Ethel S. Brody: Her Works
(Above: Enigma, c. 1994. Acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 36″. Click on image to enlarge.)
ETHEL S. BRODY: HER WORKS
Columbia Painter and Museum Benefactor Exhibits 40 Years Of Art
Gallery 80808/Vista Studios, 808 Lady Street in downtown Columbia, South Carolina
March 7 – 18, 2008
Artist’s Reception: Friday, March 7, 2008, 5 – 10 p.m.
Opening hours: Weekdays, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Sat, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sun, 1 – 5 p.m.
(Above: Feeling Free, 2001. Acrylic on canvas. 36″ x 36″. Click on image to enlarge.)
For more information contact Ethel Brody at (803) 782-6281 (home) or (803) 252-6134 (Vista Studios) or Wim Roefs at (803) 238-2351 / [email protected]
(Above: Fragments, c. 1999, Acrylic on canvas. 24″ x 18″. Click on image to enlarge.)
Gallery 80808/Vista Studios presents Ethel S. Brody: Her Works, and exhibition of the Columbia artist’s paintings and prints from the past four decades. The exhibition will be accompanied by a 36 pages, full-color catalogue, edited by Wim Roefs, owner of if ART Gallery in Columbia. In addition to 18 color plates, the catalogue includes an extensive interview with Brody conducted by Roefs (See below).
Brody has since 1992 rented a studio at Vista Studios on Lady Street in Columbia, where also Gallery 80808 is located. In addition to her frequent participation in group exhibitions at 80808, Brody has exhibited her work regularly throughout South Carolina. She participated in Guild of South Carolina Artists exhibitions and has been in several print shows at the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum. In 1988 she had a solo exhibition at the Sumter Gallery of Art. That year, she also was selected for the “South Carolina Women Artists Invitational” at Furman University in Greenville. In 1990, Brody was included in the “Southern Women Artists” exhibition at the Columbia Museum of Art. In 1991, she had a solo show at the Lancaster (S.C.) Arts Council. “Ethel Brody: Her Works” is Brody’s first solo exhibition at Vista Studios/Gallery 80808.
“I am basically a designer,” Brody says in the exhibition catalogue. “That’s a clue to understanding my work. So a lot of my work is very structured. I like to experiment. I don’t really like to do anything more than one time. I like to try anything…If I like a certain artist, I like to use that style but say what I want to say with it. But I try to move away from anything that is figural, to non-objective… What does intrigue me is how people do things. In other words, the mechanics of doing a painting. I get hooked. I have to try to do it. Do something, say, in the fashion of Paul Klee.
(Above: Merci, Paul Klee, 2007. Acrylic on canvas. 18″ x 18″. Click on image to enlarge.)
“I majored in art, but minored in art history, so I have a lot of influences…I do a lot with color. I read a great deal and what I am reading or actively studying sparks my creative impulses… Everything is grist to my mill. Everything I am interested in. I get my ideas from everywhere. Something strikes me and I am up and running.”
Wall labels at the Columbia Museum of Art make it clear that Brody and her sister, Leona Sobel, are enthusiastic supporters. As the labels indicate, many an artwork in the museum’s collection was either donated by the sisters, individually or together, or purchased with their financial support. Among such works is a painting and sculpture by Ida Kohlmeyer, paintings by Cleve Gray, Albert Fitch Bellows, Raphael Soyer and Janet Fish and prints by Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley. In 2007 alone, Brody herself donated blown glass by Robert Scavuzzo, Brian Becher and Chuck Savoie; prints by Bram van Velde, Louis Marcoussis and Pablo Picasso; and baskets by Tanaka Kuyokusho and Yamaguchi Ryuun. Brody and her sister also provide financial support for museum programming, including exhibitions and music series.
