Published: July 3, 2007
To the Editor:
It is with infinite sadness that I report the death of my beloved identical twin brother, Joel M. Woldman, 69, a recognized expert on American antiques, and a retired US foreign policy specialist at the Library of Congress, of complications from leukemia on May 6 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Joel was first stricken with leukemia in 1998, but a bone marrow transplant I was privileged to give him allowed him to live disease-free for six years. He experienced a relapse in 2004. He fought nobly against this terrible disease for three long years, during which I was his loving care giver. He was the kindest, bravest and most gentle and loving brother anyone could ever have.
He and I spent our whole lives together, except for a period of time when Joel was serving with the State Department in Pakistan and I was in India.
We were partners in our second career as Woldman and Woldman Antiques, dealers in Classical American furniture and co-owners of a lovingly restored Greek Revival townhouse in Old Town Alexandria. We were only the second family to live in the house, built in 1854, which meant that it still contained a number of original features. We bought the house in 1980. We knew it was the house of our dreams the minute we saw it.
Joel was born in Cleveland, where our father was a furniture and appliance merchant. We never thought we wanted to be in the business, although I suspect our father, who never saw our second career, would have been proud that we were selling furniture, albeit a different kind.
Joel received an undergraduate degree in politics from Brandeis University in 1959. He received a master’s degree in 1961 and a doctorate in 1966, both in South Asian studies and international relations, and both from the University of Michigan. He and I, who was following an identical career path, lived in India together in 1963‶4 where we completed field research for our PhD dissertations.
Joel entered the US Foreign Service in 1966 and served with the US Information Service in Pakistan. Realizing he didn’t want to be apart from me during subsequent Foreign Service postings, he returned to Washington and joined the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department, specializing in South Asia, while I found a position on Capitol Hill.
In 1971, Joel moved to the Library of Congress, where his areas of expertise were the State Department, the US Information Agency, South Asia and the Vietnam War.
We began collecting antiques in the 1970s and opened Woldman and Woldman Antiques in 1985. Joel, involved in our business from the beginning, joined the business full time, after a one-year leave of absence from the Library of Congress, from which he retired in 1988 to devote his full time to our growing firm.
Specializing in American antiques from the period 1810 to 1840, we exhibited at shows in the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest. We provided furniture and decorative objects to a number of museums, governments, private collectors and historic house collections, including the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the US Department of State, Blair House, Mount Vernon and Colonial Williamsburg.
In 1997, we were consultants on period decor for the film dramatization of the Henry James novel Washington Square . It was a wonderful summer project for the quieter period when we were not exhibiting at shows, which allowed us to travel to Baltimore where it was being filmed, to hang out with the crew and actors, eat meals with them, and help them with set design and advice on placement of the many objects from our collections they rented, which appeared, to our great pride, in the film. It was exciting to meet the stars of the film, including Maggie Smith, Albert Finney and Ben Chaplin.
We had decided to specialize in the late Federal/Classical period because it was still an area in which one was able to get quality pieces without being a millionaire. We like to think we had a hand in making this neglected period and style better known and the growth in the number of dealers who now specialize in it seems to bear this out.
Joel and I traveled widely together and enjoyed South Asian and European culture and cuisine, classical music and art. In recent years, we had renewed our interest in our Jewish heritage and became members of Congregation Bet Mishpachah in Washington, D.C. We also studied Yiddish, which Joel loved learning to read, write and speak, at George Washington University.
Survivors, in addition to me, include our sister, Karen Sorkin of Marblehead, Mass., and our niece and nephew, Julie and Andrew Sorkin. Julie is staying with me in Alexandria and is a great comfort to me these days.
Thanks for sharing this with Joel’s many former friends and colleagues in the antiques world. A funeral was held in Salem, Mass., May 11 and Joel was buried in Lynn, Mass. Contributions may be made in his memory to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Donor Services, PO Box 4072, Pittsfield, MA 01202 and to the Human Rights Campaign, 1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Washington, DC, 20036.
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