An Interview with Judith K. Brodsky and Dr. Ferris Olin

Judith K. Brodsky and Dr. Ferris Olin, both distinguished professors emerita at Rutgers University, are decades long champions of cultural equity both locally and internationally. Together Ferris and Judy founded and co-directed several initiatives and institutions, including the Institute for Women and Art, the Women Artists Archive National Directory, the Miriam Schapiro Archives on Women Artists, and the Feminist Art Project, and have not slowed down yet! Click here to learn more about their current project, The Brodsky Center at Rutgers University: Three Decades, 1986- 2017, held at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University

Ferris and Judy have long been part of the Arts Council of Princeton family. We are proud to be naming two special initiatives in their honor:

The Ferris Olin Cultural Collaborative

To honor Ferris Olin – scholar, curator, educator, and librarian – a fund of $60,000 will support the Ferris Olin Cultural Collaborative, an annual summit that will bring together Princeton and Trenton-area arts and educational organizations, youth service agencies, and organizations that bring art to underserved populations to connect and share information. This collaboration will make service to the community more effective, with organizations forging partnerships that enhance and strengthen their contributions. Additionally, through the Ferris Olin Cultural Collaborative, the Arts Council of Princeton will identify and fund teaching artists to implement unique cultural workshops for the youth participants in our outreach programs. Click here to give.

Judith K. Brodsky Print Studio Naming Fund

By naming the Judith K. Brodsky Print Studio, we honor Judy’s role in initiating printmaking in Princeton. When Judy Brodsky became a printmaker in graduate school in the 1960s, she was so inspired by the medium that she created a printmaking workshop in Princeton and soon established Princeton as a printmaking center. The artists who took her class became household names through the wonderful prints they created over the next decades; Maggie Johnson, Marie Sturken, Joan Needham, Elizabeth Monath, Helen Schwartz, Trudy Glucksberg, and many others fell in love with the process of making prints under Judy’s guidance. In the 1970s, the group published three portfolios which now reside in the state’s and nation’s museums. Click here to give

Continue reading to learn more about them from our recent interview.

Tell us a little about yourselves!

Ferris: “I am a “Jersey Girl,” raised and educated in the Trenton-area and then I received degrees from Douglass College and Rutgers University Graduate Schools. People know me to be curious, interdisciplinary in my approach to topics, interested in social justice and current events globally, an activist, and exceedingly approachable. In my 40-years career at Rutgers University, I had 8 job titles, working in a variety of the University’s units, and retired as a Distinguished Professor Emerita more than a decade, ago. Before I joined the Rutgers faculty, I worked as a children’s and reference librarian in public libraries in Trenton and in Rockland County New York, as well as a librarian in several special libraries. At Rutgers, I next ended up managing the Institute for Research on Women and the Laurie NJ Chair in Women’s Studies; then returned to the libraries to establish a new research center focused on women’s leadership , primary source materials and the use of new emerging technologies as well as curate the Dana Women Artists Series and staff the reference desk; and later, with Judy, established the Institute for Women and Art. When someone asks me what I did at Rutgers I call myself “an academic entrepreneur.” Of course, besides my career, I have lots of interests which is why “bored” is not in my vocabulary.”

Judy: “Every thing I do stems from my identity as an artist. My parents said that I picked up a pencil and started to draw before I could walk or talk. I was educated in the history of art by seeing that history in real life rather than looking at illustrations in books. I went to Harvard where I could only take two courses in studio art, but I did major in art history (what Harvard called Fine Arts), met my husband, got married, had one baby with whom we moved to Princeton, had another baby, and then went back to graduate school when they entered first grade and were gone all day. These life events took place in the early 1960s before day care existed, but my wonderful late husband, David Brodsky, worked at Educational Testing Service which was located only minutes away from the Riverside School and could manage any child-related emergencies. I had a studio at home and the children and I all did homework together. It was at the Tyler School of Art (Temple University) where I was taking my MFA that I fell in love with printmaking although I think I was destined to become a printmaker:I had written an honors thesis at Harvard on the prints of William Hogarth, but I had never thought about making prints myself. It was this revelation of the wonders of printmaking that led me to establish a print studio in Princeton with Carol Stoddard who was the printmaking technician at Princeton University’s print studio.I never dreamed that the print classes I taught in the mid 1960s would result in the rise of a group of wonderful printmakers in Princeton. Women like Maggie Johnson, Marie Sturken, Joan Needham, Elizabeth Monath, Helen Schwartz, and Trudy Glucksberg learned their printmaking in those classes, and quickly became highly regarded print artists in their own right. In the meantime, I went on to start my academic career in my first tenure track teaching job at Beaver College (now Arcadia University). Shortly after I started teaching at Beaver, I became involved in a citywide festival called Philadelphia Focuses on Women in the Visual Arts. I was one of a group of young women starting out in our professional art careers. We put together an amazing festival–all the visual arts institutions in the city mounted exhibitions of work by women artists. I learned how to raise money and organized publicity, which helped my later career, but more importantly I was introduced to feminist ideas of social justice and also of new ways to make art. Subsequently, I moved to Rutgers, spent eight years at the Rutgers-Newark campus, eventually becoming associate provost of the campus. In 1986, I had an epiphany about the rest of my life. I had to resume my career as an artist. I was being creative in a wonderful way–working with others in the city of Newark to restore it to a thriving urban center after the anti-racism riots of the late 1960s, but my fingers were itching to make objects as well. I returned to teaching at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers-New Brunswick, and using what I had learned as a university administrator, I established the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper to provide access to printmaking and hand papermaking for women artists and artists of color who didn’t have opportunities in the white male art world at the time. Since then, the Center has been named after me, as the Brodsky Center, and has moved to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where it is continuing the mission of serving underrepresented artists. While at Rutgers, 60% of the 400+ artists who were in residence, were women-identified and 40% BIPOC during decades when the art world was white and male.”

