Will the Real Janet Sobel Please Stand Up?


therefore be hard to imagine Janet Sobel receiving the same level of human- interest media attention in 1962, as the widow of the wealthy president of a family-owned costume jewelry–manufacturing company employing more than two hundred women as producers, stringers and attachers of artificial pearls,62 as she had as a short, plump Brooklyn grandmother and housewife celebrated as an original, yet completely untrained Surrealist and primitive painter in the mid-1940s. For example, the Brooklyn Eagle headlined its 1944 article about Sobel’s “first one-woman show,” at the Puma Gallery, as “Palette Packin’ Grandma to Open One-Man Art Show.”63 Obviously the Eagle’s headline writer, using the typical 1940s (and, sadly, even much later—see William Rubin in 1967)64 phrase for identifying all solo exhibitions as masculine, was not the same person as the article’s better-informed author.

Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith tell us in their Pulitzer Prize–winning yet controversial biography of Jackson Pollock that when she heard that Pollock was being credited as the inventor of an all-over abstract “drip” painting style, years after her solo show at Art of This Century, Janet Sobel called Sidney Janis to complain that she and not Pollock should have been credited as the founder of the style.65 However, Sobel does not seem to have announced her painting discovery or defended her creative achievement publicly in any other way.

        Her over-protected, almost passive, and dependent behavior went beyond her fighting for a publicly recognized artistic achievement. For example, her husband, Max, was granted United States citizenship in 1922, the first year that a male immigrant’s being awarded U.S. citizenship did not automatically confer U.S. citizenship on his immigrant wife. Yet it appears that Janet Sobel never applied for American citizenship in her own right, a fact that her son Sol, in his telephone conversation with me, was not aware of, nor was he aware or able to admit that his mother had never voted. My search of the relevant “List of Registered Voters for the Year 1941” for the Borough of Brooklyn revealed that Sol Sobel and Max Sobel were the only residents of their building who


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All texts copyright © Libby Seaberg, 2009