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In Memoriam – Irvin J. Borowsky

November 23, 1924 – November 25, 2014

Irvin J. Borowsky, Founder of the National Liberty Museum, and internationally renowned contemporary glass aficionado, died peacefully surrounded by his family on Tuesday, November 25, 2014, two days after his 90th birthday.

The National Liberty Museum is the culmination of Irv Borowsky’s life’s work. Mr. B, as he was affectionately called, was a lifelong Philadelphian, publisher, and philanthropist.

When Mr. Borowsky retired, he felt profoundly compelled to give back to the nation by reminding people that liberty is what makes everything else possible. In founding the Museum, he was seeking not just to present a collection of art and artifacts, but rather to illustrate that liberty is a work in progress which requires citizens to understand, respect and care for each other. As Mr. B explained at the Museum’s opening ceremony on January 12, 2000, “We who are fortunate enough to live in the land of liberty must protect it, preserve it and guard it for future generations.”

Borowsky was the youngest son of two Polish immigrants who arrived here in 1904. Like millions of other immigrants, they came with only what they could carry, seeking safety and new opportunities in America.

Their experience and background gave their son a profound appreciation for what their adopted country offered. Born and raised at 3rd and Tasker Streets in South Philadelphia, Irv Borowsky was an entrepreneur from a very young age. At twelve years old, he answered an ad in Popular Mechanics for a $5 printing press. The press came with a package of type, ink and instructions. It changed his life. At the time of his father’s death, he was fourteen years old and operating his own printing business. This was the start of a legendary career in the publishing and printing industries, which included creating and selling his magazine TV Digest (later to be called TV Guide) to Walter Annenberg in 1953 and founding the North American Publishing Company,    a highly successful publisher of magazines nationwide.

Borowsky’s innovations in the publishing and printing industries are legendary…creative and groundbreaking.

  • Borowsky was the first to present movies on television – a shocking concept at the time
  • He was the first to introduce the marketing of magazines at checkout counters in supermarkets – an all new, innovative approach to the public
  • His redesign of numerous newspaper composition departments produced major efficiencies which were adopted by newspapers worldwide

In addition to his publishing activities, Borowsky had always been immersed in philanthropy plus community services and support. For several years he served as President of the Jewish Exponent, the newspaper that has connected and served the Philadelphia Jewish community for over 100 years. For the Federation of Jewish Charities, he became chairman of the printing and publishing divisions. Borowsky made many visits to Israel, notably during the Yom Kippur War and, on later occasions, for meetings with that nation’s leadership.

As a member of both the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, Borowsky has lectured worldwide on issues of diversity, faith and cooperation. In 1982, Borowsky founded the American Interfaith Institute to join Jews and Christians in common cause; to remove anti-Semitic language and incorrect translations of specific passages of the New Testament, thus building understanding, acceptance and relationships among Christians and Jews. Working closely with the scholars and translators of the American Bible Society, Borowsky was able to see the fulfillment of a key goal of the Institute when the American Bible Society published the Contemporary English Version (CEV), the first New Testament that does not hold Jews responsible for the crucifixion. Under the aegis of Borowsky, the American Interfaith Institute has developed a distinguished Scholars’ Board who guide the work and outreach of the organization within a framework of symposia, research, publishing and distribution of teaching materials for professors of religion. To date, Borowsky has written, edited and published 18 books relating to the mission and work of the Institute. Now in its 26th year, the American Interfaith Institute continues its initiative with vigor and commitment.

In 2000, Borowsky founded the National Liberty Museum which has welcomed over 500,000 visitors from throughout the world. They come to participate in the museum’s unique programs and exhibitions that address freedom, peace and conflict resolution; to celebrate the diverse heritage and tradition that gives the nation strength and purpose. The Teacher Training Programs and the Education Center of the museum have received plaudits from throughout the educational community and is approved by the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Departments of Education. The contemporary art that is incorporated into every exhibit symbolizes the “art of liberty” and has been noted as one of the most original and effective teaching models in the nation.

Irv Borowsky and Laurie Wagman, were two of Philadelphia’s most noted art collectors and patrons. They were looking for a philanthropic way to support one of their favorite mediums, glass art, as well as providing opportunities and empowerment for the next generation of artists in Philadelphia. That search eventually led them to the Tyler School of Art at Temple University.

“One of the reasons we love and have supported glass is its vitality,” notes Wagman. “There is an energy about glass that we admire. Temple really embodies that. Also, Temple has committed itself to an astounding facility for art. The Tyler School of Art is expansive; it’s state-of-the-art. It says to Tyler’s students, ‘We respect the area where you work; we respect the artist.'” “And the fact that Temple is a state institution with a tradition of access was one of the strongest attractions for us,” added Borowsky. “We believe in opportunity.”

So Wagman and Borowksy settled on a gift totaling more than $1 million to the Tyler School of Art to promote the study and creation of glass art. To honor the gift, one of the largest known given to a college glass program, Tyler’s glass facility has been named the Irvin Borowsky Glass Studio. The donation also will support a visiting artists program, The Laurie Wagman Fund in Glass Art. In addition, Borowsky and Wagman gave Tyler three works from their renowned collection of glass art.

Borowsky and Wagman visited 61 countries to meet with theologians from diverse religions and to acquire key contemporary art. Their significant art collection, which focuses on the paintings of Marc Chagall, bronzes by renowned 20th century artists and masters of studio glass art is highly respected worldwide.

Borowsky married his second wife, Laurie Wagman in 1979. Including his wife’s daughters from her first marriage, they have 6 married children and 13 grandchildren. He died November 25, 2014.


Beverly Copeland  Editor & Publisher
Glass Focus
The International Newsletter on Contemporary Glass