Alice Neel and My Mom

By the Archives
March 12, 2012
Photograph of Alice Neel
Alice Neel, 1968 / Jonathan Brand, photographer. Alice Neel papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Doris Scherbak
Doris Scherbak at a family gathering to celebrate her birthday. Photo: Loren Scherbak.

I was first introduced to the Archives of American Art twelve years ago when I applied for a cataloging position here. I told my mother, Doris Scherbak, that I was not sure about the position, but it must be a nice place to work because it was located in the Smithsonian Institution, after all. I did not know about the Archives even though I graduated from art school, but my mother did and she was thrilled! She had done research here to look at the personal papers of Alice Neel, a very candid, no-nonsense, and unsentimental portrait artist who had created a middle-aged self-portrait that my mother dearly loved.

I am not surprised she loved Alice Neel as my mother was a similar woman, full of verve and curiosity about people and known for her direct questioning style which often embarrassed me as a young adult.

Mom died a few weeks ago and I am still in that very-fresh-grief period. In looking for her in Alice Neel’s papers, I see that Alice motivated my widowed mother—a single parent—to live her life fully as a woman, honestly, without embarrassment or excuse, and with fascination about every person she met. Thanks to the Archives, I have the presence of Alice’s papers to motivate and inspire me as they did my mother.


Loren Scherbak is an artist and database administrator for the Archives of American Art.



Loren, this is a lovely blog post. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Loren, I'm sorry for your loss. Condolence to your Mom.

Loren, I'm sorry for your loss.

I'm so sorry for your loss.

What a short and beautiful sentiment; it's made me interested in finding out a bit more about Alice Neel.
She's in a better place now.

Thank you very much for the heart-touching story. I am very sorry for your loss, condolence to your mother.

I'm so sorry for your loss.

my condolence to you my dear...hope she will happy there