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Umbrella Online - Current Issue

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ISSN 0160-0699

Volume 30, No. 3, Sep 2007

In Memoriam

Gloria Helfgott

Book artist Gloria Helfgott died June 23 at her home in Pacific Palisades. One of the best-loved artists in the national community, she is survived by her husband of 59 years, Roy, their son Daniel, and her sister Shirley Sollott of Bethesda, MD.

I met Gloria in 1998, when Robbin Silverberg asked us to curate an exhibition of artists’ books for the Center for Book Arts in New York. We split it into two shows: I took Northern California, Gloria Southern California (the Southern California show, “SO CALled Books,” traveled to the San Francisco Center for the Book in 1999). Gloria had been active in the New York scene before she moved to Los Angeles in 1996, and she introduced me to scores of wonderful artists from both communities. She was a supreme networker, and in the best possible way: her enthusiasm for the work of fellow artists was genuine and infectious. Like me, she was an evangelist for the artist book, and we instantly bonded. I made time to visit Gloria and Roy almost every time I visited Los Angeles; there were memorable lunches, studio visits, exhibition installations, and they all added up to one long, stimulating conversation.

Accomplished as a painter and printmaker, Gloria didn’t begin making artist’s books until 1990, but when she did she knew she had found her medium. She learned much from fellow artists, and was particularly inspired by classes she took with Tim Ely. She began teaching a series of successful classes at Center for Book Arts and Bennington College, and by the time she moved west, she was one of the best-connected book artists in the United States, with a large network of friends and admirers. Her own work was structurally and conceptually adventurous, always surprising, and conveyed a compelling sense of wonder.

In addition to that vast network of friends, it was Gloria’s deep sympathy for the art form that made her an exceptional curator. In addition to “SO CALled Books,” her recent show “Black/White/[and Read]” has traveled to the San Francisco Center for the Book, and will continue on to at least three other venues. An exhibition she put together in 2004 at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, “Transformations,” is particularly memorable. It was a brilliant installation, a work of art in itself, and featured work by artists I thought of as Gloria’s repertory group, including Sue Ann Robinson, Genie Shenk, Pia Pizzo, Terry Braunstein and Beth Thielen.

I will always remember Gloria’s positive spirit and sweet enthusiasm, the way she would spontaneously exclaim “yay!” when there was something that pleased her. Perhaps her greatest legacy to those of us who knew and loved her will be her enthusiastic support of fellow artists: she created not only networks, but communities. She was an absolutely ageless wonder, and a constant reminder of the power of the book to transform lives.

— Steve Woodall
San Francisco Center for the Book

Norman Colp

I met Norman Colp in the 1970s through his small and humorous books, which I purchased at Printed Matter in the early days of collecting. I always looked forward to the next one, since they were funny and perfect, using text in such a wondrous way. I learned that he was the curator of the Center for Book Arts in New York, curating exhibitions such as Entrapped: The Book as Container, The Open Book, the Photographic Narrative, or Painted Over Pages. Stories Your Mother Never Told You at White Plains Public Library, or Drawn into the Fold with artists’ notebooks, or a show of Hedi Kyle’s books, or bookworks from the United Kingdom–and so much more. At William Paterson College, he curated a show of Artists’ Books: A Survey 1960-1981, which was documented in their journal, Artery (April 1982). He also taught at Pratt Institute and was a very busy person.

Tony Zwicker introduced us, and Norman was always on my special list from that time forth. I remember his little book called “An Old Saw” where each page shows a person holding a black card on which there is only one word–and the whole book spells out “One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.” His exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in late 1991 through March 1992 was of his accordion books, where only one word at a time set the pace of the reader to ingest, synthesize, and savor. At this same time he gave a surprise party for his dealer, Tony Zwicker, and it brought together many of the artists Tony represented –all in the same glorious apartment–all book artists who had never conversed before to honor the woman who was such a catalyst for artist books.

He was the only person who ever invited me to speak in New York City (in the old days), and I was always grateful for the opportunity. We also were collectors–I of umbrellas and all things umbrelliana, he of walking sticks and canes.

When word came from Doug Beube that Norman had passed away, I was stunned. And so I tell you that I remember Norman, because his books spoke for him and they made me laugh. He also was an artist book activist, curating, lecturing and being a working member of the Center for Book Arts. For those of us who knew him, we will miss his contributions, his warm personality, his friendship.

— jah