Janet Byer Sherman died on February 7, 2023. She was born in the Bronx on May 21, 1937, and was buried at the top of a hill overlooking Cayuta Creek in the valley below, as it runs south to the Susquehanna. Janet looked at the world through artist eyes, seeing the shadows, the color of the sky and the way people moved. She loved the sky. She loved the shimmering water. She had to fly. We’re left to dance with each other.
The experience of growing up in the Bronx and Queens in the 40s and 50s to Jewish immigrant parents from Eastern Europe shaped Janet and was a part of her identity, as was having a twin sister, Marta. The family – Janet and her twin, and her older sister Esther and their parents – lived in a two room apartment until Janet was 15. Despite the need to stretch food, her mother always ensured Janet had the opportunity to take dance lessons.
Janet studied dance at the High School of Performing Arts and then focused on jazz and modern dance at Julliard on a full scholarship. She could name drop famous people in the dance world, such as Martha Graham (teacher), Jose Limon (mentor) and Alvin Ailey (friend). Throughout her life, music would move her and she loved to dance.
After running her own dance studio in Queens in her early 20s, Janet became disillusioned with performance and turned to the visual arts. She met her husband of almost 60 years – Ben – when they both took the stone sculpture class at the Art Students League. During a stone salvage in an apartment building, he famously set a large stone down on her finger and then went with her to the ER: their “first date.”
Two years after their son Ezra was born, Janet and Ben got their driver’s licenses, bought a Jeep and moved to the country. Janet became a country librarian for 15 years in Spencer, buying the best books her budget could afford, giving her son and the community a connection to a big world.
Movement and light and color were Janet’s challenges and joys. She carried a sketch book with her everywhere, driven to document the beauty she saw. She found it walking down the beach and with a string base performance. She saw it in people’s expressions, the light on the hills, a child dancing. Living in Spencer wasn’t a barrier to Janet studying art. She took classes at Ithaca College and Binghamton University and at summer camps and was also a member of the Feminist Art Studio and State of the Art Gallery. She left behind a great body of work.
One of the biggest delights in Janet's life were her grandchildren, Leila and Zuri, who were 16 and 12 at the time of her death. She, along with “Boppi”, cared for both Leila and Zuri since they were 6 months old, taking them twice a week until the start of Covid. She would set out a freshly sharpened pencil and fresh sheets of paper at the beginning of each Mainga and Boppi day; and made sure there was a stack of books for them to read.
Janet had intense conversations with people, often with the one who was sitting alone at a party. “How are you doing?” She went straight to the inner space. She didn’t run on facts, but intuition. Knock on wood, put on your seat belt, bring clothes for all types of weather, bring food, and you’ll be OK.
Janet was 85 when she died but no one was prepared for her death. On the tail of an isolating experience during the pandemic, she endured a chaotic and disorienting 6 months after her husband suffered a spinal injury and was in hospitals and rehab. She had to leave her house while it was renovated to prepare for his return. With the two of them back in their home in the winter, Janet told her close friend that she was ready to get back to life again.
In addition to her husband, Ben, Janet is survived by her twin, Marta, her son Ezra and daughter-in-law Autumn, and by her grandchildren Leila and Zuri. Her older sister, Esther, tragically predeceased her in 1989. She is also survived by her best friends Laurie McMillan and Candy Stoscheck, and benefitted from the kindness and generosity of Jae Sullivan and Diana Ozolins toward the end of her life. All are invited to a celebration of Janet’s life, on June 10, 2023, at 2:00 p.m. at Autumn and Ezra’s home in Van Etten. Please RSVP email@example.com