08 March 2008

Judith Holliday

I just signed on to gmail and as I glanced at the inbox, there was a notice that Judith Holliday's birthday is coming up. Well, this year, it will be bittersweet because Judith died last month. I had known Judith since the late 1960s when I was at Cornell, doing my alternative service. It was folks like her and Chris Huemer and Pat Sullivan that helped me realize that the art historical course (BA to MA to PhD) that I was on was not my natural course.

I returned to grad school in 1971 and we (Dorothy and I) took a trip back to Ithaca to see family and friends there. Probably spring break in 1973. We got back to Cleveland and there was a party/reception for a candidate for a position in the art history department. The competition and whatnot at the party stood in such contrast to the library folks that we'd talked to in Ithaca. I can't remember if we saw Judith on that particular trip, but I do know that I went to the library school the very next day and started the application process. I started library school as I finished my art history master's.

A year later, having finished my M.A. and well along in my M.S. in L.S., I accepted a job at the University of Pittsburgh. The Frick Fine Arts Library there is in a 1960s Italianate palazzo. Almost six years later, the job of art cataloger was open at Cornell since Pat Sullivan had moved over to the Fine Arts Library to be assistant librarian under Judith. It was wonderful to be back with Judith and Pat and in Ithaca.

Judith had lived in Rome for a while and really worked with me on my Italian pronunciation. It must have been hard on her when I'd pronounce Chigi as "chee gie" (soft ch, hard g) when it should be the other way around. With her help and several trips to Italy, I can usually say an Italian word pretty well these days. Now if I could just put a sentence together.

Judith was a consummate bibliographer, particularly in architecture. The 1980s were a time of interesting ferment in architectural output and criticism. Ungers and Rowe were at Cornell. Judith and I had many conversations about architecture, and looked at lots of books together. While I've never had a job as selector, I really enjoyed telling Judith about little treasures I discovered one place or another.

One of my favorite Judith stories is, however, during an ARLIS/NA conference, 1978 I think, in New York City. There was a panel of art book publishers. During the question period, Judith asked the Abrams guy why they didn't put the dates in books. He replied something about not wanting the book to seem stale on the bookstore table or coffee table when you gave it to someone as a Christmas gift. He didn't realize how much trouble it made for librarians and folks trying to cite the item. Soon thereafter, Abrams started putting the date on the verso of the title page and they still do it, even they've been bought and sold a couple times (at least) since then.

So here's to Judith on what would have been her 70th birthday!

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