Image via Jose Parla Blog
Janet Sobel was a self-taught artist whose drip paintings of the early 1940's were admired by the likes of Peggy Guggenheim and Jackson Pollock (there is a theory out there that Sobel's abstract drip and splatter method may have had a possible influence over Pollock's own style). She was also my husband's maternal great Grandmother and because of this I may be biased but I think her art work is extraordinary, especially when you consider her unlikely story.
Image via Gary Snyder Gallery
Janet Sobel was born in 1894 in the Ukraine and emigrated to New York with her mother in 1908. She was married at the age of sixteen and proceeded to live a fairly normal life as a Brooklyn housewife and mother of five. At the age of 43, she started to scribble little designs on scrap paper and occasionally in the evening she’d steal one of her son’s paint brushes to fool around with. At first she was ashamed of her desire to paint and didn't tell anyone. In her mind, she was just a housewife and what did she know about art and painting? Her son Sol, who was considered to be the true artist in the family, finally caught on to what his mother was doing and took her paintings to his art teacher who thought they were good enough to be featured in a gallery. Janet Sobel continued to paint when she found the time, often at night, and by 1943 her unique style of abstract painting gained the attention and admiration of such art world luminaries as Peggy Guggenheim, the surrealists Max Ernst and Andre Breton, the philosopher and educator John Dewey and critic and collector Sidney Janis.
Janet Sobel with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt
Janet Sobel with University of Chicago Laboratory School founder, John Dewey. Little did they know that Janet's great grandchildren would one day attend his school.
Charles' grandmother Lillian was Janet's daughter and she would sometimes tell stories of how Peggy Guggenheim used to come to the house to visit her mother. Lillian passed away in 2007 well into her nineties and we miss her dearly. She was a very spirited lady (she liked to curse, which of course made me giggle) but what I loved most about her was her sense of independence and support of women. She used to say to me, "Stick with me kid, and I'll make you a star!". In her later years, she developed eye sight problems but that did not stop her from sitting two inches away from the television screen so she could watch my show. She liked to talk about wine with me and even though she never drank wine, she would often ask for recommendations as she said it was never too late to learn. She must have inherited this desire to keep learning and discovering from her mother.
The Gary Snyder Gallery in New York City is currently running a Janet Sobel exhibit. You can view her artwork and learn more about her amazing story here.