“I haven’t given hundreds, but certainly dozens of art works,” Brody says in the catalogue. “Every time you go in there, my name is on there… Sometimes I first consult with the curators, sometimes not. If I know it’s of premier value and they can’t buy it themselves, I’ll just buy it. If they don’t want it, that’s fine; I’ll be happy to own it myself.”
(Above: Lavender Bull’s Eye, 1994. Acrylic on canvas. 36″ x 36″. Click on image to enlarge.)
Ethel Sobel Brody was born in New York City on November 23, 1923. She grew up in Middleton, NY, just northwest of the city. The family moved back to the city around 1937, after her father died. Brody graduated from Julia Richman High School in 1942 and went to Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she graduated in 1945 with the highest honors in art. The next year, Brody studied design for one semester at the Parsons School of Design in New York. After briefly working for an interior designer, she married Reuben Brody in 1947 and moved to her husband’s home, Sumter, S.C., where she had two children. Brody’s husband died in 1964. From 1965 to 1969, she studied printmaking at the University of South Carolina in Columbia with Boyd Saunders and earned a B.A. in arts education, though she never taught. In 1969, Brody and her sister, Leona Sobel, opened “At The Sign Of The Salamander” in Myrtle Beach, S.C., selling decorative accessories for the home. The sisters sold the store in the late 1970s and moved to Columbia in 1980. There they became active volunteers at the Columbia Museum of Art. Among other things, Brody is a long-term member and former chair of the acquisitions committee and has been on the museum’s board of directors. She also has curated several print exhibitions for the museum.
(Above: Night Song, c. 2003. Collage and paint on paper. 24″ x 17 ½”. Click on image to enlarge.)
Ethel S. Brody’s Interview conducted and written by Wim Roefs, owner of if Art Gallery:
I’ve been making art since I was a kid. I still have one thing that I did when I was in high school. My mother noticed I liked to mess around with crayons and stuff. So she set up a little studio, in a corner of the playroom, so that I could do these things. I just liked to do it. It was just part of me. Looking back, thinking about it, my grandfather was a master tailor, you know, people who worked with their hands. It was part of the family. My uncle Chuck, who was my mother’s brother, also was a master tailor.
My mother believed in all that – piano lessons, dancing, art lessons. That got us interested in culture. And when we moved to New York, we had an aunt, an old New Yorker, who would take us to different museums on Sunday. So that’s how we got hooked on museums.
In high school I was in what today they call AP courses. I took a lot of language. I was the art editor of the Spanish language magazine. I was taking art lessons from a private teacher for about two years. Paul Peck. He was a medical illustrator. My sister, Leona, went, too. She got dragged along. I loved it. It was just great. He started me off doing black and white things. And we moved on to color. It was pretty basic.
(Above: Reverie, c. 2000. Acrylic on canvas. 36″ x 36″. Click on image to enlarge.)
I did a lot in college. I majored in art and minored in art history. I had a number of years looking at pictures. I graduated with honors at the department of art at Skidmore College. I primarily gravitate toward design. You go through a real series of classes you have to take. But they had a textile program, so I learned how to weave, and started to created textile designs – plaids and texture and all that stuff. That’s why when I paint it has the feel of design. Lots of color.
I really became tremendously interested in, I would say, pre-historic art. And I liked Egyptian – strong patterns and designs. And the moderns, contemporary art. Let me see? I liked Manet real well. He’s the granddaddy. The Spanish one, Goya. The French painter, Courbet, I liked him. People like Michelangelo and such, you can admire them, but I liked things that were closer to when I grew up. Now I like so many artists. Caravaggio, Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Ralph Scarlett, Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Massaccio, Holbein, Frans Hals, Turner, John Marin, Feininger, Klee, Modigliani, Mondrian, El Greco, Bosch, Bruegel, Hockney, Mark Tobey, Frank Stella, Pousette-Dart, Botero, Anselm Kiefer, Agnes Martin, Lila Cabot Perry, Bridget Riley, Judy Chicago, Lehmbruck, Giacometti. Very eclectic.
