Nina Gibans Obituary
Nina Freedlander Gibans, a cultural avatar who bound generations together through poetry, video, film and arts criticism focusing on her beloved Cleveland, passed away Jan. 6 at her home in Judson Park. At 90, she was the oldest person in the United States born with cerebral palsy, and she donated her body to science.
Born to Samuel Oscar Freedlander and Adeline (Kaden) Freedlander on July 30, 1932 at Mt. Sinai Hospital, Gibans entered the world with cerebral palsy, weighing 2 pounds. She never let her condition stand in her way, let alone define her. Gibans circulated with panache, navigating her customized wheelchair through the city’s cultural institutions and the homes she shared with her late husband, the noted architect James D. Gibans.
Nina and James Gibans were a unit through more than six decades; James, whom Nina called a “true ally,” was always at her side. They worked together in the kitchen. They shared cultural tastes. And they collaborated on Cleveland Goes Modern: Design for the Home, 1930-70, a book Kent State University published in 2014.
The two met on a blind date on July 16, 1954, married a year to the day later, and raised a family, who survive: David Gibans (Betty), of Roxborough Park, Colorado; Jonathan Gibans (Katrine), Aspen, Colorado; Amy (Roland) McGlashan, Ripton, Vermont; and Elisabeth (Leon Werdinger) Gibans of Joseph, Oregon, married to Leon Werdinger, who died on June 18, 2021. An architect of restrained modernism, James Gibans died on May 10, 2018.
Nina Gibans was the last of the Freedlanders. Like her father, a thoracic surgeon who was a president, and sat on the board, of the City Club, she was entrepreneurial—and one of the first women to become a City Club member and also sit on its board, in the 1970s.
A long-time shaper of Cleveland’s creative landscape, Nina Gibans was identified as a “community arts leader” in a Cleveland Arts Prize biography citing her 25-plus years as a board member and past president of the Cleveland Artists Foundation. Her most recent book was Celebrating the Soul of Cleveland, which gathered people from various fields to weigh in on the concept. She fearlessly explored media old and new to honor the city that inspired and enabled her.
Toward the end of her life, Gibans created “The Garden of Old Age,” an exhibit, first mounted at Judson Park and later at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes. The exhibit blended the Shaker Lakes photography of Abby Star with Gibans’s poetry.
A longtime arts champion, Gibans started Young Audiences for the Cleveland Chamber Music Society, earning a bachelor’s degree in art, music and literature from Sarah Lawrence in 1954 and a master’s degree in aesthetics and art history from Western Reserve University in Cleveland in 1966. During much of this time, she and Jim were raising their children in their home on Warrington Road. That Shaker Heights residence and their 2,000-square-foot apartment at 13800 Shaker Blvd. in Cleveland were quite heady households.
“I was certainly the only kid I knew who could play their way throughout the (Cleveland) Art Museum and knew the shortest path to childhood favorites: the roomful of armor, the queen’s bed (or at least that’s what we called it), Monet’s Water Lilies,” recalls her daughter Amy, a member of the educational staff at Middlebury College in Vermont.
Art ruled in the Gibans family. Not only did Jim and Nina create it, they commissioned local artists every five years. One of them was Christopher Pekoc, the gifted Cleveland artist who painted a portrait of Nina and Jim for their 50th anniversary that hung in their bedroom.
“Every project I did had this philosophy, that it should appear in more than one form, because people learn in different ways,” Gibans once said. “My whole agenda is community learning. I’ve taught teachers, taught students, people talk about the things that I talk about.
“So every project has a visual part, which is usually a website, and so the philosophy is to be a community teacher. I really am a community teacher. Whatever I’m doing I always share with others somehow. It’s not to be bossy, it‘s not meant to be highfalutin. It’s what I do best.”
Gibans’s bottomless creative energy sustained her to the end. Gibans published several books, produced several films, and embraced technology. To secure her legacy, Gibans contracted with the agency press ATBOSH Media to publish her latest round of books and republish several of her out-of-print works, host a variety of her films on the ATBOSH YouTube channel, and continue to host her websites.
Gibans was modern her whole life.
Her recent books include “Celebrating the Soul of Cleveland,” “In the Garden of Old Age,” and “Rosepetals…towards Memory.” Available at the ATBOSH YouTube channel: “Life in Isolation” and the films “Creating a Sense of Place: University Circle,” “Transcending Time: The Story of Potter and Mellen,” and “Pepper RidgeL The Vision of Robert A. Little.” Other films about Cleveland’s arts history and culture also are available at YouTube via ATBOSH.
More information about Gibans’ cultural celebrations is available at NinaGibans.com, UniversityCircleFilm.com and ClevelandArtAndHistory.com.
Besides her sons and daughters, survivors include grandchildren Melissa and Andrew Gibans and Kelsey and Cody McGlashan; nephews Daniel (Sue) and Paul Abrahms (Debbie); and niece Wendy Abrahms Fishman (Gary). For more information, go to ninagibans.com