Will the Real Janet Sobel Please Stand Up?


were registered to vote in the year that Janet Sobel was probably forty-seven or forty-eight years old.66

           Another aspect of Janet Sobel’s story is also enlightening. When her husband died in 1953, Janet immediately began to work at Sobel Brothers, Inc., her husband’s company.67 With no evidence to confirm or negate the following hypotheses, I would suggest that she felt it more important to help her late husband’s business continue its postwar success bringing financial rewards and security to her family, their children, herself, and the business’s many employees than to devote herself to the making and selling of her artworks. Her son Sol was also hard at work in the family business, which to him, too, was obviously a far greater and more dependable source of income than his mother’s art career had proven to be. Perhaps Janet Sobel also believed that working at Sobel Brothers enabled her to remain closer to her late husband and to preserve his memory and, at the same time, as she had written eight years earlier, to be “more interested in people and everything that pertained to them” than her full-time painting and drawing alone in her mansion would allow her to be.

More than one reporter has written that Janet Sobel had long suffered from a severe allergy to some ingredient in the paint she used, which Gail Levin plausibly considers was one of the three reasons for Sobel’s plunge into obscurity as an artist. We see that this allergy was mentioned in the 1946 Brooklyn Eagle article titled “Critics Acclaim Boro Grandmother As Top Flight Surrealist Painter.”68 Sixteen years later, Waylande Gregory, in his article of January 6, 1962, says that Sobel had to stop painting because of her allergy to the oil pigments in her paint, and Gregory suggested to Sobel’s son Bernard that he provide his mother with casein tempera paints, which rarely caused an allergic reaction.69 Here we see another instance of someone treating Sobel like either a child or a mentally incompetent or an invalid, advising her son, not Sobel herself, to get the art materials she should use. Levin writes that Janet’s son Sol told her that his mother got her enamel paint and some of her other art supplies from the family’s jewelry and artificial pearl business.70 One can only wonder whether Janet’s allergy may have been caused or worsened by her closeness to the contents of the


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All texts copyright © Libby Seaberg, 2009