Naomi Wilzig died two weeks ago at the age of 80. She had moved to South Beach 10 years before to establish the World Erotic Art Museum (WEAM). Her accomplishments, however, went well behind even establishing this world-renowned museum.
She was a renowned expert on erotic art, a philanthropist, a Constitutional expert on freedom of speech, and a champion of women’s rights as well. She also was beloved here for her compassion, wicked sense of humor, and the contrasts in her personality, which was exemplified by her wearing of a phallus on a necklace while also keeping kosher.
The South Beach community feels her loss and many of her friends are eager to share their thoughts about her, so here is a roundup of some of their comments and remembrances.
‘Queen of Erotica’
What an amazing person Naomi was. She added so much to Miami’s cultural life. She was a unique and unusual person and to quote from the musical, “Wicked,” we are so much better for having known her – George Neary, associate vice president, Greater Miami Convention & Visitor’s Bureau
She was one of the most interesting women I have ever known! She was a woman of strength, passion and compassion, and she followed her heart, no matter what anyone said or thought! You were an icon for Miami Beach, Miss Naomi, and we will always remember you! I’m sure you’re shaking things up in heaven. – Deanne Connolly Graham, President, ROI Media Consultants
We clicked instantly over 10 years when she walked into my jewelry business. I asked her ‘What are you doing?’ and she answered, “I am trying to open an erotic museum for my collection.” “That’s wonderful, it’s time that Americans learned about erotica,” I answered. She laughed and turned to her friends, “See, one thing the French knows well is that erotica has nothing to do with porn. I wish everyone would understand this!” – Claudine Faifer, daughter of Jacques Faifer, whose artwork Naomi exhibited.
She was an inspirational, loving person. I was mesmerized by her persona and her willingness to accept everyone. She believed in the importance of art. She was a citizen of the world. – Charlie Cinnamon, dean of Miami’s arts and culture public relations.
Patron of the Arts
I am eternally grateful to Naomi for inviting me to be the guest artist during WEAM’s 3rd Year Anniversary, where I exhibited my “Goddesses and Monsters” series, attracting a lot of media attention and amazing exposure. She gave me a fabulous showcase; I gave her fabulous Drag Queens! Love you with all my heart, Naomi! Henry Perez, photographer
Naomi understood art without censorship and made a place for it at the table with traditional institutions. Her genuine appreciation for all things creative and artistic was without comparison – Ceci Velasco, executive vice president, operations, Mango’s Tropical Café.
Naomi contributed a museum to Miami Beach, which is a great asset, but she was involved in every aspect of our life here. Speaking personally, she was a wonderful person from the very beginning to me. She was one of the good people in Miami Beach. – Matti Herrera Bower, former Mayor, Miami Beach
We lost a pioneer and community friend. I often would see Naomi out and about promoting her museum or her son’s Sir Ivan’s latest CD. I really enjoyed her passion and, sense of humor and I will miss her art openings. Rest peacefully Naomi, though, I am sure you are already working on your next project. – Steve Adkins, president, Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Naomi found us through an ad we’d placed. She came to our Passover Seder and shortly after that, she sent a check for $1,000. When she found out that we were using a borrowed Torah, she said that she wanted to do something about that, and donate a Torah to us on our 75th birthday. Now, you just don’t pick one up. A Torah is expensive and unique and she made sure that the Torah she donated to us had a good Jewish history. There are people who have hopped on board when they saw we were going to make it, but Naomi was there from the beginning. She was one of our backbones. – Rabbi Shraga Mann, South Beach Chabad.
Glass Ceiling Buster
It took so much courage for women of her era to do what they knew was right. She lived her life to the hilt and I am just so proud to have known her. She reached out to the breadth of the community and became one of the pioneers here. At the age of 70 years old, she invented a whole new genre. I work in the building next door to the museum and I tell you, a light is gone on Washington Avenue. – Wendy Doherty, Realtor, Streamline Properties
Naomi, bravo to your bravery, you were a leader with great insight. I will always remember our woman-to-woman conversations. You may be gone but never will you be forgotten – Dona Zemo, South Beach Pioneer
A few weeks ago, I met Naomi at a party and I gave her one of my posters as a gift. Naomi said to me, “Why am I shown at the bottom of the poster?” I told her that because she was seated in a chair. She said, “Well, in the last poster, I was on top.” We looked at the poster together and I said, “Where am I going to put you with a chair. There is no room.” There was a pause, and she said, with a gleam in her eye, “I like being on top better.” I responded, laughing, “Well, that is the best reason I have heard for changing positions.” The next day I spent a good 40 minutes moving people so she could be on top, where she is now!” – Bibi Andrade, creator, The Adventures of Bibi and Friends
The “Bubbe” of South Beach
She was a wonderful woman. She was like my momma. I will miss her so much. I wish she could just walk through that door right now with that beautiful smile, bringing me cookies and candy like she always did. – Giovanna Badaliacca, receptionist, WEAM
I only knew Naomi a year, but I felt like she was my spiritual grandmother. From the moment I met her, I felt that finally someone understood my world. My company performed at her 80th Birthday party and she told me that she adored me and had loved my show but she had just one suggestion – she told me I should smile more and leave the stress of producing the show behind when I went on stage. I will miss you in the audience, Naomi, thank you for your beauty, power, sincerity and the belief you had in my dreams. – Erica Moon, Cabaret/ Burlesque Producer
Every year, we’d have her over at Chanukah to light the menorah with us, and she’d play with the kids like a Jewish grandmother. She was like part of the family, and it was a very special time. Her departure has affected me personally. My children too. Naomi was a household name in our house – Rabbi Mann.
To see Naomi Wilzig discuss the founding of the WEAM, click here
More info: World Erotic Art Museum