A Life in Art From Roots Nurtured in Vilna

David and Barbara Broudo at their Beverly home with their art collection.
David and Barbara Broudo at their Beverly home with their art collection.

By judith klein

Published May 05, 2016, issue of May 05, 2016.

Walk into the home of Beverly residents David and Barbara Broudo and you are surrounded by artworks created over the span of the 20th century and into the new millennium. Many of the paintings and ceramic pieces are by David, a renowned artist who created and directed the art department at Endicott College for close to 50 years. The textile and fiber art, as well as some new watercolors, are the work of Barbara, who taught fashion design at the college for more than two decades, and now is curator of the school’s archives.

But David and Barbara’s work is only the beginning of the story. On the walls and the bookshelves is another tale that started in Vilna, Lithuania, a hub of Jewish culture and arts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, even amid pogroms and deprivation in surrounding areas. There, David’s father, Wolf, was born in 1892. Wolf’s father died when he was a young boy and his mother remarried a man who sought his fortune in China trading in art and antiquities. The new couple thought the journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway would be too much for a young boy so they left Wolf behind in Vilna in the care of relatives, never to see his mother again. There, he learned the trade of cutting gloves, but also developed a love of art and an affinity for spending time with artists.

Emigrating from Vilna to America as a young man, Wolf settled first with his mother’s relatives in Baltimore and then moved to Philadelphia, where his father’s nephews had five women’s shops that sold corsets, brassieres and gloves. Wolf managed one of the stores. By then, he had sent for his girlfriend back home, Sarah Novik, and they were married. Life was going well for the young Russian Jew and his family in the early 1920s. That is, until the Great Depression.

Wolf then took his family – by then, David and his brother, Jack, were born – first to New York City and then to Gloversville, in upstate New York, a manufacturing center where wealthy Jews owned the companies and laborers cut the gloves. As David explains it, the work, was very exacting. The cutters were given leather skins and told the sizes of the gloves needed and the number of pairs they needed to get from each skin. Their livelihood depended on their ability to get the most out of each piece of leather.

Though Wolf never made much money, “if he had a few dollars, he would buy a print or a painting,” recalls David. Now, that collection lives with David and Barbara, including a cherished book written and illustrated by Marc Chagall and inscribed to Wolf in Yiddish. Wolf would visit the galleries of many of these artists, invite them to his home, even plan openings for them, says David.

Artists such as Abraham Manievich and Saul Raskin, now recognized as among the Russian expatriates who contributed to the rise of American modernism and eventually exhibited at places such as the Brooklyn and Philadelphia Museums of Art, were among his acquaintances and friends. David remembers being dragged to galleries on Sundays, when Blue Laws kept everything else closed and he and his brother would much rather have been playing ball. But soon David absorbed his father’s love of art; and his father did everything to encourage it. If there was a children’s art class available, Wolf signed up young David.

Gloversville, David recalls, was a warm and supportive Jewish community. When it came time for college, his track coach made sure he received full scholarships to Syracuse and Alfred universities. Because Alfred also gave him the funds for room and board he needed, David chose to go there. He planned to pursue painting and drawing, and had no idea that Alfred had the best ceramics program in the country, a fact that would have been meaningless to him anyway. As he puts it, at that point he barely knew what clay was.

For the first two years, David studied drawing and painting before the curriculum exposed him to ceramics. From then, the die was cast. He fell in love with the medium and pursued it voraciously. Since most art majors were unemployed post-graduation, David went directly from undergraduate studies to a Master’s program at Alfred. By a series of serendipitous connections, the co-founder and later president of Endicott, Dr. Eleanor Tupper, contacted David and asked him to develop the art program at the then two-year college for girls.

That he did. Starting in a barn, David grew the program into the biggest major on campus, with internships that assured parents that their daughters could get jobs after graduation. His father, who died in 1959, lived to see his younger son achieve great success, both as an artist and as an art educator. After a few years, David realized the need for a fashion design major at the school and was lucky enough to find, through a friend at Mass. College of Art, a recent graduate who had grown up in Marblehead.

And so Barbara arrived on campus, a gift to students and to David. At their third meeting, he proposed. (His first wife had died of cancer some years earlier, and he was raising two teens alone.) Barbara created a vast fashion, costume history, and textile program for Endicott students and made her mark in the field by becoming regional and then national president of the Costume Society of America. She pursued her own art as a weaver of clothing.

Today, 53 years married, the couple lives amidst the art they have created and the art both David’s father Wolf and they have collected. Indeed, there is history and beauty on every wall.

David and Barbara Broudo were recently named the Honorary Chairs of the seventh fall annual Flying Horse Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit on the campus of Pingree School in South Hamilton.

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