Judith A. Hoffberg, 1934–2009

Judith A. Hoffberg, co-founder of The Art Libraries Society of North America, founder of the journal Umbrella, and tireless advocate for book artists, passed away recently. Richard Minsky, founder of The Center for Book Arts, offers this moving remembrance.

Judith A. Hoffberg, 19342009

Thirty-four years ago I received a letter of introduction from Judith A. Hoffberg when she was the Executive Secretary of ARLIS, The Art Libraries Society of North America, an organization she co-founded in 1972. She thought that book artists and art librarians should be in contact, and assigned herself the role of documenting the burgeoning book art movement.

In 1978 Judith created the journal Umbrella to record and disseminate information about artists’ books, mail art, and Fluxus. She was there when the seminal work in these fields was done, she knew everyone, and she wrote about it voluminously. She embraced technology, and from 2006 until her death in January 2009, Umbrella was available only by online subscription. The archive of the Umbrella print edition (from 1978 to 2005), has been digitized by Indiana University and is freely available.

Judith referred to herself in the first and third person as “jah.” A typical e-mail begins with “jah thought you’d like to see this…” followed by a link to an article in Wired magazine. We spoke fairly often by phone. One of the most opinionated and stubborn people I have ever met, Judith was both a passionate advocate of artists’ books and quick to disparage redundant or irrelevant editions with anger and humor. A phone call from her would begin “Can you believe what just happened?” followed by a story of some perceived outrage that was committed by the ignorant.

Proud of her heritage, Judith organized an exhibition of bookworks by ninety women from five continents titled Women of the Book: Jewish Artists, Jewish Themes, which traveled to a dozen venues from 1997 to 2002.

Last year, in honor of Umbrella’s thirtieth anniversary, I made a book that is an umbrella and asked Judith to choose the text for it. She sent me Robert Louis Stevenson’s essay, “The Philosophy of Umbrellas.” It was a fabulous choice: light, appropriate to the medium, and containing an early statement of what came to be known as Murphy’s Law. When the prototype was finished, printed in black ink on white paper, I took a snapshot and sent it to her. She wrote right back:

      It’s beautiful, so-o-o beautiful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

    jah

I then colorized the picture in Photoshop to get an idea of what the finished edition would look like, and sent her that. She replied:

      Richard—the photos look too pink—I’m not a pink person, but a “hot pink” person—

 

      please don’t print with pink—I HATE PINK.

 

    JAH

Her favorite color was purple, so the umbrella was printed in hot pink with a purple cylinder as a slipcase.

Judith’s papers and Artists’ Book Collection will be held at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her Umbrelliana collection, which includes hundreds of umbrellas, antiquarian books and ephemera, will be at the University of California, San Diego. A celebration of Jah’s life will take place Sunday, February 8, at 11 am, at the Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station Arts Center.

Richard Minsky is the founder (in 1974) of The Center for Book Arts.

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