Katherine Tsanoff Brown, 1919-2016

I was very saddened to learn of the death last week of Katherine Tsanoff Brown. The daughter of Rice’s first philosophy professor, Radoslav Tsanoff, and his formidable wife Corrinne, Katherine was raised at the young Institute with the other faculty children almost as family. These were in many cases bonds that would last a lifetime. Here she is at Christmas time in 1930, posing with her sister and the daughters of Rice Dean Robert Caldwell at Grenoble:

Katherine Tsanoff 1930 Grenoble 001

She entered Rice as a student in the fall of 1934, only fifteen years old. She had a stellar career academically–she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in the fall of 1937–as well as socially as a member of the Elizabeth Baldwin Literary Society.

Katherine Brown Campanile photo 1938 006

She went on to earn an MFA from Cornell and returned to teach in the architecture school at Rice in 1963, later becoming the first art historian appointed to the new department of Art and Art History. Like her father she was an excellent teacher, honored with awards and with the gratitude of generations of students. Most touching to me are the records of her decade as Dean of Undergraduates, meticulously organized and deeply revealing about the state of student life in the difficult years of the 1970s. Brown was temperamentally almost perfectly suited for this role, calm and gentle but with exacting standards and respect for both the intellect and the emotions of the students. I’m not sure but this may have been her finest role here.

Katherine Brown was quiet and strong and almost impossibly elegant. She was a mediator. She was a scholar who remained committed to the primacy of undergraduate education. We were lucky to have her.

Bonus: She was a talented artist too. Here’s a little place card she made for her friend Ray Watkin, the daughter of architecture professor William Ward Watkin, for a luncheon on the occasion of Ray’s graduation from Rice in 1938. She’s gently teasing Ray here for her early ambition to join the diplomatic service.

Katherine Tsanoff place card for Ray graduation 1938 003

Extra Bonus: Here are Katherine and Ray at the President’s House for a dinner in November, 1999.

Katherine Brown Ray Strange February 200 dinner at Pres House for Dean of architecture Endowment 005

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34 Responses to Katherine Tsanoff Brown, 1919-2016

  1. Joan Schell says:

    I’m sure you’ve caught it by now…2016 not 2017. Also I’m emailing you a photo I took in 2012 at the Faculty Women’s Club Spring Tea. She wasn’t a member but was our guest because her mother Corrinne was a founder of the club.

  2. Sandy Havens says:

    She was a good friend to me–and a mentor. I honor her memory.

  3. Leonard Lane says:

    I was fortunate to be a student in one of her history classes in the early 70’s. What a wonderful experience! She will be missed.

  4. monicajcoe says:

    I took her History of Art Survey course during my first year in the architecture program (way back in 1977-1978). Dean Brown taught me a whole new way of looking at the world. What a kind and lovely woman. She was a major life model for me.

  5. Rachel Dvoretzky says:

    Melissa and Sandy, your words are a fine eulogy.

  6. Gloria Meckel Tarpley '81 says:

    She was one of the teachers that everyone wanted to have at some point during their time at Rice — regardless of whether or not you were an archi or a fine arts major, her History of Art class was a rite of passage during my time at Rice , ’77-’81. She was lovely — insightful, elegant, calm, and passionate about art, and that passion was contagious. It was a privilege to take her class.

  7. degb00 says:

    I honor her memory too. I was doing badly in my second semester of my sophomore year, and I went to her to try to drop a class past the drop deadline. I was trying to avoid going on academic probation. She politely denied my request, but then went on to give me some very good advice. She said that if I was sure I was failing one of my classes, to stop spending any time on it. Take the required tests and the final, and spend my effort on bringing up my low grade in another class. She was right, and I ended up passing both classes. What a wonderful woman she was.

  8. Barney L. McCoy says:

    She and her father were two of my favorite Profs when I was at Rice in the mid-sixties. Her history of art class engendered in me a love of art that has lasted my entire life. Wherever my wife and I have traveled, there has always been some gem that we have added to our itinerary as a result of something I learned from her lectures that was not in the textbook. In my mind I can still hear her distinctive voice talking lovingly about the Wieskirche, the baroque church at Ottobeuren Abbey or the Riemenschneider alterpiece. She will be missed and never forgotten.
    Barney L. McCoy, Hanszen 67

  9. Guy says:

    Also, besides being a great teacher, her two sons, Steve and Hugh, were both at Rice during the 60’s. Great guys.

