In Memory of Arline Oberman, 1927-2020

Commentary — Dec 03, 2020

In remembrance of the artist, illustrator, graphic designer and mother to our partner Emily, whose work was featured in Pentagram Papers 43: Drawing McCarthy.

Pentagram is saddened to note the passing of the incomparable Arline Simon Oberman, artist, illustrator, graphic designer and mother to our partner Emily. We collaborated with Arline on Pentagram Papers 43: Drawing McCarthy, which featured her fantastic pen-and-ink sketches of the live television broadcast of the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954. The Paper, designed by Emily and her team, was published in 2013 in advance of the 60th anniversary of the hearings, which were the first non-sports national event to ever be televised.

Arline was a young housewife when she made the sketches, which were drawn directly from the hearings as they aired on live television and brilliantly capture the likenesses of the key players in the proceedings, as well as the immediacy and impact of a watershed event that captivated the nation. The demagoguery of the hearings sadly resonates with our current moment, and the drawings include a portrait of Roy Cohn, the chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy who later became a mentor to Donald J. Trump.

“When I began to draw I didn’t realize that I would be drawing history in the making,” Arline said.

At the time of its publication, the Paper was featured in The Atlantic and The New York Times, and we were thrilled it helped introduce Arline’s amazing drawings to a wider audience. The Paper included an essay by Emily in which she recalled her mother’s studio. We reprint it here in memory of Arline.

My Mother, Mrs. Oberman

By Emily Oberman

My parents, Marvin and Arline Oberman, are designers and artists. Their studio was, and still is, on the top floor of the house in which I grew up. Their studio was always my favorite place––the place I always saved for last when giving anyone the grand tour of our home.

It was, and still is, full of stuff I love: rubdown type, Magic Markers, paint, press sheets, dye transfers, photos; past issues of Graphis, Avant Garde, Mad and the National Lampoon, paper, rubber cement, rubber cement pick-ups, and sculptures, including a Nativity set for which my mother had carefully crafted tiny glasses for every person, animal or angel out of wire; an original strip from Pogo, pictures of my parents practicing judo at their dojo, an un-retouched print of the original photo of the cover of Sgt. Pepper—my father had done some work on the color separation or something—a stamp collection, model houses for a little village and train set; and a model of King Kong on which my mother had re-carved Fay Wray’s face so she was not screaming but smiling.

I really thought I had seen everything their studio had to offer. So imagine my surprise when, as a grown woman proudly touring my parents’ studio with my then boyfriend (now husband) Paul, I heard him say, “Hey Arline, what are these?” Out from under one of the posters in the flat files, Paul pulled a folder I had never seen before: page after page of pen and ink portraits, including faces I recognized from high school history books. And my mother, very matter-of-factly, told him, “Oh, I did those while I was watching the Army-McCarthy hearings and taking care of my mother.” She told us about being mesmerized by the hearings and drawing what she saw on the television with only a stick dipped in ink. She saved the drawings, because she liked them so much, but had never really thought about them much since 1954.

And that’s what I love about my mother: she is one of the most talented people I have ever known. Sure, she frets over things as she is working on them but, whether they are a painting or a sculpted shortbread cookie, in the end she just does them. Then she just moves on and does another amazing thing without really stopping to admire what she had just created.

When we were looking at her drawings, Paul said, “These should be a book.” I agreed. And now nearly 60 years after the Army-McCarthy hearings, here it is.

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