A Tale of Two Sisters: Gifts from Ethel S. Brody and Leona Sobel

Sep 6, 2011 - Nov 27, 2011

Within the world of art collecting, there have been several notable sibling-collectors. Among these are Claribel and Etta Cone of Baltimore, pioneer collectors of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artworks, as well as Gwendoline and Margaret Davies of Wales, who amassed one of the great British art collections of the twentieth century, highlights of which appeared in the landmark traveling exhibition at the Columbia Museum of Art in 2009, Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales.

This fall, the Columbia Museum of Art pays tribute to its own sibling-collectors, Leona Sobel and Ethel (Sobel) Brody, in the exhibition, A Tale of Two Sisters: Gifts from Ethel S. Brody and Leona Sobel, on view through November 27, 2011. Throughout more than thirty-five years of sustained giving to the Museum, the Sobel sisters have provided generous financial support toward museum operations, exhibitions, object conservation (see next article), and public programs, and have volunteered countless hours of research time. They have also played an active and integral role in shaping the growth of the permanent collection by donating objects and providing funds for the purchase of artwork. From Leona Sobel’s donation in 1976 of a Royal Doulton ewer to the recent acquisition of David Hilliard’s triptych from Ethel Brody, more than one hundred and seventy-five individual artworks have been acquired through their generosity. Their donations represent all media and range from Old Master paintings to contemporary art.

Born and raised in New York City, Ethel (born 1923) and Leona (born 1929), spent their early childhood surrounded by art and credit their mother with instilling them with their “good taste.” As for their love of museums, Ethel praises her aunt, “a real New Yorker,” who took the sisters to the Metropolitan Museum of Art as children. There, Ethel and Leona enjoyed “getting lost” in the galleries and traveling the world through the artwork on display. The sisters later moved to South Carolina—Ethel in 1947 following her marriage to Reuben Brody of Sumter, and Leona in 1969 following her retirement as a swimwear buyer for Sears. From 1969 to 1979, the sisters owned and operated the Sign of the Salamander, a home goods and furnishing store in Myrtle Beach, which carried goods gathered on their trips abroad. The sisters moved permanently to Columbia in 1980 and have been integrally involved with the Columbia Museum of Art ever since.

A Tale of Two Sisters is a unique exhibition, in that it is truly a museum-wide installation, enabling us to illustrate the depth and breadth of their support for the collections. The majority of the exhibition will be on view in Gallery 15, with additional works on display in the Garden Terrace, the Administrative Wing, and second floor atrium. To help visitors identify works acquired through the generosity of the Sobel sisters, a special logo has been designed and placed adjacent to the work (the red square at the top left corner of this page). We encourage visitors to look for it on their next visit to the Museum, and enjoy taking a “treasure hunt” through the galleries, looking for objects acquired from Ethel and Leona.

Location: On view in the Mamie and William Andrew Treadway, Jr. Gallery and throughout the Museum wherever you see the red square.