Nofa Farha Dixon

Nofa Farha Dixon

Nofa Farha Dixon, of Avondale, can thank her late mother, Alice Katibah Farha, for the gifts of positive attitude, strong work ethic and a nurturing spirit which grounded her career as an artist and an educator.

The University of North Florida professor of art and design recalled her family suffered twin tragedies early on with the deaths of her only brother, Joseph Farha, Jr., and her father. Her mother worked to support herself and her two daughters, becoming their rock and inspiration.

Joseph Farha

Joseph Farha

“My mother worked as an expert tailor for the major department stores downtown, Ivey’s and May Cohen’s,” Dixon recalled.

Alice Farha’s entrepreneurial spirit and skill as a tailor led her to open and manage her own business from 1958 to 1964, at a time when it was unusual for a woman to work outside the home. Dixon recalls Alice’s Dress Shop was located in the storefront immediately adjacent to Judson’s Restaurant, near the corner of Barrs and Oak Streets in Riverside.

Dixon lived with her mother and her sister, Sal, on Forbes Street between Osceola and Copeland Streets from 1956 until 1962, when they moved to King Street. The girls’ mother moved her shop into their home and continued to work as a tailor for the department stores until her retirement in the early 1980s.

The Farha sisters attended West Riverside Elementary, John Gorrie Middle School and graduated from Robert E. Lee High School, Sal in 1962 and Nofa in 1964. One of Dixon’s dearest lifelong friends is Tina Stathis, who lived on Green Street and now resides in San Marco. The two girls walked to school every morning and still celebrate special occasions together, a friendship Dixon treasures.

Reviewing Dixon’s long career as a professional multi-media artist, art educator and advocate, it’s natural to assume she had a childhood interest in art. This was not the case.

“As a freshman in college at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in North Carolina, I sat next to an art and drama major. I watched her drawing and was fascinated. I became an art major despite having no prior art classes at all. I liked improving myself and working harder than anyone else,” she said.

Dixon became a young art education advocate and was instrumental in her college’s creation of a fine arts degree program. Dixon was among the first to attain that degree.

Alice (Katibah) Farha, 1941

Alice (Katibah) Farha, 1941

After college and earning a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, Dixon returned home to Jacksonville in 1970. Her mother was beginning to need some help and, like most newly-minted graduates, Dixon sent out resumes.

She was hired by Raines High School where she taught art for 12 years and created its art department. Her students inspired her to host open houses, inviting not only parents, but county administrators to view their artwork. She secured funds to purchase supplies for them, invited professional artists for demonstrations, lectures and held art festivals where students could exhibit and sell their artwork.

“Children need to see art appreciation at home. They must be given opportunities to create, explore and view art with their families,” said Dixon. “We need to be teaching parents to enjoy and encourage creativity. That is equally important.”

As an art educator, Dixon enjoyed helping other teachers inspire and enable students to explore and create art. She said she is committed to guiding and supporting future generations of artists, which she did when she worked as Duval County Schools Artist in Residence in the late 1990s. Her efforts were acknowledged by the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, who named her Art Educator of the Year in 1998.

During this time a friend suggested Dixon visit Crown Craftsmen, a local artists’ organization which met at the Jacksonville Art Museum. Dixon became active in the group during the 1970s and 1980s and served as its president. Ortega resident and artist John Bunker was associate director of the Jacksonville Art Museum then. He told Dixon about a new position, curator of education. Dixon was hired, and worked organizing classes, lectures, training docents and curating small exhibits. She organized the first summer art camp for children in 1983, which was so successful other museums followed.

In 1993 Dixon began teaching art as an adjunct professor at UNF and became fulltime in 2001. She recalls the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s as an exhilarating time for artists in Jacksonville and credits WJCT-PBS with helping to foster a vibrant art environment.

Sal and Nofa Farha, 1956

Sal and Nofa Farha, 1956

“It was during the Sixties through the Seventies that WJCT held its popular Art Auction every spring. A Thursday preview showcased the donated artworks to be auctioned to benefit the station. The live auction was broadcast Friday through Sunday. The art was extremely high quality,” Dixon said. “Professional artists donated artwork for the auction, and WJCT promoted each donating artist on-air. I credit that show with introducing many artists to the public and raising awareness of the local art community. People actually stayed home to watch the auction and bid on art. They talked about the auction to friends and co-workers, building the audience and creating name-recognition for the artists.”

Dixon said she would like to see WJCT revive its Art Auction because it contributed greatly to Jacksonville’s cultural and artistic scene, while raising money to fund the station’s programming.

Dixon’s signature style could be her clay forms, fired multiple times and finished with a unique mixed surface treatment. She is also adept at sculpture, trompe l’oeil painting, 2D and 3D art, acrylics and works on canvas and collage.

She has achieved worldwide recognition, with gallery affiliations, exhibitions and installations across the U.S. and overseas. Her art is included in hundreds of national and international private, public and corporate collections. Her creations adorned the 1993 White House Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C.

Sal Tompkins with Henry, Alice Farha, Nofa Dixon, niece Joy Tompkins with Maggie

Sal Tompkins with Henry, Alice Farha, Nofa Dixon, niece Joy Tompkins with Maggie

Dixon’s art has been commissioned or purchased by museums, airlines, banks, hospitals and medical centers, libraries, hotels, resorts and non-profit organizations. She’s an in-demand conference speaker, and juror for amateur and professional art competitions.

Dixon has been the subject of extensive media coverage including numerous newspaper and magazine articles. Most notably were three documentaries produced by WJCT-TV, PBS in 1976 and 1986 and a Discovery Channel special that aired multiple times during 2000 and 2001.

Despite her travels and overflowing schedule, Dixon’s heart remains in Jacksonville and the Hollywood Avenue home she purchased for $22,500 in 1973. She renovated the large attic into a second story, removed downstairs walls and replaced flooring. The open and airy space feels much larger than it appears from the street. Rescue cats relax tucked into lovely quiet corners among sculpture and art, and her two entertaining chickens contentedly roam the yard when it’s not 100 degrees in the shade.

As soon as Dixon moved into her home she met her neighbor Vera Brown and they became instant friends. Dixon walks the Riverwalk and bridges religiously and tries to swim 12 pool laps three times weekly. She supports The St. Johns Riverkeepers, Jacksonville Arboretum, environmental and conservation causes, and animal welfare organizations.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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