What was the first time you were inspired by art?

Ferris: “I do not remember that my parents took me to museums or art galleries, but culture was always present in my home and family. I remember fondly visiting my grandfather, a bass baritone and semi-professional singer, every Saturday and listening with him to the Texaco-sponsored Metropolitan Opera on his old radio. Additionally, my mother was creative, though not an artist (I am like her) and we spent almost every Saturday morning at the Trenton Rescue Mission and Salvation Army , where we shopped for “antiques” and household furnishings. She educated me about the decorative arts and interior design; and we also met many New Hope and Lahaska antique dealers shopping at those places. It was so interesting then to visit their stores in the afternoons and see how much of a markup on prices they put on the items they purchased for little expense that very morning.
In high school, I got my working papers so that I could be employed by the NJ State Museum, first when it was located in the State House, and then I helped them move to the then new building on West State St. While there as a seasonal worker I organized their art library (a precursor to one of my jobs as an adult); helped them install their inaugural exhibition about Ben Shahn and his colleagues from Roosevelt; and I was asked to inventory some of the museum’s collections held in storage, such as their Edward Marshall Boehm birds and early American antiques.
It was a revelation to me when I began studying art history as an undergraduate to learn, see, and appreciate the history of art. However, I was always cognizant of the fact that the history I was taught focused on Anglo-European male artists. I always wondered where were the women artists and artists from nations not located in Europe?”

Judy: “I was lucky enough to grow up in Providence, Rhode Island and to to art school at the Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday mornings from the time I was six years old. I could sneak into the museum after class, shiver with awe in the darkened Egyptian room with the mummies, pretend that I was living in the 18th century in the wonderful historical rooms at the RISD museum, and look at works by contemporary artists.”


How and when did you meet each other?

Ferris: “We met each other in 1976, when as the first artist elected President of the Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA), Judy convened a meeting on the Douglass College campus for anyone interested in women artists. She was initiating WCA chapters in each state. Ferris attended that meeting with others in the visual arts and then we launched the chapter. She also became an active member of that national organization headed by Judy. Judy was still teaching at Beaver College (now Arcadia University), and Ferris was already a member of the Rutgers faculty. When Judy subsequently joined Rutgers and then in 1986 founded the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print, they met, again. Ferris was then the Executive Officer of the Rutgers Institute for Research on Women (IRW, as well as the Laurie NJ Chair in Women’s Studies). She helped draft a successful grant proposal to the then NJ Department of Higher Education (DHE) that provided $500,000 to the IRW to mount the first statewide initiative in higher education for curriculum transformation and faculty development in the humanities and social sciences. The DHE also allocated funds for individual grant proposals. We were the recipients of funding to revamp the Visual Arts Department’s 20th Century Art course with a project called “Models of Persistence.” In 1986-87, we team-taught a year-long course that focused on art of that century by examining the lives and careers of two senior women artists. One was Minna Citron, who turned 90 that year, and the other was Bernarda Bryson Shahn who was in her 80s. The students learned about their lives and careers in the context of the long 20th century as well as the art of the times and from their research they installed solo exhibitions for each artist in the Dana Women Artists Series (Douglass Library) and produced two television quality videos about them.”

Judy: “Ferris has answered this question but I would add that we connected immediately. Both of us were energetic and found satisfaction in creating projects that would develop social justice and advance the inclusion of diversity of people and ideas in the art world. It wasn’t just a matter of equal access and equal opportunity for women and BIPOC individuals as important as those goals were. We both felt the need to work for the insertion of a broader set of ideas into the American cultural mainstream. Where we found the courage and confidence to invent projects and form new institutions, and raise the funds to accomplish what we did, I don’t know, but it has been a wonderful partnership.”

What has been your favorite project you’ve worked on together?

