Santa Fe artist Barbara Erdman never had to worry about making a living from her art, so she didn’t. A prolific, disciplined artist in a variety of media, she put creating art before shipping it out to galleries and such. But as she lay dying, she told her friend Marcia Wolf, she regretted not making her work more public.
“I promised her I would do what I could to get it out into the world,” said Wolf.
Recently, on behalf of the Barbara Erdman Foundation, Wolf donated 44 of Erdman’s works to the UNM Health Sciences Center, said Christina Fenton, director of the HSC Art Program. Pieces are now hanging across campus, including the Faculty Contracts offices as well at the UNM HOPE Building located on Bradbury Drive SE in Albuquerque. More installations are planned for in the future.
“We are fortunate to have these gifts from the foundation,” said Fenton. “Erdman was a well-known Santa Fe artist with a fascinating life. She knew and worked with all the important New York artists in the 1950s and 60s, then spent 13 years in Florence before moving to Santa Fe.”
“I don’t know how she did it, but she could take whatever she was feeling in a given day and turn it into art. Each piece has her soul in it,” said Wolf, who counted herself as a friend of Erdman’s since the artists first days in Santa Fe and who is now trustee for the Barbara Erdman Foundation, a charitable trust.
Erdman had told her that Florence, Italy was the first time she felt at home in the world. But after 13 years, she felt the need to return to the states.
“She knew she wanted to work on her art and to be part of art culture and she had friends who kept encouraging her to come live in Santa Fe,” said Wolf.
Theirs was a ying-yang friendship. Barbara had never married. Marcia was a young wife with a husband and kids – and an easy organized way about her, something of a younger mother hen.
Erdman could be difficult, says her friend. She was a very intelligent woman of strong opinions, disciplined to the point of obsessive compulsiveness and nowhere did that compulsive nature appear than in her drive to produce art.
“Every day she got up, had coffee and then began to work. All day, every day she was working on something,” said Wolf.
While her first identity was as a painter, she worked in all media, from monoprints to Plexiglas sculptures to fabric and beads. Her last love, after she arrived in Santa Fe in the early 80s was for photography.
Diagnosed with diabetes, “she ignored it until there were problems,” she said.
By the end of her life, Erdman had filled a 5,000 square foot house with her paintings, prints, books, Plexiglas sculptures, fabric and beaded creations. It was time, she felt, to interact more with the public.
“An ongoing exuberance and command of materials gained from a life-long interest in space and color,” was one description of a major retrospective organized in Santa Fe that opened on Aug. 31, 2007.
It was a bittersweet experience. Earlier on the day of the opening Erdman slipped into a light coma. She died the next day.
“It took 12 people to organize everything after she died,” remembers Wolf. The sheer volume of artwork was at times overwhelming. Now that she herself is retired, Wolf has been able to devote full time and now the collection is being dispersed, “out into the world,” as her friend had once hoped.
To learn more about the Barbara Erdman Foundation or to acquire art from the foundation, please contact Marcia Wolf at 505-660-1561.