RITA ABELMAN BRENNER was born August 31, 1919 in Atlanta, Georgia. The second of three daughters, Rita’s father, Morris Abelman (né Auerbach) was an immigrant from Lithuania, and her mother, Anna Aaron Abelman, an elegant, ambitious import from the Jewish section of New York’s Harlem.

After Morris’ meteoritic rise from peddler to manufacturer (founder of Puritan Mills), Rita lived with her sisters in a stately home in the Druid Hills section of Atlanta. During the winter, the girls vacationed with their parents in Miami Beach; and in summer, the sisters were sent to camps in the Smokies and Poconos.

Rita suffered as a child when a severe case of pneumonia turned into empyema, forcing her into bed for three years. Doctors, convinced she wouldn’t survive, showered her with stuffed animals. Her recovery was considered miraculous and documented in the Johns Hopkins annals of medicine.

At eight years old, Rita met her future husband, Edward (Eddie) Brenner. Five years her senior, he was naughty and precocious. During summers, he worked at his aunt’s Camp Perry Ann where Rita was a camper. Among his many pranks was a small fire he lit beside the shower house. After sounding the alarm, he stood aside to watch the naked girls run into a nearby field.

Once Rita came of age, she traveled throughout the South, attending dances with young, eligible Jewish boys and girls. She was not a serious student. At the University of Maryland, she boasted her class selection was determined by time of day, preferably afternoon.

When Rita and Eddie met again, she was exceptionally beautiful with exceptional flair. He was a prodigy from the mountains of North Carolina, son of Ukranian immigrants, who started college at fourteen and graduated with a Masters in Chemical Engineering before he was twenty.

In 1940, she wrote him that she would soon visit the small mountain town where he lived. He sent back regrets that he was traveling to Florida. Rita changed course. She invited herself on her sister’s honeymoon. Eddie Brenner claimed Rita Abelman was the first person he saw when he reached Miami Beach.

Rita was attracted to Eddie’s genius, and he to her charm. They married January 17, 1941 and honeymooned in New York where Pal Joey was the smash hit on Broadway. After Pearl Harbor, Eddie left his research post at a chemical company outside Asheville and joined the Navy.

Rita spent most of the war years in Washington, DC where her first child, Rebecca Susan (aka Summer), was born. The young family returned to Atlanta after the war and took up residence in Buckhead. A second child, David Randolph, was born in 1949.

For many years, Rita’s life reflected the obligations and expectations of her social class: country club dances, canasta parties, designer clothes, jaunts to New York, and travels to Mexico, Europe, and the Caribbean.

The demands of the household and two children were managed by full-time help. Rita occupied herself with voracious bouts of reading. She volunteered at a local hospital and took an occasional landscape painting class. Mostly, she exercised her creative fury in the decor of her house and design of custom-made clothes.

Eddie resigned himself to banal jobs in the business world to which he was thoroughly unsuited. They both lived with deep frustrations.

The politics of the changing South dominated their lives. Eddie was a polymath, atheist, pro-integration, part-time community college professor, Masters bridge player, tennis devotee, theater lover, and overly fond of alcohol.

Meanwhile, Rita was becoming brainier herself.

They separated in 1960. A year later, they reunited for one more try. In 1964, Edward Brenner died, leaving Rita widowed at the age of forty-five. She never remarried, claiming she would never meet anyone as extraordinary as Eddie.

Her serious study of painting began in 1965 when she and her two children moved to Florence, Italy. She studied at the Accademia d'Arte; and a year later, after returning to Atlanta, took many courses at Georgia State University. During her life as an artist, she participated in group shows and solo exhibits, including two shows at the Lawson Gallery in San Francisco.

She died of myelofibrosis in August 2001. Her ashes were buried in Greenwood cemetery in Atlanta beside her husband and parents. At her request, a few were also scattered in front of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Her barb: “They wouldn’t take me while I was alive; they’ll have to take me when I’m dead.”


1919 – 2001


University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland

Accademia d’Arte, Florence, Italy

Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia


1978 Georgia Tech Art Center, Atlanta, GA

1979 Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC

1980 “Artists in Georgia,” High Museum, Atlanta, GA

1981 Lawson Gallery, San Francisco, CA (solo exhibit)

1982 “Small and Important,” Nexus Galleries, Atlanta, GA

1984 Nexus Galleries, Atlanta, GA (solo exhibit)

1984 International Art Competition, Los Angeles, CA (in conjunction with Olympic Games)

1985 “Friends of Art,” Spartanburg, SC

1986 Lawson Gallery, San Francisco, CA (solo exhibit)

1986 “UT OCH IN (Inside Out),” Malmo, Sweden

1987 The Atlanta Show, Nexus Galleries, Atlanta, GA

1988 “The Art of Atlanta,” S.E.C.C.A., Winston-Salem, NC

1989 Buenos Aires, Argentina (International Art Exhibition Fund)

1989 Coastal Exchange II, Franklin Gallery, Richmond, VA

1989 “Return from Argentina” and “Taken For Granted,” New Visions Gallery of Contemporary Art, Atlanta, GA

1990 Agnes Scott College, Atlanta, GA

1991 Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA

1992 “An Artist’s Response to the Discovery of the New World,” Dalton Gallery, Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA

1992 Nexus Galleries, Atlanta, GA


1986 Gimpel-Weitzenhuffer, New York, NY

1986 Hansen Gallery, New York, NY

1990 Lawson Gallery, San Francisco, CA


Charlotte Times (1979)

Art Papers (1984)

Open City (1985)

Atlanta Magazine (1985)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution (1987, 1988)


Fulton County Arts Council (1988)

City of Atlanta (1989)

Richmond Art Center (1989)

Nominated for A.V.A., funded by NEA, Rockefeller Foundation (1990)