The book-arts world lost a rare talent last week, when Norma Rubovits died at the age of 97. Rubovits took up bookbinding in the late 1960s, eventually focusing her creative energy on marbled papers—which she taught herself to make after consulting manuals and sample books in the Newberry collection. Not satisfied with producing decorative end papers for traditional book bindings, Rubovits pioneered what she called “marbled vignettes,” starkly elegant, stand-alone compositions featuring a quick burst of color against a blank background. These works caused a stir among marbling practitioners and enthusiasts when they first appeared, and they continue to delight.
Rubovits’s mastery of bookbinding and paper marbling developed in tandem with her personal collection of materials related to the two practices. She collected everything she could find on the art of marbling, including copies of the rare manuals she had seen at the Newberry and hundreds of other works about paper, binding, and associated book arts. Her major gifts to the Newberry began in 1991, and continued over the years as she added individual papers and books to the collection.
Today, the Newberry’s Rubovits Collection contains thousands of sheets of marbled paper by Rubovits and other artists whose work she collected in exchange for her own.
Born Norma Bloch on August 26, 1918, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Rubovits came to Chicago when she was 21 to study dietetics at Michael Reese Hospital. It was there she met and fell in love with Frank Rubovits, a physician.
Her introduction to the book arts had a casual spontaneity that, in retrospect, tends to initiate most fateful decisions: one day in 1967 Frank asked Norma if she would like to take a binding class with him, to which she replied, “Why not?”
At the request of Rubovits’s family, there will not be a public memorial for her.