Deborah was born in Philadelphia in 1947. Deborah was one of five girls. Her father was an internist and her mother was a nurse prior to becoming a full-time mother. Deborah attended Germantown Friends School, which had a very strong cultural and arts curriculum. She spent a lot of time going to museums and other cultural arts activities with her family and paternal grandmother. She recalled drawing since she was very young and being greatly encouraged. Being in a family of all girls, she felt like there were no limitations put on them and they were encouraged to do whatever they wanted. Her mother and paternal grandmother served as her role models.
Upon finishing high school, Deborah applied to a variety of schools but knew she wanted to go to art school. Although she at first thought that she wanted to be an illustration major, she ultimately majored in art education. She did not know that Moore was an all-women’s college prior to attending but described it as being “one of the best experiences” she has ever had. During her freshman year, her father died and she did not think she would be able to come back to school after fall break. She said that she received tremendous support from faculty, who made sure that she received a scholarship and a work-study position to continue her education. Because of that, both her commitment to graduating from college and her life-long commitment to Moore developed. During her junior year, she traveled to Mexico and took courses in weaving and batik. At that point she knew that textiles would be her focus.
She graduated from Moore in 1969. She was accepted at Tyler School of Art, where she obtained a masters in art education (and later an MFA in textiles), while simultaneously working in the School District of Philadelphia as a middle school art teacher. It was important to her to teach in a disadvantaged school and bring art to students who really needed it. She worked directly with gang members. After her first year teaching, she was offered a temporary position at Moore to replace a professor who was on sabbatical.
Deborah taught in the Art Education Program for four years and ran the Saturday Young Artists Workshop program. When an opening occurred in the Textiles Department at Moore, she switched departments.
Deborah used thread and fiber as a means of personal expression. Her work recorded personal experiences and went from large scale, architectural commissions to pieces that were more intimate and that included things other than fiber – like wax and encaustic. Her first professional art exhibit was at the Philadelphia Art Alliance. Her themes came from experiences in childhood and high school – trying to balance spirituality with the every day life. More recently, her work had been about emotional considerations, like the series that she made about her mother’s debilitating illness, entitled “Her Vision” – what her mother could see while she was bedridden for five years. She also did landscapes, some of which were inspired by several cross-country trips taken on a motorcycle.
She received a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship, which she said was a great honor and allowed her to work towards her next large body of work.
Deborah said that she did not feel that being a woman artist ever worked against her because she had such strong role models at Moore and because Moore was/is a community of women. It was exciting for her to be involved in the arts when women were coming into their own during the late 60s and early 70s. Now it is taken for granted that women have more opportunities in the arts, but she thought women still needed to be vigilant and make sure that they opened the doors for other women. Louise Stahl, Jeanette Banks – these are people who encouraged and inspired her in the beginning of her career.
Because Deborah had such a good experience and felt a debt of gratitude towards Moore, she was very committed to the institution and its mission. She felt this way not only because of what they provided for her, but because of what they were providing for women now. Student government is a training ground for women artists of the future, and they are winning scholarships. “This is a really special place…because of the nurturing atmosphere, the individual attention…and it’s really about the community…the college is about the people," she said in the past. "It is a community of women artists who can support each other through school and then outside of school.”
In July, the Moore community was saddened to learn of Deborah's passing. To honor her long-lasting and exceptional contributions to Moore, the College has established the Deborah Warner '69 Scholarship Fund.