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Margaret Tao. Obituary: Edith Frankel (1939-2012)

Edith ‘Edie’ Frankel, the ‘E’ of E & J Frankel, Ltd, a fixture on the New York Asian art scene for more than 40 years, died on 5 June. Ever the strong-willed optimist, Edie exhibited at the Washington show in January shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and before undergoing surgery.

Born on 1 January 1939 in Koshitsa, now Slovakia, to Hungarian parents, Edie arrived in New York at the age of two. Fluent in English, Hungarian, Czech and German, she had a scientific bent, obtaining both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in cellular biology. An only child, she lost her mother at 15, her father at 20, and her husband, whom she married shortly after her father died, at 25. Rather than succumb to loneliness, she enjoyed saying ‘I went from an only child to an only adult’. Only seventeen credits shy of a PhD, she began teaching cellular biology at Downstate Medical College, as well as Madison and Erasmus High Schools, to support herself and her daughter Risa.

She met and married Joel Frankel on 16 January 1967. Both Edie and Joel fell into dealing in antiques, initially by participating in antique shows in New York and around the country, as a way to refine the personal collections they had assembled before they met. Shows were to be a mainstay of their business, both in the US and in Europe (London and Brussels). Quickly drawn to Asian art, in 1976 they opened their first gallery in a room at Richter’s, which specialized in pearls, on 5th Avenue at 53rd Street. A year later, they moved to the Hyde Park Hotel (now the Mark) and in 1988, E & J Frankel, Ltd relocated to the corner of 79th and Madison Avenue, where it remained until 2009. By the time the gallery closed, well after their 40th anniversary in business, they had put on 106 themed exhibitions, for which Edie wrote the catalogues. The humorous titles and the broad spectrum of Asian art shown were their trademark, and they were pioneers in showing Chinese scholar’s rocks and Chinese jewellery (a special interest of Edie’s), as well as games, and contemporary Mongolian art. When asked to sum up Edie in one sentence, Joel said: ‘If anyone were to ask what she did best, she was a hell of a teacher.’

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