Emilie Brzezinski, artist who frequented political elites, dies at 90

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Her marriage to Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, allowed her to enter the political and diplomatic elites of Washington. But artist Emilie Brzezinski said she was often happiest at her studio in McLean, Va., creating looming sculptures from tree trunks with chisels, axes and several prized Stihl chainsaws, which she used until she was 80 years old. She preferred the groan of power tools to the crackle of the cocktail circuit.

Ms Brzezinski died on July 22 at her home in Jupiter, Florida, aged 90. She had Parkinson’s disease., said her daughter, Mika Brzezinski, co-host of the MSNBC show “Morning Joe.”

Ms. Brzezinski exhibited at the Florence Biennale in 2003 and the Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale in 2005. Her only public sculpture, a bronze cast of a piece carved from wood called “Arch in Flight”, has been exhibited in DC on New York Avenue, near the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

Ms Brzezinski said she enjoyed sculpting trees that had “a story to tell” – which were stunted or struck by lightning – and then working with nature rather than against it.

“No matter how many chainsaw and chisel marks she leaves on her roughly hewn sculptures, they never lose their connection to the living forest,” Washington Post art critic Philip Kennicott wrote in an article. review of Ms. Brzezinski’s 2014 exhibition at the Kreeger. Museum. “Brzezinski’s wooden forms are pleasantly disconnected from the business and distractions of contemporary life.”

Emilie Ann Benes was born in Geneva on January 21, 1932. Her father, Bohus, was a Czech diplomat and her great-uncle Edvard Benes was twice the country’s president. She moved with her parents to London at the start of World War II. In 1943, the family moved again, this time to California, after crossing the Atlantic in an American convoy targeted by German submarines and hit by a torpedo.

Mrs Brzezinski graduated in 1953 from Wellesley College with a degree in fine arts, then worked in one of Harvard’s libraries, where she met her future husband – the offspring, like herself, of an exiled diplomat from Central European origin.

They married in 1955 and moved to McLean in 1977, where Mrs Brzezinski ran their six-acre suburban property as a small farm, complete with dogs and ducks and her daughter’s horse, which she took in the house. home for the annual Christmas party.

“It added a bit of humor,” she told the Post.

In her later years, Ms. Brzezinski used her art to reconnect with her roots. It was “an effort to find who I really am,” she told the Post. While working on a series of Brobdingnagian sculptures called “Family Trees” that featured photos of her loved ones, she said she came to understand that her identity was half Czech and half American.

In a 2014 piece, titled “Ukraine Trunk,” she combined her personal story with the geopolitics that had always preoccupied her family, pasting inside a hollowed-out trunk a photograph of smiling, upturned faces in Kyiv Square. , questioning a future made uncertain by Russia. aggression against Ukraine.

Her husband died in 2017 and she later moved to Florida. Besides her daughter, survivors include two other children, Ian Brzezinski, a Republican consultant in Washington and former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under President George W. Bush, and Mark Brzezinski, a lawyer and U.S. Ambassador to Poland; and five grandchildren.

In her art, Ms. Brzezinski celebrated the connections between her fellow human beings and the natural world.

As she told Wellesley alumni magazine, “To the casual observer, a tree is vertical and straight. But after careful study, most trunks have a basic movement, what I call the essential gesture. I am always amazed by the parallels between the human gesture and the gesture of a tree.

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