Marcella Brenner (1912-2007)

We’re back from vacation a day early to attend the funeral this morning of our beloved Angel and Theater J Council Member, Marcella Brenner. She passed just three weeks after her 95th birthday; the same glorious Marcella who travelled with us to London as we first launched this blog back in March of 2007. Every morning it was breakfast with Marcella and her associate Montrose Cones, and then off to climb steps at The Old Vic, take in three shows in a day, and a fine dinner at night. Marcella was up for it all. As I wrote to our Council the day after she passed:

We were all touched by Marcella in so many ways over the years and also, fortunately for us, most recently as well, with beautiful visits at Council meetings, at the Hirschhorn, in the theater, or on tour in London. We enjoyed a remarkable year together; for her, one out of 95 remarkable years lived totally in tune with her time. A great mind and a great woman and a great partner to so many.

The funeral will be at Adas Israel, 2850 Connecticut Avenue, this Friday @ 11 AM. We are in the Midwest and are looking into rearranging our plans to be back.

We as a Council did the right thing every meeting, every month and every year we were around Marcella in telling her how much we valued her presence. This was a woman who knew she was loved.

We include now some notes on Marcella’s wonderful life, knowing how much we all will miss her.


• Born December 5, 1912, Baltimore, Maryland
• 1929 – Receives diploma from Maryland State Teachers College, Towson, Maryland
• 1930-1944 – Taught in Baltimore, Maryland Public Schools
• 1934 – Receives B.S. from The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
• 1945-1952 – Worked in U.S. Public Health Service, Washington, D.C.
• 1952-1964 – Teacher, then principal for ten years at Lone Oak Elementary School, Rockville, Maryland
• 1962 – Receives Ed.D. from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
• 1964 – Starts teaching at The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
• 1971 – Founded the Program for Innovative Teaching, Jerusalem, Israel (The Keren) and it continues to today
• 1974 – Co-founded with Sue Ann Robinson the Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education Program at The George Washington University. Retires as the director in 1983 but continues to teach to today
• 2001 – Receives Honorary Ph.D. from Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland

The Fund for Innovative Teaching (The Keren) started in 1971 and provides individual classroom teachers with funds not normally available to them in the school budget. The objectives are:
1. To sharpen a teacher’s ability to diagnose the elements of a learning problem.
2. To encourage teachers to prescribe remedies for those problems which are enriching, lively and useful to students.
3. To help a teacher implement a good idea by providing funds for tangible items such as a microscope, musical instruments, games, scientific publications and events such as trips to museums.
4. To diminish the isolation often felt by teachers by providing a forum for a discussion of problems and solutions.
To provide Administrators and Supervisors a novel approach to supervision and in-service training for teachers. As teachers develop the proposals for funding they will be actively planning for their own growth and they will actively involve the students in planning for their own learning.

Personal History

Dr. Brenner’s career in education, her second marriage, to the late color field artist Morris Louis, and her Jewish heritage have contributed to longstanding philanthropy of various combinations of art, education and Judaism. These include:
Board of Directors of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School
Benefactor of the Jewish Social Services Agency (JSSA), including establishing the Brenner Escort Service Fund to transport persons to doctor’s appointments, stay with them during the appointment, make notes of information from the provider for the patient, and transport the patient back home.

Benefactor of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design Museum in Jerusalem, including funding of the Marcella Brenner Art and Education Building in downtown Jerusalem.

Contributions of art works by Morris Louis to major museums throughout the world, including the Tate Gallery in London, Louisiana Museum in Denmark, Musée de Grenoble in France), Boston Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Museum of Modern Art in New York, High Museum in Atlanta, Los Angeles Museum of Art in Los Angeles, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC.

Board member of Project Interchange, which sponsors trips of influential American citizens to Israel.

Establishment of scholarships at the Levine School of Music to support teacher development and to provide scholarships for students, particularly at THEARC, which serves students in Southeast Washington. She also purchased a Steinway grand piano for the Upton Street campus of the school.

Council Member and “angel” of Theater J, at the DC Jewish Community Center, and established their Sunday Valet parking service.

Board member of the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, and Chair of their Education Committee.

At age 95, she continued to be an active participant in the Washington area’s two oldest book clubs (Book Group—meet Sunday afternoon—and Monday Book Club).

Professor Emeritus and Board of Trustees Emeritus of The George Washington University. She also founded the Morris Louis Scholarship at The George Washington University Art Department, which supports fine art students. The Marcella Brenner Endowment for Museum Education at The George Washington University was established in her honor by her friend Gloria L. Horrworth, now Professor Emeritus, to support the Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education Program that Dr. Brenner co-founded.

Benefactor of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). This has included establishing two scholarship programs—the Marcella Brenner (Hon ’01) Distinguished MAT Scholarship Program in Art Education and the Morris Louis (’32) Scholarship in Painting. In addition, she established the Marcella Brenner (Hon ’01) Faculty Development Program at MICA.

She has shepherded the legacy of Morris Louis since Louis’ death in 1962, including the Retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden this fall.

Although most of Dr. Brenner’s philanthropy has been performed anonymously or in low profile, her magnanimity was recognized with the award of District of Columbia Philanthropist of the Year in 2005.


2 thoughts on “Marcella Brenner (1912-2007)

Comments are closed.