Ellison Cooper Lieberman was born Oct. 25, 1919 in Montreal to parents of Scottish descent. She went to school there and in England, and then studied art at the Beaux Arts in Paris and the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London.
At the outbreak of World War II she was called up to serve in a secret unit of the British Foreign Office, working on radio monitoring and code-breaking. During this time she met her future American husband, Frank Lieberman, who was employed in the Office of War Information. Whenever they passed in hallways he was whistling, which she found strange, but eventually accepted as their friendship and then love grew.
Frank and Ellison married in New York City in 1946 and moved to Woodstock in 1949, when Frank became art director and chief designer at the Elm Tree Press. Their first home, rented from Tink Day, was on High Street. Unfortunately, the Elm Tree Press failed, but new friends in Woodstock helped Ellison and Frank survive while Frank built up his freelance art and design business locally and in New York City. Meanwhile the couple grew to know many local artists. Ellison was surprised to find no real galleries in the area, although museums and frame shops existed. Using her own art background and social skills, Ellison opened a “summer gallery” at 22 The Green, which after a few moves and considerable growth became the first Vermont year-round gallery for Vermont artists: Gallery 2.
Why the number 2? Because Ellison’s husband Frank, skilled in calligraphy, found the number two more aesthetically pleasing than one, and he was the person making the gallery’s sign.
Gallery 2 played a central role in the lives of Vermont artists. Watercolorist Tad Bailey, sculptors Barbara Kaufman, Judith Brown, and Charlet Davenport, painters and printmakers Lolo Sarnoff, Sanford Ross, Wmb Holt, Sabra Field, Clay Kanzler, Timmy Borne, Georgina Forbes, and many others were inspired, supported, and mentored by Ellison. In recognition of her achievement in the arts she was awarded the Vermont Art Council’s combined Citation of Merit and Business Award in 1979.
In addition to Gallery 2, Ellison also opened a folk art gallery in downtown Woodstock, featuring older and new work, giving many people their first understanding of this kind of work.
Ellison retired from her work at Gallery 2 and the folk art gallery in 1986, when Hans Meijer of Barnard purchased the galleries. Gallery 2 closed in 2002.
But what of Ellison’s own work as an artist. She’d put that on hold for decades, but with encouragement from family and friends had her own solo show in 2010 at a gallery in the Bridgewater mill Building. The Show’s opening, on a very hot August day, brought surprise and delight to Ellison’s many artist friends who hadn’t previously known of her own substantial talent.
Frank and Ellison, besides their work in the arts, also busily bought and restored a number of homes in Woodstock, as well as their beloved “Shambles” on Cloudland Road in Pomfret. They were both involved in the Woolhouse Players theatre group, the founding and continuance of VINS, the Pentangle Arts group, and vigorously supported the Yoh Players.
Frank, an avid skier and eventually ski school instructor at Suicide Six, encouraged Ellison’s pleasure in skiing. The couple was incredibly social, hosting small and large parties and attending most fund-raising and community events in the Woodstock area. They also traveled considerably — in the U.S. Southwest and California, in Europe, Hawaii, and the Baltic states. Frank died in 1995.
Ellison is survived by her nephew John Cooper of Toronto, Canada; niece Dr. Linda Cooper of Calgary, Canada; step-daughter Anne Bower; three grandchildren — Avi Bower, Isaac Bower, and Rachael Bower; two great-grandchildren — Ursula Wolfe (daughter of Avi Bower and Mark Wolfe) and Isla Bower (daughter of Isaac Bower and Anna Redcay), and her longtime friend and confidant, Hans Meijer. They, along with her many, many friends will miss Ellison deeply.
Ellison died at home peacefully on Dec. 9. She expressly stated that she wanted no funeral, but a memorial celebration is planned for Spring 2013. For those wishing to make a gift in her memory, we suggest donations to The Vermont Arts Council; Bayada Hospice, Norwich, Vt.; or Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.