Ferris:  “Each project has been unique, challenging, and a learning experience. There were many co-curated exhibitions we organized, among the two that she thinks were outstanding was “How American Women Artists Invented Postmodernism, 1970-1975” which was also tied to our founding and running The Feminist Art Project. That show was the first in a series of programs in 2005-2006 that celebrated significant feminist art anniversaries—the founding of the Rutgers Dana Women Artists Series in 1971, the first courses in feminist art established by Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago in 1972, the founding of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 1987 and the soon-to-be opening of the (Sackler) Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum with the permanent home for The Dinner Party. That exhibition also inaugurated the establishment of the Rutgers Institute for Women in the Arts, which we co-founded and co-directed as appointees of the University President.  In 2012-13, we mounted another major exhibition, really a festival of arts by women artists, musicians, writers, scholars, and filmmakers of the Middle East Diaspora. The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art, and Society was the result of a multi-venue collaboration between Rutgers and Princeton Universities, Institute for Advanced Study, Arts Council of Princeton, and the public libraries in East Brunswick, New Brunswick, and Princeton.

My current project does also include Judy and brings us full circle back to 1986, when we first worked together. I am guest curating a fall Zimmerli Art Museum exhibit that surveys the 30-years history of the Brodsky Center at Rutgers. The Center was founded the same year that we team taught the Models of Persistence Project; and the work of the Brodsky Center is illustrative of our own collaborations in terms of the focus on promoting artists from under-represented populations. Like printmaking has always been, a collaborative medium, our work together is a partnership.”

Judy: “I liked the projects Ferris has mentioned. One that she did not mention is our book on women leadership in the arts that was published by Rutgers University Press. We had some extraordinary experiences while writing that book. First of all, it gave us a chance to consider our own lives.  How had we accomplished what we did?  Both of us had emerged at this point on the national scene as involved with social justice in the art world–we were on the boards of organizations like the College Art Association and the Women’s Caucus for Art and served as officers of those organizations.  We had long conversations about our own lives and what had led us to our activiities. These conversations helped immensely in that we had to reduce our lists of over 200 women leaders in the arts to no more than 10  We actually ended up with 12–couldn’t quite reduce the number to ten. Among other highlights, we interviewed Jawole Willa Jo Zollar who founded the amazing dance troupe, Urban Bush Women and  Míriam Colón, who founded the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, and who appeared in so many secondary roles in Hollywood films whenever a Latin American woman was required. It was fascinating to find out about their lives and how they arrived at their accomplishments–Zollar having grown up in all-Black neighborhood in St. Louis and not having known that white people existed until she was a teenager, and Colón, a child in Puerto Rico, who by chance found out about theater and whose talent was immediately recognized.”  

How many places have you traveled and what was your favorite trip

Ferris:  “Although I have not been to every continent, I have been privileged to visit many counties in Europe, South America, South East and Central Asia, Japan, Turkey, the Society Islands, Canada and the Maritime Provinces, and Morocco. For the past 20 years, I have focused my trave;s on countries in the Southern Hemisphere and those with less tourist infrastructure. I assumed that when I was more aged I could then travel across the US and explore countries in Europe in depth or those that I have not yet been. Much of my travel has centered on the material culture of the country I am visiting, such as native textiles, arts and crafts and other visual cultural aspects,  as well as cuisines. Since I have traveled to Japan four times and India, three, one might think these are my favorite countries. This spring I was thrilled to spend time exploring Uzbekistan (with Judy and her family). We learned so much and felt that we had been in an immersive course about the Silk Route, Soviet and post- Society societies. Clearly, I do not have a favorite, but I use my time exploring in each country to learn as much as I can about it, learn some words in the language of the nation, and to meet and talk with as many people who live there as I can.”

Judy: “I’ve mostly traveled in Europe. The most amazing trip for me was leading an art history tour for Temple University students in 1969. It was a travel course to look at the interaction between East and West cultures. The trip went to Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and the former USSR.  Before that trip, I had only spent one week in England, one in France, and one in Italy. I had to stay up nights to memorize where artworks were in the various galleries and museums we would visit. I knew the art, but I also needed to plan our itineraries through  the museums themselves. It was quite an experience! I also learned what it was like to take care of 36 people!.  I would stand at the bottom of the jetway as we were leaving each country counting heads to make sure we didn’t leave anyone behind. Subsequently, I have done a lot of wonderful travel including the incredible trip Ferris and made to Uzbekistan this past spring to look at the amazing textiles, ceramics, and monuments of ancient Silk Road cities.” 

What is inspiring you these days?

Ferris: “I am seeing the beginning of a sea change in cultural transformation, where the arts are socially engaged, reaching out to diverse populations and ensuring that what is seen on the walls of art galleries and museums reflect the changing American demographics. My hope is that the boards of art institutions will also soon reflect inclusivity, as well. Although I am focused on the visual arts, I notice a structural change in the performing and literary arts, as well.”

Judy: “I am about to start writing a book on the history of the Feminist Art Movement in America. It will take up much of the next two years, but I’m excited about taking on 50 years of women’s art in one volume. I will be concentrating not so much on the artists as on the art historians and art critics who also contributed so many new ideas to the visual arts. I will also be covering the ways in which feminists in the art world worked for equal pay and equal job opportunity, providing a model for women in other fields to do the same. “