Barbara Lazarus Metz 1930-2011

I have just lit a yahrzeit candle for Barbara. I stumbled on the news of her death while googling something on paper arts. One report said December 5, another December 9, just two months ago, in Minneapolis where her daughter lives. I last spoke to her over a year ago. We talked about getting together. It never happened.

When I first moved to Chicago in 1972, I became involved in the arts department at Jane Addams Center Hull House on Broadway. I took lithography and photography classes and eventually began to teach a few there myself. That’s where I first met Barbara— a vibrant, opinionated, talented artist.

Our friendship and those of a growing group of friends began to flourish and classes expanded into dinner beforehand, sometimes drinks after. Eventually the group of us would meet on occasional weekends as well, along with any of our significant others.

Barbara was married to a vice-president of Helene Curtis at the time and so lived in two worlds—the wife of a corporate executive whose business it was to sell “beauty”, and the feminist artist who craved slumming, the bohemian life, and making art which challenged that very notion of “beauty”. She was of my mother’s generation and I saw Barbara push those parameters and limitations, emerging as an animated and independent spirit.

Barbara and I and a third friend (from the Hull House group) had an art show together in Madrid, Spain (arranged by two other friends from that original Hull House group who happened to be living in Madrid at the time). We both tried to learn Spanish so that we could try to fulfill the tradition of artists who had gallery shows, to be present each and every night to discuss their work with any patrons who might visit, as well as with the gypsy singers who stopped by to sing and to ask for handouts. Even the American Ambassador to Spain, Terrence A. Todman, showed up.

She and I spent a month in Egypt together traveling the Nile and getting our hands hennaed, little realizing that it would mark us as loose women. She became very ill in Luxor and I needed to negotiate support for her recovery. We both crawled in underground tunnels deep beneath Imhotep’s step pyramid in Saqqara, believing that we would never see daylight again.

Barbara was one of the people responsible for bringing book arts to Chicago, first through her classes at Jane Addams Center, and then at her Artists Book Works, which she founded after her divorce and where I served on its first boards. I lived a block away from Artists Book Works so it became a very real extension of my artistic community. JB and I even hand-set and printed our wedding invitations there, an edition numbered and signed.

Barbara eventually joined up with Marilyn Sward of Paper Press to start Columbia College’s Center for The Book and Paper Arts, bringing book arts into the legitimate art world of this city. Barbara’s children are setting up a scholarship in her name at the school.

Barbara was an adventurer. Someone who took risks. She lived a very full life as an artist, a teacher, a consultant, a curator, a world traveler, a tour guide at Lyric Opera, a mother, a friend—a shaker and a mover and someone who did not suffer fools very well. She was open with her heart and mind and resources.

Staring at the yahrzeit flame, I am remembering how she was always filled with plans and possibilities. Always filled with dreams. Now she has become one.

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8 Responses to Barbara Lazarus Metz 1930-2011

  1. Many fond memories. Informally learning book arts just for the heck of it. Two formal classes in book art for teachers. Working with Barbara (RIP,) Dorothy (RIP,) Katherine, and Jan at Hull House (where I had a number of books in a show Barbara curated,) At her studio downtown, and at her studio (in the six flat she bought) on Irving Park Road (which was the pre-cursor of Colombia College’s Center for the Book and Paper Arts.) Before our informal get-togethers we would traditionally share dinner at a nearby Greek restaurant, first on Wells Street then on Irving Park.

    Barbara was instrumental in letting me know about and then supporting and encouraging me to apply for a grant from the Chicago Department of Fine Arts. I was awarded a financial grant to build my show and give 20 performances of “Maybe The Clown and His Back Pocket Review” in Chicago’s Uptown Neighborhood as well as an “Opening Night” performance during the day at LIncoln Park Zoo, at the Michigan Avenue Bridge, and on the steps of the Art Institute.

    Both Barbara and I shared a love of opera, were both involved in back stage tours, and always looked forward to visiting during the intermissions of Lyric Opera’s dress rehearsals (which we both earned the right to attend though our volunteer work.)

    She was one of the most energetic, talented, hard working persons I have ever known. She will be missed. For Jan, Barbara has become a dream now, for me … a memory that I will hold dearly.

    • jyourist says:

      Thank you, Michael, for your powerful memories and thoughts…. And thank you, Barbara, wherever you are.

    • Hillary says:


      This is Hillary Metz, Barbara’s daughter, What a lovely tribute to my mother, you writing along wiht Jan’s (who I know) have both brought me to tears – I am so profoundly thankful for the role she had in your life. For me, she is both a dream and an ongoing memory which I cherish daily.

      We are doing a “Remembering Barbara” event on the afternoon of April 28th including a workshop, memorial (celebration) service and reception. I wanted to let you know about it in case you weren’t aware. Hopefuly you can join us, and if you would like read the kind and heartfelt words you wrote about my mom. It would be an honor.

      Thank you for reminding of all she was to each of us.


  2. Jerome Bloom says:


  3. A beautiful eulogy, Jan, and I am so glad to have heard the story of the art show in Spain to connect with the words you wrote here.

  4. leamuse says:

    Thank you for sharing your memories of this remarkable woman.

  5. Hillary says:

    Dear Jan,

    Thank you for writing this wonderfully warm, insightful and caring memorial to my mom. I was especially intrigued with your awareness of her duplicitious life with my father. She taught me most of what I know and am about being a feminist and I am eternally grateful. I also made my wedding invitations at Artists Book Work, hand marbling enough paper with my now ex-husband and his two daughters to produce over 200 invitations. It is a memory I cherish.

    As I hope you know we are celebrating her life the afternoon of 4/28 at the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Colubia College. I hope you will join us (not just to remember Barbara) because I’d love to see you again. And, we would be honored if you would read what you wrote so eloquently about her with everyone during the memorial service part of the event.

    If you’d like to reach me directly feel free to contact me at Thank you again for writing about my mom, I know she heard your beautiful words and appreciates them all.


  6. Pingback: Memorial for Barbara | Nexus

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