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Growing up in a little speck of a desert town along Route 66, Hellyn Moore Pawula was told she would make a good switchboard operator.

It was a respectable job. She’d be able to support herself. And crucially in mid-century America, it was available to women.

She declined.

Instead, she went to college. She raised a daughter by herself. She went to graduate school. She became an acclaimed metal worker and jeweler. She traveled abroad, giving lectures on her work and art history, and was a resident artist at a university in Greece. And, for nearly three decades, she ran a jewelry program at Highline Community College, teaching generations of aspiring artists the tools of the craft.

Ms. Moore Pawula died March 24 from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. She was 83.

From the late 1960s through the mid-1990s, Ms. Moore Pawula ran Highline’s jewelry program, training students in a potential vocation, but also instilling an appreciation of art and creativity and the history of the form. In the early 1970s, she received a federal grant to set up a Southwest Indian jewelry program at Fort Lewis College, in Colorado.

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“Ultimately she was happiest when she was teaching,” said Cathy Moore, her daughter, a King County Superior Court judge. “She was just passionate about her work.”

Hellyn Moore Pawula was born Feb. 1, 1937, in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Her father was a mail carrier; her mother stayed at home.

Her family’s expectations for her trended more toward attending finishing school than college, Moore said, but, nevertheless she earned a scholarship to Texas A&M to study geology. She transferred closer to home to the University of New Mexico, where she earned a degree in fine arts.

Her daughter was born in 1960, and Ms. Moore Pawula’s marriage ended shortly after. With her toddler daughter, Ms. Moore Pawula moved to Seattle, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts in jewelry and metal-smithing from the University of Washington.

She had a fellowship in centrifugal casting, a technique in which molten metal is spun at high speeds into a mold, enabling finely detailed pieces. She continued to teach and consult on the technique throughout her career.

“She put herself through college and graduate school at a time when ‘divorced single mom’ carried unwelcome connotations,” Moore said. “She never forgot the struggle of earning an education.”

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Ms. Moore Pawula joined Highline Community College (now called Highline College) as an art teacher in 1968. She ran the jewelry program (which was discontinued a few years after her retirement) and, for a number of years, was the head of the college’s art department. She created an associate degree program in jewelry and metal-smithing, working for two years to gain state approval.

“I would like to instill an awareness that art is a total experience and not just an isolated incident,” Ms. Moore Pawula told the student newspaper, the Thunderword, in 1968, shortly after she was hired.

In her own artwork, she focused largely on metal boxes and containers, often in organic styles, modeled after forms she’d find in nature. She drew swirling patterns from a mass of seaweed washed up on the beach, or used lightning bolts as pedestals. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally.

In her own work, Ms. Moore Pawula was drawn to making containers inspired by nature. In this, the last piece she made, the pueblo, lightning bolts, cactus, lizards and horned toads were all cast from metal. (Courtesy of Cathy Moore)
In her own work, Ms. Moore Pawula was drawn to making containers inspired by nature. In this, the last piece she made, the pueblo, lightning bolts, cactus, lizards and horned toads were all cast from metal. (Courtesy of Cathy Moore)

Away from work, she loved going to museums (she had a special fondness for the Renaissance masters) and never turned down the chance to dance (she loved swing and the jitterbug).

Dennese Kennedy, a longtime friend, recalls watching the television series “Mad Men” with her.

“She would describe how familiar it was, that era, just how male-dominated it was, drinking at work — just growing up during that time and trying to establish her career,” Kennedy said.

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In 1978, she was named artist in residence at the Athens School of Fine Arts, among the premier art schools in Greece.

“The main thing about my mom was that she was very ambitious, she was very driven, at a time when that was not supported for women,” Moore said. “A lot of her students were single moms or people coming back to school and didn’t have a lot of support and I think she felt a lot of affinity.”

Ms. Moore Pawula is survived by her daughter, son-in-law David Baxter and grandsons Erasmus, Aidan and Finn.