Meryl at the Rose
(I wrote this as a letter to Brandeis University to protest the closing of the Rose Art Museum and posted it on Facebook on April 28, 2009.)
Many of the works of art at the Rose Art Museum are gifts – gifts from artists and gifts from those who love them. Every one of these gifts has a story to tell. This is the one that means the most to me.
Meryl Brater, my dear departed friend, was a wonderful artist who made amazing, inventive prints and artist’s books, using all kinds of materials and techniques. Meryl delighted in the transfiguration of a vast assortment of shapes and objects – birds, flowers, vases, mummified fishes from ancient Egypt, Persian miniatures, Japanese candies, punctuation marks, palm trees — everything that caught her bright, discerning eye. She ground and mixed her own special colors, and made her own paper, often working with Joe Zina at the old Rugg Road. She even made large-scale prints of plants using a steamroller as a printing press – a birthday gift from her husband, the light artist John Powell!
Meryl was in several group shows at the Rose, including the Lois Foster Exhibition of Boston area artists in 1989. Curators Carl Belz and Susan Stoops visited her studio many times.
Meryl’s work was an expression of her spirit. She was a vibrant part of the Boston art scene, involved with Massachsetts College of Art and Experimental Etching Studio, showing up at openings looking fabulous, with her long curly hair and some fascinating outfit she had sewn together from hand-me-downs, handmade and antique jewelry, lucky finds, and the perfect little scarf or hat. If you came to her with any problem, she would always say,
“Just do your work.”
After Meryl’s tragic early death in 1996, John Powell gave the Rose first choice of her work, in accordance with her wishes, and the museum bought a generous selection. Meryl was very much a “process person” as she liked to say, so John also gave the Rose many of her notebooks and sketches. Afterwards, other curators and collectors, including Joan Sonnabend, bought most of the rest of Meryl’s work, and it is now dispersed in collections and homes all over the world, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Harvard University, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Sonesta Hotels in Egypt.
In the Spring, Susan Stoops organized a Memorial Exhibition for Meryl at the Rose. That evening, the museum was a place to celebrate and a place to grieve – a sacred space — a place of memory and loss and transformation.
Hundreds of people came to the museum – artists, writers, dancers, musicians, friends. We all stood in a circle, spoke about Meryl, and cried. We all believed that Meryl would live on, here at the Rose, and that many generations to come would have the chance to know her through her art.
Meryl will never be forgotten. But to close the museum now would be a terrible blow to everyone who loved her – to everyone who loves art and artists – to everyone who trusted their treasure to the Rose.