Barbara Rose Okun will be remembered


On Dec. 15, 2007 my dear friend Barbara Rose Okun died of cancer at her home in Santa Fe, N.M. She leaves behind an adoring husband of 53 years, a loving son and daughter and their families and literally hundreds of friends and admirers who are mourning her passing. Bobbi was truly a beautiful person in every respect.

Physically she was lovely to look at and intellectually she was a giant in her field. Warm and caring and always interested in the work and lives of her friends, Bobbi mentored many artists and gallery owners.

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Barbara Rose Okun was a pioneer in the fiber arts movement and a master in many media. She was a respected artist (I own an early print of hers), lecturer, curator, juror, fine arts appraiser and writer. She was also an influential art dealer, whose galleries in St. Louis and Santa Fe were responsible for launching the careers of many artists who are now considered masters in their respective fields. She was particularly known for introducing emerging master craftsmen in ceramics, basketry and metalwork. Never idle, Bobbi started weaving small pieces when she was ill several years ago, embellishing them with her silver work. She became an award-winning weaver.

Barbara educated and inspired collectors, and many of the nation’s finest private art collections bear the mark of her influence. She played a significant role, both as a dealer and a collector, in promoting the recognition of ceramic art as a major movement, and her decision to show the works of master basket makers at the Chicago International New Art Forms (now SOFA) in 1986 was a turning point for basketry. One of my favorite columns was her basketry show here in St. Louis, and ipso facto I was a basketry authority. Always an advocate for the arts, Barbara served on the Boards of the American Craft Council in New York, the St. Louis Art Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park, the Crafts Alliance Gallery, the Santa Fe Institute of Fine Arts and the New Mexico Crafts Council among others.

Thirty eight years ago, Carol Shapiro and Bobbi met at an art lecture and discovered then their mutual interest in art. “Bobbi Okun was a major influence in my life.” Carol told me. “When I decided to open a gallery in my home, Bobbi (who already had a gallery in her home) encouraged me tremendously, telling me that the more good art galleries there were in St. Louis, the more people would become interested in art. Later we both ‘went public’. She never competed but rather gave me a hundred tips on how to be a successful art dealer. Bobbi was proud of my success, and I feel that a lot of it was due to her training of me. She was one spectacular lady, and I deeply loved her. I will and already do miss her very much.”

Born in New Rochelle, N.Y., in 1932, Barbara graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1954. She married her college love, Ed Okun, and moved to St. Louis where they raised two children while Ed became the numero uno retinal ophthalmologist in the area. I recall meeting Bobbi, a lovely young thing at a board meeting of the St. Louis Section, National Council of Jewish Women some time in the late 1950s. In 1989 the Okuns relocated to Santa Fe where they opened a gallery and where Bobbi became an arts mover and shaker in that southwestern city. Later Bobbi and Ed built a magnificent adobe hacienda on a mountain top (which they schnitzeled off) to house their fabulous art collection and two very large dogs.

From her son, Dr. Neil Okun, I received this message “Apart from her keen intellect, her amazing creativity, and her passion for the arts, Barbara-rose was a warm and loving person. Her loss is mourned by her family and her many friends.”

She is survived by her husband, Dr. Edward Okun, children Neil and Roxanne, in-laws Joan Sosnoff and Jon Gray, grandchildren David and Sarah Okun and twins Morris and Jason Gray, brother Dr. Stanley Braham, and she was a sister-in-law of Harold Okun and Martha and Milton Dalitzky.

Barbara-rose’s funeral was held in Springfield, Mass. on Dec. 18.

A memorial service celebrating her life is to be scheduled in Santa Fe at a later date.

The family requests that donations be made to the American Cancer Society, PMS Hospice (New Mexico), or the charity of your choice in her memory.