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.