    • Hugh Brown says:

      Thank you. She was a great mother, too. They ALMOST got the date right; she was born on December 31, 1918. Pretty close to 1919!
      Hugh Brown

  10. Hance Burrow says:

    I unfortunately missed her art history clas. I am curious about the comment about “the state of student life in the difficult years of the 1970’s”. Lovett 1974

  11. She was Dean when I had to drop out at the end of the semester with mono. I could barely think straight, but she got it all done quickly and smoothly. I ended up with a medical withdrawal from three classes and three incompletes.

    I’m not sure why it sticks in my mind, but I have a clear image of her office from that meeting. It was on the south end of Lovett Hall.

  12. Katherine Brown once talked about plaster for 20 minutes in her Rococo art class. Talk about passion. She was amazing, and I, too, loved her art history class. I got rid of my much-loved and hi-lited Jansen’s “History of Art” only last year, and it tore at my heart.

  13. marmer01 says:

    Wow, what a lovely eulogy! I didn’t know her although she was Dean of Undergraduates when I first came to Rice. But I know that she was deeply respected by everyone.

  14. Michele Field Vobach, 1985 says:

    She was a wonderful and inspirational professor of mine when I was a Rice in the 1980s. I would be very interested in any details about a memorial service.

    • Hugh Brown says:

      The memorial service will be October 29, 2 to 6 PM, at Rice in the Farnsworth Pavilion
      Hugh Brown, her son

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  16. Norwood H. Keeney III says:

    I, also, can still hear her voice. I can still feel her presence. My education gained immeasurably from the benefit of her inspirational teaching. Katherine Tsanoff Brown was a treasure for Rice and for me, an admirable person in the classroom. While the class text books from several classes remain fixed in my library, Prof. Brown knew how to make the knowledge within come alive and be meaningful.
    Norwood H. Keeney III ’80

  17. Bryan Domning says:

    I say Amen to the many tributes above. Dean Brown’s HART survey class was among the most influential I took when I was at Rice in the early ’70s and it enabled me to appreciate and enjoy art works of all kinds from many eras and cultures, We were lucky to have her for so long.
    Bryan A. Domning – Hanszen ’75

  18. Kent Lydecker says:

    Katherine Brown represented the very finest of what great teaching and artistic insight are. As a History major who took her Renaissance to Rococo course as a Junior, her teaching changed me, inasmuch as I was inspired to do graduate degrees in Art History. Now retired after 42 years as an art museum professional, I can affirm that she had the exceptionally rare ability to convey the aesthetic dimension and significance of art and artistic process.

    Two anecdotes: Browsing in the stacks at Cornell, where I did my MA in the early 70s, I stumbled across and skimmed her Masters Thesis on William Blake; nobody worked on William Blake as an artist in the late 30s, but she did, and did it brilliantly. And during my first trip to Europe in 1970, a visit to the great mosaics at Ravenna confirmed that when she characterized the stars in the vault of the tomb of Galla Placidia as “centers of energy,” she wasn’t speaking hyperbolically.

    Kent Lydecker, ‘71

    • Hugh Brown says:

      Thank you, Kent, for your kind words about my mother. Her IQ held up to the day she died and I have fond memories of many engaging discussions of ideas with her. She was a good example of what a mind can do when a person can manage to get out of his own way.
      Hugh Brown

      • Kent Lydecker says:

        On seeing Antoni Gaudi’s great life project, the church of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona in May of 2019, I instantly thought of her lectures about the quality of light in medieval cathedrals.

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  22. Vessy Jivkova says:

    I’m wondering if she ever mentioned get Bulgarian roots. And if there’s a recognition of the Bulgarian father. Hugh, do you remember your grandfather. Bulgarian born, 30 years in Rochester NY intellectual.

  23. Hugh Brown says:

    Yes, I remember Radoslav very well. What would you like to know? Also, Katherine was born on December 31, 1918, NOT 1919 (but very close to 1919).

    • marmer01 says:

      Hugh, do you know who the architect was who designed your family’s home in Timber Terrace?

      • Hugh Brown says:

        Yes. The architect who designed our family home at 3 Spring Hollow, Houston, was Talbott Wilson of Wilson, Morris, and Crain. The house is currently for sale. Would you like to buy it? If so, please email me at hughbrown@zochnet.com.

  24. marmer01 says:

    Thanks, Hugh. I am on the board of Houston Mod, and I think there is an effort underway to arrange an open house with the realtor.

    • Rachel Dvoretzky says:

      Sadly, per HCAD it appears that the property was purchased by a developer in March 2022 and the house has been razed.

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