But when Reichel read a brochure in her high school library stating that the profession was closed to women, she was stunned and gave up her dream. She ultimately chose weaving as a satisfactory path while a student at the Philadelphia College of Art. "When I spoke with architects they assured me that in the field of architecture I would be drawing plumbing and electrical layouts, but as a weaver I could meet the client, design the project, get approval from the client, produce the finished product and exhibit it as my own work," she said. "Still, it took me 20 years to get over the loss of my dream and to realize that maybe I would have been happier doing the grunt work in the field of my first choice. When we bought a house and started renovating it, I realized I was more interested in the construction than my weaving. As an active member of a Gurdjieff group over the years, I had learned some building construction, helping to build stone walls, hand mix cement and hand dig foundations. I finally faced the fact that my art work had lost its meaning, that my mind was stagnating, and that my body was collapsing.
"I enrolled at Bryn Mawr College and majored in the Growth and Structure of Cities program with a focus on urban public policy, hoping to get the taste of architecture that I craved. I learned that I was temperamentally more suited to working with low-income rather than luxury housing, partly because of my own family’s struggles when I was a child living in poverty myself. I also became reconnected with my earlier college days when I was an active volunteer in North Philadelphia for civil rights and an anti-war protester. My senior thesis took me to Philadelphia, where I re-explored the city of my childhood. I saw the deterioration in housing stock and at the same time the wonderful changes that were being made throughout the city with opportunities becoming available for the poor and minorities. This led me to accept part-time employment after graduation in 1995 doing community development for Resources for Day Care, coordinating members of ArtSpace, architects, engineers, lawyers and accounts willing to provide free service to arts groups, and construction supervisor for Habitat for Humanity, providing housing built or paid for by private citizens throughout Delaware County. I was able to keep my patience with the slow pace of non-construction volunteers for Habitat, because finishing the construction had been a secondary goal with the Gurdjieff work—the physical labor was more of a form of prayer. Now at the age of 48, I need prayer to face the problems of my first full-time job with benefits, inspecting the residences of Section 8 tenants. I use my construction experience to explain what I see needs to be corrected at tenants’ properties and to convince them that making the repairs is in their own best interests for the future."
more about Myra Reichel... Return to Spring 2000 highlights