Proofreader Avis Berman, who for the last three years has punctiliously pored over SI's prose in search of errors, could readily appreciate the irony of a glaring mistake in the first book she had written. She had just turned to the opening page of an advance copy of Rebels on Eighth Street: Juliana Force and the Whitney Museum of American Art (Atheneum, $29.95) and—part of it was blank.
"Here I had written a 506-page biography, and it no longer told where or when my subject was born," says Berman. Rest assured, the page was reprinted, and the book was released a month ago to rave reviews.
Rebels chronicles the life of Juliana Force, the aptly named impetus behind Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's founding of the Whitney Studio, in New York City in 1914. Force started as a secretary to Whitney, and when the studio became the Whitney Museum in 1930, Force was named to be its first director. (The museum would move to its present location, at 75th Street and Madison Avenue, in 1966.) "American art is today among the world's most influential," says Berman, "and much of the groundwork was laid by Juliana Force."
Berman, who has a master's in English from Rutgers, is as meticulous in her scholarly research as she is in proofreading. She immersed herself in her subject for 10 years, along the way interviewing 120 of Force's friends, relatives and colleagues in the art world.
Berman has published more than 150 articles on painting, architecture and photography. She is also an ardent fan of the New York Mets—and not because relatives of Gertrude Whitney once owned the team. Says Berman, "A ballpark is one of the few places in New York City where you can sit outside at night in peace."
Alas, the same cannot be said for day games. Two summers ago Berman attended an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium and had danger fall right into her lap. While seated in second-row, field-level seats with her sister, Toby, a Yankee rooter, Berman glanced skyward at a foul ball headed in her direction. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted the Orioles' 6'2", 214-pound catcher, Mickey Tettleton, charging at her. He dived. She froze. The ball dropped into Tettleton's glove, and Tettleton dropped into Berman's lap. The incident, a photo of which appeared in The New York Times the next day, was enough to ensure that Mets fan Berman would swear off the Yankees for good.
Art and the Whitney are Berman's specialties.