Quantum Being 04.20.2024 by Tery

Heartfelt Tribute to Ellen Sragow

Writing this tribute is a labor of love that doesn’t come easily to me, this is my heartfelt tribute to Ellen Sragow.

My dear friend, Ellen’s beloved partner Alphonse van Woerkom, reached out with a call at 2:57 pm on a sunny Saturday afternoon, April 20, 2024. Despite being right in the middle of a meeting, I felt my hands tremble – somewhere deep inside, I knew what news awaited me.

20150228_Tery Ellen Noho Star brunch

2015, Tery and Ellen Noho Star

I was up and around 5:30 am, there was an unusual stillness in the air, an inexplicable calm that, in hindsight, felt like a tender goodbye to Ellen, who peacefully passed at 6:20 am. As I gave Alphonse my ear, his voice heavy with sorrow, my heart understood before the words were spoken. The reality hit me, leaving me feeling hollow. Ellen, my friend for a remarkable thirty-eight years, had been more than a constant companion; she was my mentor, my guiding light, and we shared countless memories that helped shape the person I’ve grown to be.

When illness shadowed Ellen seven years ago, our conversations grew more frequent to fill the space between our visits. Even as COVID restrictions kept us apart physically, my heart always found a way to be there for her. My precious last visits on April 2 and April 5 of this year are etched in my memory. Although Ellen’s health ebbed and flowed, in her moments of clarity, we shared laughter reflecting on old times, and she lavished praise on my latest creative endeavors. I brought her vibrant bouquets—little eruptions of color and tranquility to brighten her surroundings.

Veronica, her caregiver, was an angel in disguise, her voice harmonizing with Ellen’s in songs that filled the room with warmth and comfort. During the last day of my visit, Ellen confided in me—it was her time, as she felt the life she led had become a mere shadow of living. Hearing her speak those words, acknowledging her pain, it shattered my heart, but also knowing she will have peace.

Meeting Ellen Sragow

1986 was akin to stepping into a curious, dystopian world, I went from Wolcott, Connecticut, a small  idyllic farm town, with a population of a couple of thousand, to New York City for graduate school. It was fate that brought  Ellen Sragow into my life. As a budding artist, woolgathering about a gallery job to complement my MFA studies at Pratt, it was destiny disguised as chance that led my finger to pause over Jack Shainman’s listing in the Gallery Guide. Though not seeking help himself, Jack redirected my call to Ellen, who would soon become so much more than an employer. Her gallery, nestled in the creative hub of the East Village, was my introduction to a world of high ceilings, crisp white walls, and spellbinding art. Ellen was straight forward and direct a force of her own—one whose profound knowledge and infectious enthusiasm for art I would quickly grow to adore.


Ellen was not just a keen-eyed gallerist with an indomitable spirit and masterful business acumen; she possessed an innate compassion for every artist in her fold. She founded her first gallery in 1975.

We worked together on numerous exhibitions, shining a spotlight on both venerable WPA art and the sparking talent of emerging artists. WPA artists Minna Citron and Harry Gottlieb and emerging artists of time including Yolanda Shashaty, Alphonse van Woerkom, Michael Robbins, and Debra Kelley.


She welcomed me into her wide circle of art world influencers, crafting memories I’ll carry with me always. Among the many adventures we shared! Ellen introduced me to so many people in the art industry. Through her I met Greg Masters (who became a good friend), Roberta Smith, Larry Rivers, Marcia Tucker, Ruby Burkhardt, Michael Rockefeller, Steven Lewis, William Burroughs, Alex Katz and Vincent Katz…the list is long with many fond memories and well known creators. It was my turn to introduce Ellen, we took a memorable trip to Norwalk, CT, meeting with the renowned Walter and Roger Reed at Illustration House.

Our professional relationship had its moments of discord—reflective of our differing life philosophies—but through it all, Ellen’s shrewdness never failed to impress. From her, I learned the intrinsic value of self-reliance and the grace of forgiveness.


Reflecting back on our history, we had some good times at the gallery. As I remember with great enthusiasm, Ellen giving the fierce Minna Citron a 90th birthday party at the gallery. It was an incredible celebration. During our time together at her gallery, I long for the days when we would have soup at Christine’s on 1st Avenue. Ellen would have the chicken noodle with a slice of buttered whole wheat bread and a coffee and we would chat about art and many changes that created the new art industry.

Pizza with Ellen, 2016

After two years, our paths diverged, yet our bond only strengthened, transitioning effortlessly from colleagues to cherished friends. It was Ellen’s encouragement that propelled me into digital arts, and in turn, I ushered her from the familiarity of her typewriter to the digital age.

My fond memories of our art adventures, we adored exhibitions like Alice Neel’s captivating prints held a special place in Ellen’s heart and collection. Others, like Damien Hirst’s exhibit at Gagosian that left us both a bit queasy, prompted visceral reactions — perhaps exactly as the artist intended.

The Other Side of the Box book party, 2011. Photo by 2011 Melissa C. Beckman


Ellen was a beacon of support, cheering me on at the launch of my first picture book in 2011. I can still picture her at the event, her pride in my creativity palpable as she became the first to own a copy of “The Other Side of the Box.”

Our culinary adventures spanned the city, from the cozy confines of Funky Broome to wholesome meals at Spring Street Natural, and in later years, quieter meetups at Noho Star, or visits at her home or the hospital.

Ellen and I worked together again briefly in 2002, she was in between associates and needed help, I was also in between my next entrepreneurial venture. She moved the gallery from East Village to Soho to Fashion District. It was a little smaller than the Soho gallery and also beautifully designed. She was representing Black and African American artists including works from Dox Thrash, Elizabeth Catlett, Reginald Gammon, Sam Gilliam and Jacob Lawrence amongst many others. I cherish the time we had at the annual Print Fair.

Celebrating Ellen

Ellen adored her pets, including Birdie the parrot and Nick the dachshund. These creatures added yet more joy to to the life she and Alphonse shared. He chronicled their life together through breathtaking paintings, sketches and photography, which gives just a glimpse into their shared world and capturing Ellen’s grace and elegance. Alphonse was by Ellen’s side every day, even through the most painful and delicate moments.

Dinner with Alphonse and Ellen, 2013

In a beautiful reinvention, Ellen discovered gospel singing, embarking on a soulful journey that I wish I could have experienced alongside her. Another artistic outing led us to the celebrated Harlem Museum, followed by a taste of the neighborhood’s renowned Sylvia’s Restaurant.

Flowers for Ellen, photo by Alphonse, 2024

On my last visit with Ellen, on May 5, I brought her flowers, nurturing hope they’d deliver a burst of beauty and peace.

Her journey, now a profound part of my history, is marked with the love of an eternal friendship. Ellen, you’ve left an indelible impression on the canvas of my life, and my world is richer for having shared it with you.

More about Ellen Sragow

Ellen Sragow is an influential figure in the art world. She established The Sragow Gallery in 1975, which boasts one of the finest collections of Mid 20th Century Art in the United States. The gallery specializes in works on paper by American artists from the 1930s to the 1950s, including WPA (Works Progress Administration) pieces, Abstract Expressionist prints, and works by African American artists. Additionally, they represent contemporary works and the workshop of master printer Irwin Hollander, who collaborated with renowned artists like Salvador Dalí, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning, Louise Nevelson, and Sam Francis.

Throughout the decades, Sragow Gallery proudly represents the estates of major 20th-century artists such as John Cage, Alice Neel, and Elizabeth Catlett. Their collection includes a wide range of art, from starkly honest portraits by Alice Neel to abstract expressionist masterpieces.

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