May 2024

Rudy Bram

Michael Bettencourt | Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt

Last Friday, on April 12, our neighbor Rudy Bram passed away in his sleep – 96 years old, an artist of the found object that festooned his house with many, many found objects. A New York Times article in 1996 (posted on April 21, almost 28 years to the day of Rudy’s passing) called his abode, which he then co-habited with his wife, Grace Samburg, a “jungle of the imagination.”

In that same piece, Rudy explained why he turned the façade of his house into a gallimaufry of the found, the retrieved, the salvaged: “This is a very old tradition in contemporary American art, the found object, and I use it in assemblage. If somebody originally sees it as junk, that may be its origin, but I hope it's transformed and evolved into something more sublime.”

If there is a memorial service for him, and if there is call for people to share their Rudy stories, this is what I will say.


I met Rudy about ten years ago, occasionally running into him as I finished my sprint to home on my morning run. He was short, gruff — “grizzled” might the word to use — and we always talked about this, that, and the other thing. Nothing deep, but more in the vein of neighborly. Over time, I learned about his life in the Army, his attendance at the Art Students League in the late 1940s, thanks to the G.I. Bill, his second career in the postal service for three decades. We talked a lot about Jews — I was working for a Jewish fundraising organization at the time, and after prefacing his talk with an attestation to his own Jewishness, we’d talk about things Jewish. He never considered himself particularly observant – being Jewish for him was more about an attitude toward life than the following of the 613 commandments, an attitude that always tried to dodge the suffering God visited upon his creation through art, laughter, and a fair dose of resignation. “Man proposes, God laughs” was a favorite of his, a good distillation of how he saw life.

After Grace died, I convinced him to go on one of the sponsored tours to Israel that my organization ran, which he did. He had a great time telling everyone else on the tour what they should know (he was of that strain, the know-everything with a strong set of lungs), and from what my colleague who ran the tours said, he managed to drive everyone a little bit crazy, but not so much that they abandoned him by the side of the road. He would consider that a success.

After Grace died – such a gentle soul she was. As she became more frail and helpless and disoriented, The Marvelous María Beatriz and I often went over to their house to help him out. One time, as Rudy was helping her go to the bathroom, she managed to get herself wedged between the toilet and the wall next to the toilet, and there was nothing Rudy could do to free her. María Beatriz and I gently scooped her up and sat her back on the throne, and though she was half-naked and barely focused, the embrace of two humans brought this big wreath of a smile to her face. We helped Rudy clean her up and dress her for bed, and Grace so loved being tucked in. Rudy was able to lower his anxiety enough to treat her gently, with the weight of the caretaking shared with us for the moment.

This brings us to Rudy’s purchase of a red, red, red Audi A5, a car I surely thought would gobble him alive, seeing as how, because he was so short, he could barely see over the steering wheel – and the car had a manual that was a daunting 300 pages thick. But he did manage to get it on the road and home again without mishap many times, and though he eventually traded it in for a more sensible car, the loss of Grace must have triggered the latent rebel in him, the talkative Jew, the outside artist – time’s wing’d chariot came in the shape of an Audi, and how he must have loved being enveloped by its technology and power.

I have not seen Rudy in quite a while. As he got older, he retreated more to his apartment, helped by an amazingly caring tenant who had become, whether by chance or contract, his caretaker, making sure he got to his doctors’ appointments and managing to keep him upright and moving forward.

A lasting image I have of him is from the back, as he’s walking down the street. The condition of his spine made him list to port, but he would still manage to make his way forward toward the sublime that worked for him, letting the jungled façade of his house speak for him when he wasn’t there, an artist who tried to make good on his idea about art, and succeeded.


So, there it is. We check in with his caretaker to make sure she is all right – she is managing his loss as best can be expected while also wondering if she can keep her apartment (the house and all its belongings have gone to Rudy’s close companion of many years) and being gifted/burdened with having to make new arrangements and shift her life into a different gear.

I’ll be 72 next year. Makes one think.


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Michael Bettencourt is an essayist and a playwright.
He writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his “prime mate"
and wife, María-Beatriz.
For more of his columns, articles, and media,
check the Archives.

©2024 Michael Bettencourt
©2024 Publication Scene4 Magazine




and creates


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