photo: Jeremiah Jones
header image: still from "OXO Good Grips: Think Differently" by Enterprise Media
Sam Farber was one of the great pioneers of the appreciation of outsider art and was instrumental in the growth of its acceptance in the USA, and indeed in other countries too. His first visit to the Collection de l'Art Brut in the 1980s left him totally overwhelmed. He was so struck with the intensity of the work he had witnessed in that museum that he spent a sleepless night thinking about it all – and so his total involvement in this newly discovered art was born. His enthusiasm for outsider art and art brut never diminished over the years. He was a very early supporter of Raw Vision magazine and even mailed out the first few editions himself to American readers after collecting great boxes full of magazines from the airport. He helped Raw Vision to establish itself and also to survive any stormy patches.
He was also the principle force behind the American Folk Art Museum embracing outsider art and was instrumental in the formation of its Contemporary Center and the establishment of the Henry Darger Study Center. He and his wife Betsey built up one of America's important early collections of international outsider art, including figures such as Adolf Wölfi and the Gugging artists as well as many other European artists brut. In addition to donating essential works to the American Folk Art Museum, he had recently donated one of the centrepieces of his collection, a huge sculptural piece by Pascal Verbena, The Holocaust, to the Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne. Sam had a close relationship with Verbena who he visited in southern France on many occasions. On hearing of his death, Verbena exclaimed, “I am now an orphan”.
Sam Farber was born and grew up in New York City and served in the Army Air Force during World War II, where he was deployed in Turkey and North Africa.
He came from a family with established ties to the kitchen products business and, after graduating from Harvard with an economics degree in 1946, he became involved in the same field. His uncle had founded the cookware company Farberware in 1900 and his father founded Farber Brothers, which specialised in table and serving ware. In a successful business life, Sam was the creator of several kitchenware companies and revolutionised utensil design with his Oxo range of chunky implements that could be easily gripped. This was a development that resulted from personal experience when Betsey had difficulty in grasping a conventional vegetable peeler. His quiet demeanour belied his great business success and he always proved to be an approachable and sympathetic person with a thoughtful and reasoned approach.
Sam Farber had a considerable impact on the whole field of outsider art and his loss will be widely felt. The Raw Vision anniversary exhibition, opening at Halle Saint Pierre in Paris in September, will be dedicated to his memory.
by John Maizels