Betty Rymer at the Betty Rymer | About

The inquiry into the life of Betty Rymer began with the seemingly simple question, “Who is Betty Rymer?” The more difficult the answer became, the more important the question seemed. Who was this woman, whose name is so public yet as an individual remained invisible? As an examination into memorial, erasure, and public and private memory, Amber Ginsburg and Katie Hargrave devote this to Betty Rymer.

We began with an internet search. The results pointed first to a place, the Betty Rymer Gallery at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but also led to names of individual artists who have shown at the Betty Rymer Gallery. The words “Betty Rymer” traffic in the cultural cache of the art world rather than as a marker for her life and work. By bringing a representation of her life and history to the internet, we allow Betty Rymer to participate in the realm in which she travels. Over time, this website addressing her history, might elevate her as the top Google hit.

Betty Rymer was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 18. In 1946, it was considered a death sentence. Betty spent much of her life performing extreme acts to publicly hide her disease. Publicly, she ate copious amounts of sweets and drank alcohol to dissuade suspicion about her diabetes. Betty was interested in remaining public through extreme acts of privacy and she was a successful survivor on her own terms. In all, Betty had 32 surgeries in 32 years.

Important places associated with Betty’s family history are presented as a way of looking at the juncture between public and private space in Betty Rymer’s life. By showing these sites, place becomes a surrogate for the body. Just as the Betty Rymer Gallery has become the primary place where people have been introduced to Betty, the buildings associated with her biography become extended portraits.

By documenting the places Betty inhabited, showing her paintings, and revealing her history through an event at the Betty Rymer gallery where people at 32 cakes in an hour, we hope to offer what Betty suggested in her life: a public view into selected aspects of her life.

Top 20 | Let them eat cake!

©amber ginsburg and katie hargrave 2009