May 9, 1944 – Dec. 1, 2017
Alexandra Mary Swaney was born May 9, 1944 in Helena, Montana, daughter of Alexander Grant Swaney and Mildred Buckneberg. She died in Helena on December 1, 2017 attended to by devoted friends. Her paternal grandparents, Andrew Swaney and Mary Foy, were Flathead Valley pioneers, establishing the first trading post with the Salish people near Kalispell. Her maternal grandparents moved to Helena from North Dakota when Alexandra was born; her grandmother, Tina Buckneberg helped raise Alex after her mother died in a riding accident in 1948.
Alex graduated from Helena High School, having spent a semester as an exchange student in Mexico, the first of many cross-cultural travel experiences. She took her undergraduate degree at Mills College, and earned a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her interest in cultural heritages and traditions was the common thread in a life of diverse explorations.
She was privileged to work with her role model from childhood, Frieda Fligelman, an early student of anthropology at Columbia University. Frieda and Alexandra were a unique team, reviewing papers together and generating possibilities for their hometown community. Alex edited a chapbook collection of Frieda's poems, Beyond the Mores.
Talented as a writer, artist and musician, Alexandra focused on her gifts as a keyboardist and composer in her work with Cheap Cologne. In the mid-1980’s she studied music composition at CalArts in California. Most recently, she sang with Musikanten in their performance of Bach's B Minor Mass.
Alexandra's generative creative energy contributed to the founding of Second Story Cinema in Helena, now the Myrna Loy Center. She was also part of creating the Montana Artists Refuge in Basin, helping ensure residencies for Native American artists. She was an adjunct professor of Anthropology at Carroll College, and co-led several journeys of spiritual exploration with the Feathered Pipe Ranch Foundation, to Peru and other sacred sites.
Alexandra was an advocate. She was a strong proponent of women's and gay rights, supporting the founding of the Montana Women's Lobby Fund and contributing regularly to the gay communities’ Hearts and Humans events.
For a decade, Alex worked as the Folklife Director at the Montana Arts Council, travelling across the state to discover and support a variety of artists. Her work helped establish the annual Montana Folklife Festival in Butte.
Many friends were honored to be part of Alex's support team over the last two years, after the death of her partner, Lillian Milchalsky. Gratitude is extended to John Sims, M. J. Williams, Nan Parsons, Nancy Owens, Melissa Kwasny and Bryher Herak. Alex’s care team would like to thank her loving caretakers, Maureen Sullivan, Judy Moon Vasquez, and also the staff at Bear Grass Suites in Boulder MT. We would also like to thank her many friends at the Montana Arts Council and the Feathered Pipe Ranch. Also important to Alex's well-being were Jo Reid Smith, Arnie Malina, Rhandi Rachlis, Joan Bird and Nancy Collins-Warner.
A memorial service in honor of Alex's life will be held at a later date.