By Michelle Marasch Ouellette
The Museum Without Walls is about to be named after the man who made it all possible and the woman who stood behind him while dedicating decades of her own life in service to the college.
Edward and Bette Brohel will both be honored during the Sept. 17 dedication ceremony, which will take place at 4 p.m. in the lobby of the Myers Fine Arts Building.
When Edward took the reigns as director of the Plattsburgh State Art Museum in 1978, it was a different place.
In the words of Dr. E. Thomas Moran, SUNY distinguished service professor and director of the Institute for Ethics in Public Life, “The galleries were undeveloped and underutilized. Much of the architecture seemed cold and austere.”
During his 30-year tenure, Edward worked to change that. Under his leadership, the art collection grew from fewer than 500 pieces to around 8,000 pieces and came to include the Meisel Collection, the Student Association Collection, the Nina Winkel Collection and the Slatkin Study Room and Collection. In addition, he established new galleries including the Hans and Vera Hirsch Gallery, the Louise Norton Room, the Winkel Sculpture Court and the Rockwell Kent Gallery.
Edward Brohel helped change the landscape of the campus through the Museum Without Walls and the sculpture park.
His work was not limited to galleries, however. He changed the face of the campus by establishing the Museum Without Walls — a network of art, placed in public spaces and offices throughout campus, based on a concept by Andre Malraux — and, with the help of co-curator Don Osborn, put in place the college’s sculpture park, a permanent collection of monumental pieces.
Edward said that, at first, people were skeptical about his idea to create the Museum Without Walls.
“People thought it was crazy,” he said. “But they didn’t really support or stop it.”
The Student Association, however, changed all that.
“The Student Association gave funds for the installation and purchase of art. Once the SA started the trend, the support grew.
“It evolved in mind and space,” he added. “And slowly the college began to like the idea, and people in the area began to give more to it. The work was incremental.”
“In the end, he created everywhere on campus little grottos of beauty and contemplation,” Moran said. “In doing so, he gave our college genuine distinction and amplified the ideal and the essence of what a campus should be.”
Meanwhile, Bette came to the college in 1980, gained a graduate degree from Plattsburgh in 1985 and worked in Continuing Education for 23 years before she transferred into Academic Advising, a position from which she retired in 2005.
Director of Academic Advising and Assistant to the Vice President of Academic Affairs Suzanne Daly began working with Bette toward the end of Bette’s career.
“She was a caring, concerned adviser,” Daley said, adding that Bette was an especially strong advocate for adult learners.
“She was very committed to making sure adults in the community had access to higher ed, and she was always willing to lend an ear, helping those adult students navigate their way through classes here.”
Bette, herself, did not earn her undergraduate degree until she was 32, and that helped her be more attuned to the needs of adult learners.
“I wanted to provide students with some of the things that weren’t provided for me, in terms of advisement, encouragement and help getting into classes and advocating for evening classes,” she said.
“The college was a good place for both us,” she added.
"Both Edward and Bette have spent their lives in service to the college," President John Ettling said. "I can think of no more fitting tribute than to name the Museum Without Walls, which Ed created, in their honor."
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