Cover photo for Theodora "Teddy" Zehner's Obituary
Theodora "Teddy" Zehner Profile Photo
1944 Theodora 2023

Theodora "Teddy" Zehner

March 21, 1944 — August 6, 2023


Theodora “Teddy” Zehner, 79, a cherished friend to many and passionate supporter of the arts, passed away on August 6, 2023 in Madison, Wisconsin after a battle with acute myeloid leukemia.

It has been suggested that the reader of this account might be amused by all the names she acquired throughout her life. Of course, Theodora is her legal name but others were affectionately created by her friends: Teddy, Theo, Doll, Love, Ted, Teddette, Teddells, TZ, Tee Zee, Teddi, Teddie, Tedde, Tedster, and T.

Teddy was born on March 21, 1944, in Philadelphia, PA where she was raised an only child. She earned a BFA from the Philadelphia College of Art and an MS from the University of Tennessee, both in Textile Design. In Philadelphia she learned to design Jacquard fabrics for commercial and residential purposes, which became her specialty. She continued to expand her techniques into printing, dyeing, and painting fabrics. Eventually she shared her expertise while on the faculty at Rhode Island School of Design and in the fiber and materials studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1991, Teddy chose to make Madison her home. The small city had everything she was looking for – a warm, creative community with many opportunities for artistic engagement. She bought a home on Monona Bay where she quickly bonded with her neighbors and treasured her ever- changing view of the water. For over 30 years, Teddy was a fixture in Madison’s arts scene. Her friends and colleagues could always count on seeing her smiling face at museum openings, artist lectures, gallery tours, theater performances, donor events, concerts, and art fairs. Her enthusiasm, passion, and generosity for the arts were influential and infectious, making her a valuable leader and mentor on various boards, committees, and volunteer positions.

Teddy developed a deep and lasting relationship with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA), dating back to the days when it was called Madison Art Center. She felt right at home in this museum among friendly, like-minded people who shared her passion for art. After joining Art League, one of the museum’s volunteer organizations, she eventually became its last president. After the Madison Art Center became MMoCA in 2006, Teddy was a Board member, chair of multiple fundraisers including the very popular “Hair Affair,” and was the first president of MMoCA Volunteers. She especially valued her role as a docent, which allowed her to learn directly from artists and curators and lead tours of exhibitions. The museum benefited, and continues to benefit, in countless ways from Teddy’s time, energy, and generosity. Not only was the museum a source of joy and artistic stimulation for Teddy, but it was also where she formed some of her most meaningful friendships.

The performing arts were also a lifelong interest. She was a proud supporter of Overture Center for the Arts and Forward Theater. It gave her great pleasure and pride to have such sterling organizations in Madison to compliment MMoCA.

Independent and insatiably curious, Teddy was often gripped by wanderlust. Her travels took her across the globe to Europe, Scandinavia, Canada, Africa, the Middle East, Mexico, and Asia. She also enjoyed domestic adventures, especially when it involved artistic experiences and spending time with friends. Collections of art, photographs, and textiles displayed in her home reflected the richness of her experiences and her impeccable taste.

Anyone in Teddy’s presence felt drawn in by her magnetic charm and sense of humor. She will be remembered for her warm and gregarious nature, hilarious stories, quick wit, and style.

Those lucky to count themselves among Teddy’s inner circle know that she had a way of making each friend feel valued and cherished - she was always generous with her time and fiercely loyal.

In lieu of flowers, should you wish, please donate in Theodora’s honor to her favorite arts organizations:

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

Overture Center for the Arts

Forward Theater


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