Honoring Betty Lundsted Weiser (1941-2001)

by Alden Cole on June 4, 2017 · 0 comments

1988.Don&Betty721988 photo of Don Weiser & Betty Lundsted Weiser hosting the annual Holiday Party in Weiser’s Bookstore, at the East 24th Street address, NYC.

A virtual continuation of my April 23rd posting honoring Donald Weiser (1928-2017)

On Wednesday evening, May 31st, I attended a memorial honoring Donald Weiser at the Open Center, 22 E. 30th Street in Manhattan. About one hundred people turned out for the event memorializing a man whose influence on many lives, not just my own, was far reaching, way beyond the limitations of the initially-small publishing business which put him on the map among specialty book publishers. Taking over a small used-book business started by his father Samuel who had started his own career in books as a peddler buying and selling used books from a cart in lower Manhattan, who eventually prospered enough to rent a store-front on W. 14th Street, Donald turned the business into a success story. Samuel had realized that there was a market for used books dealing with esoterica and the occult, so he started specializing in a field that ultimately drew a lot of interested attention in the late 60s and the decade of the 70s when Donald was taking over the business and Sam was retiring to Florida. As his first publishing venture, Donald selected books that were in the public domain, with expired copyrights; starting with reprints of Aleister Crowley’s extensive Equinox series, as well as other of his works. With time that small line of public domain titles expanded to include the works of living authors. Eventually Samuel Weiser Inc. became one of the largest publishers of books on the occult, esoterica, eastern religions & New Age in the world, as well as a distributor for other small publishers. I started working there in 1974 when that transition from bookstore to publisher was happening; as a result of being there at the right time, I had the opportunity to design over one hundred and thirty book covers for Samuel Weiser Inc.

1981.WeiserXmasCR721982 photo of a Christmas Eve celebration at Don & Betty’s house in Cape Neddick, Maine. At least three of the six people in the photo are now deceased: Betty Weiser, left; Donald Weiser, rear right; Barbara Somerfield, extreme right. Are either Doris Hebel, to my right, or Kim ??, in the foreground, still alive? I’m clueless. Sobering reminders that no one gets out alive…

Wednesday evening in NY was highlighted by reconnecting with old friendships going back over forty years, people with whom I had worked in varying capacities at Weisers over the 12 year period from 1974 to 1986. Foremost among them was James Wasserman, whom I had known from day one, that fine spring morning when I started working in the office as an invoice typist, radically altering my life forever. At the time Jim was working in the back stacks of stock, pulling and packing books for shipment to bookstores scattered over the USA far and wide, abroad as well, including Philadelphia’s own Garland of Letters, a name that caught my fancy at the time. Whodathot then that twelve years later I’d be working part-time at that same store, Philadelphia’s occult emporium. I can still evoke the memory of the smell of incense as you walked in the door, to the sound of New age music. But I digress…

1983.ParsonsBeach.oilsWPParson’s Beach, ME • same view using different mediums • at left; oils on canvas, ca. 9″ x 12″ • below; watercolor on paper, ca. 7″ x 10″• both, Estate of Donald Weiser. Thank you Jim Wasserman for providing photos of these works for which I had no record.

1984.ParsonsBeachWatercolorWPJim, who had became one of Donald’s closest protégés, and was living close to him in Florida when he died April 12th, hosted the evening. He introduced the various speakers, at least a dozen, which included myself as well as old friends Clark Stillman and Don Rifkin whom I hadn’t seen since 1988, both of whom had worked in the store, where I only saw them occasionally, since the office was several blocks away. Donald Weiser’s son Jay, with whom I had worked briefly in Maine, was there with the next generation, his son Samuel.

BuddhaPhotoWPA framed original b&w photograph I took in 1976 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was reproduced as the cover for D.T. Suzuki’s “Living by Zen” seen below. An anomaly: the only book cover I designed for Weiser’s using my photography. Estate of Donald Weiser.

Another protégé, Ehud Sperling, founder of Inner Traditions Ltd who had already started his own publishing business while in his 20s, when I met him in the late 70s, was there with his lovely wife and handsome 19-year old son Mahar, who is planning to follow in his father’s footsteps
LivingByZenWPin the publishing world; may he be successful! I discovered sadly that another protégé of Donald’s, an early fan and supporter of my work, who had moved to Santa Fe for her health, was no longer living: Barbara Somerfield (14 Jun 1948 – 11 Aug 2015). Balancing that sadness was the delight to see that Kathryn Sky-Peck, with whom I worked during four of my six years in Maine, was definitely alive and well. Between the time she started working for the Weisers in 1982 until April 1986 when I moved to Philadelphia, we had done the prepress work for publishing many a book together – she as editor and production manager under Betty’s tutelage, myself as art director. Last but not least, I got to met Yvonne Weiser, who was Yvonne Paglia when I met her briefly during the early 80s while she was visiting Don & Betty in Maine. After Betty deceased in 2001, Yvonne married Donald, becoming his primary caretaker during a slow decline, after selling the house on the hill in Cape Neddick and moving operations to Florida. Donald’s love of books and publishing was never ending, and ever inspiring.

TheInitiateDrawingWPAnother anomaly in my oeuvre; a ball-point pen drawing, used as cover art for a series of three books published by Weiser in 1978, pictured below, written by British composer Cyril Scott, first published anonymously 1920.

And what of Betty Lundsted Weiser (7 Apr 1941 – 7 Jul 2001)? I met Betty Lundsted sometime in the late 70s while the publishing office was still in NYC. Donald and Betty had become an item sometime after Don’s divorce from his first wife. My contact with Betty at that time was pretty minimal, as she had her own practice as an astrologer, so her visits to the office were relatively infrequent. In the spring of 1980, months after I had technically moved back to Maine, out of NYC for the second time, I was in the city doing free-lance work for Weisers, when Betty announced to me that the publishing office was moving its base of operations from Houston & Broadway in Manhattan to Cape Neddick Maine, approximately twenty-five miles south of where I was living in Dayton.

InitiateSeries72Despite my initial incredulity about the move, that is exactly what happened that fall. And with that change, I became a full time employee for the first time in many a year, with lots of responsibilities rather than an artist with the joys of free-lance freedom as well as the attendant insecurities. From the fall of ’80 to the spring of ’81, when I temporarily moved into a house by myself in Dayton, I lived with Don & Betty in their house on the hill overlooking the often-photographed Nubble Light House at York Beach in the distance. During that time of working closely together as well as my being a virtually permanent house-guest, Betty and I become good friends, a mentoring relationship developing between us, based on her extensive experience in publishing which she shared with me, challenging me to expand my horizons and acquire new skills. It worked, despite the times when I arose to those challenges virtually kicking and screaming. Thank you both Donald and Betty for your patience, for recognizing and encouraging my capabilities before I acknowledged them in myself.

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