By Adrian Shaughnessy
One of the great pleasures of researching our book on Herb Lubalin was speaking to his widow, Rhoda. An artist in her own right, Rhoda Sparber provided me with a unique insight into her life and work, and her time with her late husband. Rhoda was Herb’s second wife. His first, Sylvia Kushner, died in 1971.
Some of Rhoda’s work can be seen in an issue of UL&C magazine, where she made sculpted heads of Saul Bass, Lou Dorfsman and Milton Glaser. Her life in art began in ninth grade.
Rhoda Sparber, 1971
As she told me: “My art teacher Ms. Curran, (carrot-colored hair, purple clothes) tiptoed to my desk and whispered ‘Mayor La Guardia is opening a new school for talented students. I will recommend you. You will be scheduled for an interview. Bring a portfolio.’ Portfolio? What was that?
“I evidently passed muster, and with two-dozen other students, was admitted to the first class of Music and Art H.S. Those were the first of many exciting years of learning and adapting. After graduation I was accepted into Hunter College, a municipal, tuition-free college, where I majored in art, and minored in French.”
Rhoda met Herb Lubalin at a dinner party in the 1970s: “This was the early years of Women’s Lib,” she recalled. “There was a guest at the table who would not stop ranting negatively about women’s demands. He would not shut up or change his position in any way. Finally, I left the table and went into the living room. After a little while, one of the other guests came to join me, sitting quietly next to me.
“That was a momentous event . . . a life-altering moment. We started to chat, and Herb informed me that he was a graphic designer. I informed him that my brother was a designer who worked in advertising. Herb straightened me out quite properly. ‘I am not in advertising,’ he scolded. ‘I am a Graphic Designer’.”
Rhoda meets Herb dressed as Abraham Lincoln
As a subscriber to Avant Garde, the revolutionary magazine Lubalin art directed, Rhoda knew who he was. She describes him as charming and soft-spoken, and how over the next few years they became dear friends, marrying eventually on St. Valentine’s Day.
Their life together was short. Lubalin died age 63 in 1981.
Today, Rhoda lives in upstate New York, surrounded by artwork by her late husband. In 1990, she created the Rhoda Lubalin Art Scholarship to encourage the arts locally. The photographs included here were sent to me by Rhoda, and as far as I can tell, have never been published.
Herb Lubalin: American Graphic Designer 1918—1981 is available now from the Unit shop.
Rhoda and Herb on steps of their country home