(Above: Happy Thoughts, c. 1998. Acrylic on canvas. 30″ x 24″. Click on image to enlarge.)
Seeing Art In New York
Was I familiar with New York art scene? Well, I’ll tell you a story. My mother used to say, “It’s a pretty day, go play out in the fresh air.” We lived on Riverside Drive and 84th Street. So we walked to the Metropolitan Museum. We were there all the time. You could get to the back door of the museum from the park. We didn’t have to go to the main entrance then. Kids. Whatever we had a particular interest in that day, we would go look at. We were very interested in the Egyptian exhibits.
We would go the Museum of Natural History. That is fascinating. In New York schools, they would take kids to museums. I think we were in every museum. The Frick Museum. Before the Guggenheim was built, they had a little store where they exhibited, and we used to go there. Then the Museum of Modern Art was established. When they brought over Picasso’s Guernica, we saw it there. And I’ll never forget, they brought a special exhibit from Florence, with Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. That was thrilling. I think I have been in every museum in New York City.
We didn’t go much to galleries. Some of them would charge you. But if you went to the museum of modern art, how could you miss the contemporary art scene? When you first come up on it, it’s a bit of a puzzle. Picasso’s paintings, with the woman’s face going that way. It’s kind of upsetting. But then you see that he is going all around her, instead of looking only at one side of her. Wow. And I really liked some of the paintings that were very severe, like Barnett Newman.
Two years after I graduated from college, I got married and moved south. Whenever I got to New York, I was off to MOMA and the Met to catch up on what was happening in the art world. I’d go to New York four, five times a year. My mother lived in New York, my sister lived in New York, my whole family. In those days you traveled by train. It was an overnight proposition. The station manager, if we were running a little late, he would hold the train until we got there. Life was very different then.
I really got into making art when my husband passed away, in 1964. That is a long time ago. My children were in high school, so I had time. I lived in Sumter, and my husband built me a studio over my garage. So I had a place. I got involved with making art, really involved, when he passed away, because I had time on my hands. That’s when I came to Columbia three days a week to go to school. I took up etching. And I took ceramic lessons at the Columbia Museum when it was over on Senate Street. They had a wonderful woman who taught ceramics, Susan Meredith. I sold a lot of it. I have very little of it left.
(Above: Rhapsody in Blue, 2003. Acrylic on canvas. 24″ x 36″. Click on image to enlarge.)
In 1992, a few years after Vista Studios opened, I rented a studio here. [Columbia artist] Laura Spong was already here, and we have been buddies ever since. She and I have become really close friends. I look forward to seeing her every day. Every day, whenever I can, I am going to be here. I generally come around 9:30, leave about 2:00. I am serious about it. And the only times I am really not here is when I am off traveling. I hate and resent things that impinge on me coming here. Actually, I schedule things around coming here.
I am not career-minded. Thank God I don’t have to have the money. No, I never had the ambition. I mean, fresh out of college I would have. I got a job with an interior designer, but once I got married – well, my husband’s ego: his wife doesn’t work.
What I really am sorry about is – after I graduated from college, I took my portfolio and went looking for a job. I went for interviews. Gosh, this guy, Raymond Loewy [the famous industrial designer] looked at my portfolio and said: “You have a lot of talent, but you don’t have professional training. I’d advise you go back to school for professional training if you want to go into design.” He particularly recommended Cranbrook [Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI]. That’s where all the guys, Saarinen and Eames, where the teachers, and a lot of people from the Bauhaus were there. That thing just thrilled me. Could I get in? As far as Loewy was concerned, it would be okay. But my mother said, no way, and she still was holding the purse strings. Get out and get a job. So I got a job, and then I met my husband.
When you are raised to obey orders, you do it. He was a wonderful man, but he had certain ideas about what a wife was to supposed to do. So you worked within those parameters. And in those days, you had to get married. But if I had to do it over again, I would have gone to Cranbrook. So with my granddaughters, if they want to go out and have a career, I help them. And they all have creative jobs. I have two grandsons and three granddaughters.
