Valerie Justin, a Sag Harbor preservationist who drew energy from lifelong learning and growing and who took interest in the performing arts, the written word and the visual arts, died in her home in the company of family and friends. She was 97.
Justin was born in New London, Conn. on March 12, 1925, to Lieberman and Ida Sharaf (Miller). She attended the University of Connecticut at Storrs, graduating in 1946 with a BA in Economics from the College of Arts and Sciences.
During those years she assisted the war effort as a welder working on submarines at the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Conn.
After graduation she moved to New York, where she studied film under Leo Hurwitz. She began to work in the motion picture and television industries, which is where she met her future husband, George Justin. They married in 1955, and their daughter, Andrea, was born in 1959.
Justin’s interest in the woven rugs and other textiles of indigenous cultures led her to cofound The Pillowry in 1971. The Madison Avenue shop sold products that introduced the U.S. market to flatwoven rugs from Iran, the Caucasus and other Eastern Mediterranean cultures. In the 1970s, she and the business both moved to Los Angeles, where she spent two decades.
She traveled widely to places where she could study the textile craftspeople of the region and acquire samples to bring back to the U.S. She began operating as Vanishing Textiles. The name reflected her focus on the preservation and archiving of woven items and the methods by which they were produced.
While providing rugs for interior design and for use on movie sets she also found time to author a book, Flat-woven Rugs of the World.
The Justins settled in Sag Harbor in the 1990s after lovingly restoring a 19th century home. She remained engaged in the world of rugs, operating her retail business over the internet. She mastered Adobe Dreamweaver at age 85 so she could manage her website. When she began scaling back, she made a generous donation from her collection to the Gregg Museum of Art + Design at North Carolina State University.
Justin continued her practice of yoga into her mid-90s and was a dedicated walker. She was often seen on the streets and beaches of Sag Harbor and neighboring communities. She was an advocate for preservation of the village’s unique character, and was never afraid to stand up to authority. A great community activist, she helped found CONPOSH (Coalition of Neighbors for the Preservation of Sag Harbor), a predecessor of Save Sag Harbor.
Justin was predeceased by her husband and daughter, as well as her three sisters, Frances Norman, Edyth Cogley and Joan Felleman.
She is survived by her niece Susan Felleman and nephews John and David Felleman, along with numerous cousins, great-nephews and great-nieces.
She will be missed.