Laura Brown, 85, Anne Arundel artist and activist

April 18, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Laura Brown, a community activist and artist, died Sunday of cancer at her Severna Park home. She was 85.

In the 1970s, Mrs. Brown helped found Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in what had been Annapolis High School.

Appointed to the Anne Arundel County Commission on Culture and the Arts in the 1970s and named chairwoman of the group in 1980 and 1981, she also helped stage arts festivals at Annapolis' City Dock.

On Nov. 18, 1999, in a Government House ceremony recognizing her contribution to the arts, Maryland first lady Frances Glendening called her a "state treasure."

"She was the quintessential volunteer. She was involved with the things that are quality-of-life issues," said Joe Sachs, a Republican alderman who represents Ward 4 in Annapolis.

"Laura was active in pulling all the little arts groups together. ... Back when everybody was struggling, she was the voice that said, `Let's make this happen.' And she did," said Ellen Moyer, a Democratic alderman from Ward 8.

Mrs. Brown painted Asian-style watercolors in her home studio and gave them as gifts and showed them at galleries in Anne Arundel County, Towson and Virginia.

"Her paintings had a lyrical quality. She was interested in music, and that came through in her work," said a friend, Mary Johnson of Severna Park. "Laura could find beauty in everything."

Recalled as a vivacious community activist, Mrs. Brown served on numerous boards and arts organizations.

"Getting people to support the arts and getting funding can be difficult," Ms. Johnson said. "She worked against difficult odds to raise money for campaigns like the Maryland Hall."

Mrs. Brown's home caregiver, Penny Kenny of Hanover, said, "She was my Auntie Mame, just like in the movie and the play. She was flamboyant, vibrant, grand, colorful and eccentric. Her attention to detail was beyond anything I had ever encountered. She noticed things that people never see."

In 1957, after serving as membership secretary for the National Symphony Orchestra, Mrs. Brown moved to Severna Park from Northern Virginia. She took up community arts causes, including the Anne Arundel County Concert Association, the Annapolis Cultural Education Center and the Anne Arundel Arts Association.

After she helped establish the Maryland Hall -- a county arts center -- she served on its steering committee. She also represented Anne Arundel on the Baltimore Museum of Art's board of trustees. She also was a founder of the Ballet Theatre of Annapolis and was a board member of the Sumi-e Society of America, a painters' group.

Born in Washington, Laura Ventresca graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana with degrees in Romance languages and library science.

In 1938, she married George B. Brown, a retired National Security Agency inspector general who survives her.

Funeral services for Mrs. Brown will be held at 4 p.m. Friday at Barranco and Sons Severna Park Funeral Home, 495 Ritchie Highway.

She also is survived by three sons, David Alan Brown of Columbia, Donald Kent Brown of Churchton and Douglas Scott Brown of Richardson, Texas; a brother, Dante Ventresca of Indianapolis; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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