Move To Sumter, S.C.
My husband’s family were all South Carolinians. After World War II ended – he had been overseas – he came back and was stationed in Pennsylvania. He and his brothers had two department stores in Sumter and several in North Carolina. When he came to New York from Pennsylvania, someone fixed us up. It’s a strange story. His brother in North Carolina was in the service also, and they needed someone to run the store in Greenville, N.C., so his sister ran the store. She was going to New York to buy merchandise, and her brothers were very protective of her. They asked around for someone who could show her around. So I got to chaperone her. They knew I had just graduated. “Do you mind, you’ll get paid for the day,” I was told. I thought that this couldn’t be too bad. We became friends, and she introduced me to her brother.
I moved to the South, to Sumter. At first it was very amusing. And a culture shock. There was no place to live, so I lived in the family house, the great big house, with four of the brothers living there. I married into a family of eleven children, one girl and ten boys.
I was on the front porch one day, and this lady comes driving down the street in one of these old electric cars. She was wearing one of these funny old Victorian hats, and she had on a choker, with bones on the sides. I am telling you, she was a sight from the 1890s. I couldn’t believe it.
When you were a newcomer in town, they came to visit you with hats and gloves and a calling card. It was weird. It was from a previous century, it wasn’t 1945.
Everybody was very nice, though, very kind. Very warm and accepting. I will never forget, one of the ladies who went to school with my husband invited me to this meeting of the art club. It was bunch of old ladies, drinking tea. They had someone come in who did ceramics, explain how it was done, but they didn’t listen a bit to her. Just gossiping. So I said, thanks, but no thanks. That shows you how it has changed in Sumter, where they have a wonderful gallery.
I knew a lot people. Frankly, I was Mrs. Brody! I was asked to be on the United Appeal, on the board, because I was very active in girl scouting. The Brodys were important people in town. One of my brother-in-laws owned the radio station. The department store was a big deal. Their main competition was JC Penney’s, but our store, Capitol Department Store, had the much better merchandize. Belk’s was the wannabe.
The Jewish community in Sumter are the most liberal bunch. They are very integrated. I got very involved in the temple. Women were totally accepted. It was much more liberal than many other temples in this state. In Sumter you see a lot of intermarriage. You actually see “McDuffy” on someone’s grave in the Jewish cemetery.
Move to Columbia
After both my kids went off to college, that’s when my sister and I in 1969 went into business in Myrtle Beach, where I owned a home. Leona lived in New York, where she was a buyer for Sears. We opened a store in home decorations. We were very successful and eventually wound up selling the store very advantageously. After that, Leona and I first moved back to my home in Sumter. But we were always driving to Columbia, where the action was. So we sold the house and moved here in 1980.
I always enjoyed going to the museum, and they were looking for volunteers. Since my sister and I had had a decorative art retail store, we worked in the museum shop. They found out we knew about art in general, both of us having art backgrounds, so we started helping wherever we could. The curator at that time was Nina Paris, with whom we became friends. Nina asked us to be on the collections committee. That was sometime in the late 1980s. I have been on it ever since. I consult a lot with the curators. If they are looking for something specific, I go out and try to find it, and I often give money for purchases. I’ve also been on the board of the museum.
This country has been good to me, and I enjoy living in Columbia, and I want to give something back. I am trying real hard to make the Columbia Museum a destination in the Southeast. I think that is really important to our state, which is backward in so many other ways.
I enjoy working at the museum because I like the people there, I like the creativity. I like to talk art with people who know what they are talking about. I am endlessly curious, and I like people who are like me. I can’t stand people who are dull. Don’t print this at all, but I am telling you, it’s what keeps me young. All my contemporaries are such fuddy-duddies. Laura Spong, she is like me. She is just endlessly curious. She wants to see things.
