I was first introduced to the Archives of American Art 12 years ago when I applied for a cataloging position here. I told my mother, Doris Scherbak, that I was not sure about the position, but it must be a nice place to work because it was located in the Smithsonian Institution, after all. I did not know about the Archives even though I graduated from art school, but my mother did and she was thrilled! She had done research here to look at the personal papers of Alice Neel, a very candid, no–nonsense, and unsentimental portrait artist who had created a middle-aged self-portrait that my mother dearly loved.
I am not surprised she loved Alice Neel as my mother was a similar woman, full of verve and curiosity about people and known for her direct questioning style which often embarrassed me as a young adult.
Mom died a few weeks ago and I am still in that very-fresh-grief period. In looking for her in Alice Neel’s papers, I see that Alice motivated my widowed mother—a single parent—to live her life fully as a woman, honestly, without embarrassment or excuse, and with fascination about every person she met. Thanks to the Archives, I have the presence of Alice’s papers to motivate and inspire me as they did my mother.
Loren Scherbak is an artist and database administrator for the Archives of American Art.