Thursday, July 27, 2006

Millie Greenberg

Yesterday I posted a bunch of photos of the work of Mildred Elfman Greenberg (1912-2003).

I first met Mildred in 1991 or 1992 (in Philadelphia) when she asked me to come to her apartment and help arrange her books. I thought she must have some huge library or something, but it was a pretty normal amount of books. She was too old though to do much lifting and bending and wanted everything to be organized somehow. Mildred was cranky and bossy, but I liked her and we had a shared interest in art; that book job became mostly hanging out with Mildred. Wish I could remember more details or had some photos - I remember she came over for dinner, and that we visited my show at City Hall together. I left Philly for Albuquerque in maybe 1994, then moved a few more times, and pretty much forgot about Mildred.

In 2000 I visited Philadelphia - i think for a wedding? - and at the PMA saw an excellent show, curated by Ann Percy, called When Reason Dreams. There was a big Jess at the entrance, and a ton of other good stuff. I'm slowly enjoying the show, piece by piece, and went from a Goya or Blake to an exciting blue piece by someone and when I looked at the label to see the name it reads Mildred Elfman Greenberg!! I was so surprised! Mildred in the museum next to Blake! She would love that! So I left the museum right away and started walking to her old apartment building wondering if she was even still alive and when I got there the front desk person told me that she and Sam were still there and that she was very sick.

Sam answered the door in his pajamas, and I could see right away that things were not good. I'd never seen Sam in his pajamas before but here it was late afternoon and Sam was answering the door in dirty pajamas. I was afraid at first that he would have forgotten me from six years before, but he soon remembered. All of their cool furniture was gone and all they had in the apartment was a table and a few chairs (and beds in the two bedrooms), with things lying round in open boxes. Mildred was completely gone... completely non-communicative. Poor Sam had sold everything and was taking care of her by himself. He said he hadn't left the apartment in more than a year because he couldn't leave Mildred. It was really sad, but Sam was excited to have company. HE DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THE MUSEUM SHOW!!! Nobody had told him. I was the first to tell him. We could not believe that nobody attempted to notify Mildred and Sam about that, but Sam was so proud. He had a bunch of Mildred's work piled on and behind the bed that he said he had been trying to sell cheap to the museum to get money to take care of Mildred, but no takers.

Sam was stressed and worried about both Mildred and what would happen with Mildred's work, the stuff he had and all of the other stuff he said he had lost control of. My intention had been to visit the museum that afternoon and take the bus to Albany that evening, but Sam said I could crash at their place. I had to sleep on the living room floor because Sam slept in one bed and Mildred the other.... all night long Mildred called "Sam.... Sam....". She was always dozing, 24 hours a day, and so if she woke up and Sam was not there she would call out for him. Sam spent all night sleeping in fits and starts with Mildred, waking up every hour or so to calm her down.

I expressed interest in a framed work-on-paper, thinking it would be fairly cheap and that I would get a deal anyway - Sam said $1,500. Much more than I had thought it would be, but... I bought it on a shortish installment plan. I was visiting from Japan and he also gave me the binder scrapbook that Mildred had made while Sam was stationed in Japan immediately following WWII, full of his photos and her drawings and some stamps and clippings and things like that. He also gave me a copy of the catalogue of Mildred's 1996 Art Alliance retrospective, from which these photographs of her work have been scanned.

Sam and I exchanged a few letters while I was paying for my piece, but that exchange was brief and the next time I visited Philadelphia in 2oo2 - expecting to find Sam a widower - I learned that Sam had died and Mildred was in a home. I went to the home and Mildred was much better, extremely frail, but lucid. She died not long after.

Mildred is on Artnet! - no images though. i think the electricity one is the one i almost bought instead of the one i got. electricity is in the catalogue, i should scan it.


Michael said...

There's nothing wrong with a ramble.

Ramble on, Martin, ramble on.

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