IN MEMORIAM: ETHEL S. BRODY 1923 – 2014

brody image smallColumbia artist and art patron Ethel Brody, née Sobel, an early and steadfast supporter of 701 Center for Contemporary Art, passed away on     Sunday, October 5, 2014. Ethel was 90 years old; her health had been in decline for several years. As 701 CCA board members, staff and volunteers,  our thoughts are with Ethel’s family and friends, whom we wish all the strength they need. Our grief about Ethel’s passing is eased by our memory of her life and actions and our everlasting gratitude for her tremendous support for 701 CCA.

Even a casual observer of the Midlands’ art scene would be aware of at least some of Ethel’s contributions. Those visiting 701 CCA will see Ethel’s name grace the walls as one of our organization’s main supporters. Visitors to the Columbia Museum of Art can’t help but notice the many artworks there donated by or purchased with funds provided by Ethel individually or with her late sister, Leona Sobel. At Vista Studios in Columbia, Ethel’s studio has been a main feature for two decades, and her paintings are on full display there.

All that merely scratches the surface of a life lived in and for the arts, including graduating in 1945 from New York State’s Skidmore College with the highest honors in art, studying with printmaker Boyd Saunders in the late 1960s at the University of South Carolina and receiving a B.A. in arts education from the same institution. With Leona, Ethel became a volunteer at the Columbia Museum in 1980 and never really left. She helped set up the museum’s shop, was a long-time member and chair of its acquisition committee, has served on the museum’s board of directors, and curated several print exhibitions for the museum. Through her tremendous support for the museum, not in the least for its 1998, game-changing move to Main Street and its acquisition efforts, Ethel was important in creating an institution that not just serves the Midlands but also the rest of South Carolina and the South.

But Ethel in 2008 also embraced the new kid on the block in Columbia: 701 CCA. Ethel’s support was tremendously important for the center becoming one of the state’s most important contemporary art institutions. Every year since we opened in 2008, Ethel sponsored one of our three-month residencies, allowing us to bring in artists from outside the Midlands, state and country to work and often exhibit at 701 CCA. The center opened in October 2008, when the recession made raising funds for a new arts institution almost impossible, but Ethel saw the potential, had faith and provided early, crucial and ongoing financial backing for 701 CCA.

Ethel’s tremendous role in dramatically increasing the art infrastructure and ecosystem in the Midlands and statewide would be sufficient reason to award her the South Carolina Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts she received last year, but her own accomplishments as an artist should be noted, too. In addition to her frequent participation in group exhibitions at Vista Studios’ Gallery 80808, Ethel has exhibited her work regularly throughout South Carolina and beyond. 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, Ethel 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. As recently as 2012, her work was selected for an alumni exhibition at Skidmore College and a group exhibition at the Burroughs & Chapin Museum in Myrtle Beach, S.C. In 2008 and 2011, Ethel had large solo exhibitions at Gallery 80808, Ethel Brody: Her Work and Ethel Brody: Encore, both accompanied by a catalogue.

Aside from some of Ethel’s formal accomplishments and contributions, there were the many informal, sometimes intangible ones. Ethel lived and breathed art, and as part of that, she oozed support for artists and others in the art world whose work she admired. As such, she boosted many an individual’s morale and career.

Ethel 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. Ethel 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, Ethel 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. Ethel’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, Ethel and her sister, Leona, 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, where Ethel rented a studio at Vista Studios in 1992.

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