(Above: Blue, 2007. Acrylic on canvas. 48″ x 48″. Click on image to enlarge.)
The Creative Process
I don’t know what exactly drives my creative process. It’s a kind of strange mélange. I do a lot of traveling, and I see so many things that impress me, and it feeds into what I am doing. Someone asked me why I hadn’t traveled to South Africa. I told them because they don’t have any museums there. I have been in every major museum in Europe and in the United States. I like going to Mexico. There’s so much going on there. They are so creative.
Some of my paintings come from travel. Journey to Phaselis I painted very early after I was on a ship, and we were going along the south coast of Turkey. It’s so beautiful, such a site to behold when you are on a ship because there’s the water and series of mountains, huge mountains that go straight up from the coast. So that’s where I got the idea for this painting.
Cuzco is named after the capital of the old Inca empire. Peruvian Indians are so impressive. When they weave, people just come to study the weavings, especially the Japanese. The motif of this painting is like their ponchos.
I am basically a designer. That’s a clue to understanding my work. So a lot of my work is very structured. I like to experiment. I don’t really like to do anything more than one time. I like to try anything. I like to loosen up. So some things are really structured, while other things lately are much more loose. And I do smaller things waiting to move to a good-size painting. That’s why I like etching so much. The little things. The detail work. Every once in a while I set myself a chore to do some drawings, to keep my dexterity, which is starting to fade.
If I like a certain artist, I like to use that style but say what I want to say with it. But I try to move away from anything that is figural, to non-objective. Feeling Free is influenced by Cleve Gray. My sister and I were just gallery hopping in New York, eight or ten years ago, and this was in the window of one of the galleries. It was just marvelous. I said, “it must be a young guy who did this,” but he was in his eighties. I was so shocked and thought, “if he can do it, I can do it.”
Lavender Bull’s Eye, that frosty painting, is influenced by Richard Pousette-Dart. You don’t hear much about him, but I really like Pousette-Dart. He is just great. It’s rich, such a modeled effect, and it’s just beautiful.
What does intrigue me is how people do things. In other words, the mechanics of doing a painting. I get hooked. I have to try to do it. Do something, say, in the fashion of Paul Klee. I went to Switzerland, first to Bern, where he was from. There was this absolutely gorgeous museum that they built recently to honor him. I got to study what he did. And I just fell in love with the whole idea of the tiny little dots. Sometimes he would do people or houses, but this is sort of what he liked doing – little dots and bright colors. So I got the idea from him for Merci, Paul Klee.
I majored in art, but minored in art history, so I have a lot of influences. The Egyptians are rather structured but they are so expressive and so free with the color. I like that. I do a lot with color. I read a great deal and what I am reading or actively studying sparks my creative impulses. Thus a particular work is born. Götterdämmerung I did when I was reading a lot of folk tales, particularly the Nordic myths, about the “Twilight of the Gods.” After I had read a book about the development of language, I thought, “gee whiz, I’d like to develop something.” So I created these little boxes in Whatever, with little symbols in them, and it could mean anything. It’s like handwriting.
Enigma I did after reading an article on a newspaper’s science page, which had an X-ray of a prehistoric bird skull. It was such an interesting design, and I turned it on its side. Everything is grist to my mill. Everything I am interested in. I get my ideas from everywhere. Something strikes me and I am up and running.
(Above: Big Rock Candy Mountain, 2007. Acrylic on canvas. 54″ x 54″. Click on image to enlarge.)
More about Ethel S. Brody and her work with the Columbia Museum of Art:
ETHEL BRODY: FILLING THE COLUMBIA MUSEUM OF ART
by Wim Roefs. (Wim Roefs is the owner of if ART, International Fine Art Services, which includes if ART Gallery. He is also an independent curator and free-lance writer.)
