A Tribute to Deb Koffman (1956-2021), author of The Soul Support Book
I describe to myself how I feel about the world…so when I forget what I’ve learned, I can look at my art, and it reminds me of what I know, of what is true about the world for me. – Deb Koffman
Deb Koffman developed her quirky, colorful cartoons as a form of therapy for herself—visual reminders to seek new perspectives, follow intuition, foster curiosity, and receive each moment of life with open-heartedness. With humor and simplicity, she gave herself permission to be unconventional, sit with not knowing, and experience all of life’s emotions in their fullness.
But Deb’s work was a gift and inspiration to others, as well. I first met Deb in 1997, when I wandered into her studio/gallery in Housatonic, Massachusetts. The space was filled with bright, clever art, from small doodles to larger-than-life installations, with messages like, “Notice What Lifts Your Spirits,” “Travel the Road in Your Own Way,” “There Are Many Ways to Respond to the Same Thing,” and “It Takes Courage to Step into the Unknown.”
That day when I stopped into her studio, I was searching for craftspeople who would contribute to a book of custom mailbox designs. I was a young, insecure editor wanting to prove myself with this project. I’d seen broken crockery mosaics featured in a magazine article and was hoping that, somehow, I’d find an artist working in this medium. There was no logical reason that led me to Housatonic; I was truly just wandering. But when I told Deb what I was looking for, she responded, “You need to meet Marlene Marshall” and directed me to a studio right across the street. There I found Marlene, an amazing mosaic artist, who created a stunning mailbox, and, subsequently, three successful books.
My serendipitous interaction that day with Deb buoyed my confidence and was a step toward learning to overcome self-defeating thoughts, trust my intuition, and be willing to step into the unknown. Several years later, I returned to Deb’s studio to talk with her about creating a book of her own artwork, The Soul Support Book, which we published in 2003. This book was quite a departure from our usual how-to instructional books on gardening, crafting, cooking, and farming. And yet, it felt equally essential. By engaging in real, meaningful activity—planting vegetables, spinning wool, raising chickens—we are all seeking to deepen our engagement with life and open to the possibilities every moment offers.
Now, nearly 20 years since the publication of The Soul Support Book, Deb Koffman’s art continues to bolster my confidence anytime I need a reminder to be open to the possibilities—as I was that day in 1997 when I wandered, not-knowing, into her studio. Her death last winter brought deep sadness to my heart as I reflected on the joy and creativity she had nurtured throughout her life and shared generously with me and many others. The Soul Support Book is one small way in which Deb’s joyful, curious spirit is kept alive, providing visual reminders for all of us, encouraging us to dare to take that step off the end of the board and find new beginnings in unexpected places.
Text copyright © Deborah L. Balmuth. Illustrations © Deb Koffman.