not only Jody’s work, but also who she was as a person and professional.


Jody’s affinity for small things was not surprising. At age four, on her first day of nursery school, she was already a big sister to three smaller siblings. As the third of six children, including two rambunctious, often teasing older brothers, Jody found her place and her peace by focusing on details and order. She began collecting and organizing small objects, such as shells near her grandparents’ Florida home. At Christmastime, Jody took pride in creating the smallest wish list in the tiniest handwriting. Those who saw her more recent “to-do” lists know that by minimizing tasks in miniature script, she maintained control and order in her life, even through her decade-long struggle with ovarian cancer.


Jody continued to love small things throughout her life, especially rejoicing in the births of her four nieces (Allie, AJ and Amy Williams, and Caroline Rorem) and three nephews (Alex, Justin and Bode Rorem), who survive her. She forged a special relationship with each one, helping to guide and support those tiny beings into the wonderful young adults they are today. She also raised two small kittens into maturity, Edith and Trixie, the latter of which Jody featured on Facebook, calendars and greeting cards.


In fact, Jody adored all children and cherished her strong relationships with friends’ and neighbors’ kids. She was always patient and kind, and spoke glowingly of their achievements and funny comments. No matter how busy she was, Jody always made time for the little ones.  


More recently, she was raising moths and butterflies, finding leaves to feed the miniscule caterpillars, waiting patiently as they matured inside cocoons, and delighting in their successful release into the world. She kept meticulous records and photos of the process, often naming the caterpillars after friends who had passed away or were enduring tough times.    


Fanatical about nature and the outdoors, Jody especially enjoyed running and cycling. She completed two marathons in her 20s and took up cycling later. She became an honorary member of the “On Your Left Bike Club” from Chicago’s North Shore and more than held her own during fast “pace-line” rides at 20+ mph. She competed in two bike races and won them both. Jody preferred her mountain bike to her car, commuting in any kind of Minnesota weather while reducing her carbon footprint. 


Jody was a treasured family member and friend, whose small, but sharply intelligent and incredibly witty presence added immensely to any gathering, whether a dinner party, book club meeting, poetry retreat or group bike ride. She left a gaping hole in the hearts of her mother, Marilyn Hanna Williams, who is 92, her brothers Al (Sue) and Dave (Becky), and her sister Linda. She was predeceased by her father Jack Williams (1927 - 1982), brother Rick (1952 - 2002) and sister Jean (1957 - 2022). She is survived by many beloved cousins, including John Hanna and his wife Heather, who live in the Chicago area. 


Her very close extended family also includes members of the “Will-Wall Clan”: Diane Rosewall, who is 94, as well as Dave (Anne), Mike (Ellen) and Ann (Steve) Rosewall, and their progeny, who she considered nieces and nephews. In addition, her loyal Minneapolis “wolfpack” offered unfailing support, assistance, laughter, company and diversions, and advocated for her until the very end. Jody’s family is extremely grateful for the love and support that enveloped her.


Professionally, Jody will be remembered by the many former students whose talents and careers she nurtured, as well as for her admirable artistic legacy. Always artistic, she enjoyed jewelry design in high school ( ETHS class of 1974) and printmaking at Carleton College (1978) before deciding to earn her MFA at RIT (1983), where she discovered paper-making and numerous printmaking techniques. Back in Minneapolis, where Jody spent the rest of her life, she was an early member of the WARM artist collective, traveled nationwide to participate in American Crafts Council shows, became an adjunct professor at MCAD, established Flying Paper Press for her uniquely crafted artists books, and exhibited through the Form + Content Gallery. Her weekend book-making workshops at MCBA drew a loyal following, and she presented lectures at museums and universities worldwide. Jody won the Artist Book award twice from the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, received a Jerome Foundation fellowship, and garnered numerous other grants and awards.  Her work is in the collections of the Walker Art Center, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Minnesota Historical Society, and countless other museums, universities, libraries and private collections.


As Jody explained in a video prepared for Twin Cities Public Television several years ago, “I think that there is… something about having to slow down and be very careful that helps my own process of…thinking about the inherent meanings of the little things that I’m dealing with.”


In the end, it was all about the little things, the tiny cells that eventually won the battle. However, she will forever hold an enormous place in thousands of hearts. A memorial celebration is planned for Dec. 9 at the Unitarian Society in Minneapolis, and a retrospective of her work will be on view at MCBA  starting in mid-January. A smaller memorial will take place in Evanston, IL, in early 2024.


In lieu of flowers, please direct any support to the organization or artist of your choice.

A Memorial Tree was planted for Jody
We are deeply sorry for your loss ~ the staff at Cremation Society of Minnesota
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