Wall labels at the Columbia Museum of Art make it clear that Ethel Brody and her sister, Leona Sobel, are enthusiastic supporters. As the labels indicate, many an artwork in the museum’s collection was either donated by the sisters, individually or together, or purchased with their financial support. Among such works is a painting and sculpture by Ida Kohlmeyer, paintings by Cleve Gray, Albert Fitch Bellows, Raphael Soyer and Janet Fish and prints by Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley. In 2007 alone, Brody herself donated blown glass by Robert Scavuzzo, Brian Becher and Chuck Savoie; prints by Bram van Velde, Louis Marcoussis and Pablo Picasso; and baskets by Tanaka Kuyokusho and Yamaguchi Ryuun. Brody and her sister also provide financial support for museum programming, including exhibitions and music series.
I haven’t given hundreds, but certainly dozens of art works. Every time you go in there, my name is on there. I am fond of glass, which I collect. And I have given a number of pieces to the museum, particularly by contemporary glassblowers. I am crazy about Lino Tagliapietro. I have two pieces by him myself that eventually will go to the museum. He’s the one all the modern master glassblowers study with. I also have pieces by a number of other glass artists.
I gave them the money for a print by Marcoussis. He was a printmaker of etchings, who taught a lot of people in the early 20th century – Picasso and all those people who were experimenting with all kinds of things. I just gave the museum Japanese baskets by several artists who are all considered national treasures in Japan. They make beautiful baskets out of bamboo and rattan. And they are astonishing. The museum received a tremendous collection of Chinese porcelains from Dr. Robert Turner from Philadelphia, 67 pieces – gorgeous stuff from before the Ming Dynasty – so the museum is really on its way to having a fine oriental collection. So if I see something that I think is worth having, I’ll buy it and give it to them.
(Above: Samples, 2001. Acrylic on canvas. 36″ x 36″. Click on image to enlarge.)
Sometimes I first consult with the curators, sometimes not. If I know it’s of premier value and they can’t buy it themselves, I’ll just buy it. If they don’t want it, that’s fine; I’ll be happy to own it myself. And, frankly, I have very good taste.
I’ll tell you a fun story. The museum doesn’t have anything by Picasso. Particularly they don’t have prints by Picasso. That’s unusual. I don’t know why, but a while back something hit me about years ago, when my son was a teenager and went to private school. He was in Princeton, N.J. He bought this little print, maybe eight inches, which was sold to him as a Picasso. He gave it to me for my birthday. I thought it must be a good copy, or out of a book; how much money does a teenage kid have to buy art? I took it to [CMA curator] Todd Herman, and said, “I might have a Picasso for you.” And it turned out to be real. So now they have a Picasso. Can you imagine?
We have a very good friend up in Charlotte who has a nice gallery, Jerald Melberg. We walked in there one day and over the counter hung this beautiful painting by Ida Kohlmeyer. Leona flipped over it and bought it and gave it to the museum. The Kohlmeyer sculpture also comes from Melberg. We had it in our garden, on the patio, but everyone at the museum was hankering for it, so I gave it to them. I bought a Mike Williams sculpture to replace it.
Years ago Bill Bodine, who then was the curator, said that it would be nice to have a study collection of Worchester china. They were one of the first to make real porcelain. They are in the west of England. So every time I go to England, I look in antique stores. Of course, 300 years later, there’s not much left. But if I find something interesting, made by the original makers with original designs, I’ll buy a piece. So the museum has a nice little collection of that.
Bodine also wanted us to find a piece for when the museum opened on Main Street [in 1998] , and so we began looking in New York. Anything of what we thought was a good piece, within the price range he had in mind, we would get transparencies. And he decided that the Raphael Soyer painting we found was what he wanted.
(Above: Song Lines, c. 1996. Acrylic on canvas. 40″ x 30″. Click on image to enlarge.)
These paintings are excellent. Ethel S. Brody is a wonderful artist and it was inspiring reading about her. Thanks for an introduction of this great artist.