Will the Real Janet Sobel Please Stand Up?


numerous early news clippings and other documents about Janet Sobel; referred me to Ann Eden Gibson’s then-recent, groundbreaking book Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics;2 and gave me telephone and written access to Sol Sobel, Janet Sobel’s last-surviving child and greatest advocate, and to Sol’s equally devoted wife, Leah Sobel. Snyder and the Sobels were initially very helpful in providing me with information about Janet Sobel’s life and art career. To enlarge my knowledge of some newer critical perspectives on abstract expressionism and the part that Janet Sobel and others played in those perspectives, I also turned to the writings of Jeffrey Wechsler3 and Deborah A. Goldberg,4 in addition to the just-mentioned Ann Eden Gibson,5 for their information and insights, published in the 1990s.

           In his catalog essay, Jeffrey Wechsler wrote that Janet Sobel’s “relevant biography is simplicity itself.”6 Wechsler then quoted William Rubin’s 1967 article (cited in my preceding paragraph) to elaborate on his thought:

                Born in Russia in 1894, Mrs. Sobel came to America at the age of fourteen,
                married, had five children, and was a grandmother when she began to
                paint in 1939.

                        I have found, however, that Janet Sobel’s biography, though short, is anything but simple. Although it is true that she was born in Russia in the last decade of the nineteenth century, that she was married, the mother of five children, a grandmother when she began to paint, probably in 1939, and that she died on November 11, 1968,8 very little, particularly about her early life, is definitely known about her. Since her death, much of what has been written about her life has been recounted or corroborated by her son Sol and his wife, Leah. Unfortunately, Sol Sobel, who was eighty years old when I first spoke to him, said that he no longer had his older brother Bernard to provide him with the missing facts about their mother’s life that his brother knew and Sol did not remember.

        When Sol Sobel became reluctant or unable to continue to answer my questions about his mother, I concluded that I had to find reliable primary sources that could clarify the often conflicting details that I had read or been told about Janet Sobel’s



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All texts copyright © Libby Seaberg, 2009