Barbara Baer Capitman was always an art and design lover. Perhaps she inherited this passion from her mother, Mrs. Myrtle Baer, who was an artist in her own right in the 1950’s. Most notably, her mother created the bronze bust that was dedicated to Barbara in Lummus Park, at the 2016 Art Deco Weekend. Her mother also created a pair of statuettes in ceramic of her grandsons, Andrew and John Capitman, that were showcased at an art exhibit in Westchester County in 1956.
A Miami Herald article in the July 1982 Neighbors section entitled, “A Woman with Her Own Design”, describes Barbara as “…a shy girl fascinated by art and literature…Few here know her as the young Barbara of wavy hair, slender neck and downcast eyes that her mother captured in a sculpture….”I’ve always been passionate about everything I did”, says Capitman, sitting at her mother’s kidney shaped Art Deco desk…the modest apartment is filled with art done by family or friends. The living room is white walled and wooden-floored, with a porthole and creamy green curtains. Two wide eyed Picasso pitchers–bought by her mother in a well remembered trip to France–rest on the fireplace. Window sills are lined with seashells and stones. The bookshelves are filled with a slightly disheveled assortment of art books, architecture magazines, novels and photo albums…photos of her as a baby in Chicago, smiling in Paris with her mother at the age of nine, red lipped and fur capped as a young bride clasping her new husband’s hand in a New York Woolworth’s photo booth….in college her best friends were painter Stephen Greene, and actress Judy Holliday. A painting Capitman did of Holliday’s husband—dark and pensive–hangs in her living room”.
One of the last interviews of Barbara Baer Capitman, before she passed away, was published in the Miami Herald of March 1990 entitled, “Deco gems still in peril, Capitman says”. The journalist recounted, “the outside, of her conservative white house with a demure purple trim does not appear to suit her image. But inside, light blue walls contrast with a white, tiered roof and swirled blue Cuban tile. On top of the Art Deco fireplace, a sculpture of two boys is enclosed in a glass box. It is a portrait of her two sons, made by her mother. Most of the furniture was owned by her mother. She spoke in glowing terms about how her home was decorated in the Art Deco style. “That old couch is the one everyone in my family necked on in dates,” she said, talking about a mustard, English-style sofa.”
“To her [Barbara], design is also a social issue, she says. As an alternative, Capitman, her son John, industrial designer Leonard Horowitz and three other people formed the Miami Design Preservation League in 1976. Restoring buildings, they said, would protect the elderly residents, attract business to the community and make the beach a haven for artists, writers and intellectuals.”
Ultimately, we will always be grateful that Barbara Baer Capitman’s lifelong appreciation for art and design led her to take on the battle to save and preserve our Miami Beach Art Deco District treasures.