The Art of Love

At home with Elisse Pogofsky-Harris and Robert Brown

By Leslie A. Westbrook

Photo by Cindy Pitou Burton

The moment I walked onto the grounds of Elisse Pogofsky-Harris
and Robert Brown’s Ojai property, during the 2013 Ojai Studio Artists Tour, I got that tingly feeling in my body that said, “Oh, this is going to be wonderful.”

And indeed it was—and still is.

I strolled through the gate and past a lovely pool and wooden house reminiscent of an East Coast cottage before entering Elisse’s high-ceilinged art studio. Built of wood, stained the same grayish blue color as the house, with a row of high windows providing the northern light coveted by artists, the room reeked of creativity. I admired the many works and the variety of images for sale. We chatted briefly before I mustered the courage to ask if I could also peek inside her house, guessing it would be equally charming. The artist kindly obliged and we walked into her home, which met, and surpassed, my expectations.

Out popped her tall, striking husband, Robert Brown, who welcomed me with a baritone voice, adding that he wanted to show me some of his artistic efforts as well. The thespian regaled me with a bit of his theatrical background, while sharing a portfolio of stunning black-and-white photographs he’d taken in Europe.

This being the month of Cupid, it makes perfect sense to share Elisse and Robert’s love story, which first blossomed some 34 years ago. But first, the Cliff Notes on the couple’s long and interesting bios.

Elisse Pogofsky-Harris is a Chicago native known for her highly personalized narrative paintings infused with symbolism, as well as abstract sky and seascapes. She creates evocative etchings, mysterious imagery, and charming drawings. Humans, drapes and kimonos, wolves, sky, and sea have all been represented under her deft hand and keen eye. Her art is in many private and museum collections, and she is currently at work on “not so still” still lives.

Her husband, Robert Brown, began as a stage actor in New York in the late 1940s. As a television actor, he appeared in classic programs like “Perry Mason,” “Bewitched,” and “Bonanza.” Fans of “Star Trek” know him as Lazurus, but more interestingly, he pounded the boards on Broadway, appearing with Helen Hayes in Somerset Maugham’s “The Circle,” Dame Judith Anderson in “Come of Age,” and Zero Mostel in “Ulysses in Nightown.” There were other notable productions, including quite a bit of Shakespeare, before Robert was lured to Hollywood. In 1978, he gave up acting—and “having to put on makeup and fancy clothes”—and moved to Ojai to begin anew, although he commuted to L.A. to do voice-over and narration work.

Their property, which they bought 15 years ago after living in the east end of Ojai for many years, is a blended cornucopia of treasures and antiques collected throughout their lifetimes and marriage. Eighteenth and 19th-century Spanish and Italian paintings and furnishings are artistically integrated with Chinese, African, and Native American artifacts. A very small handful of Elisse’s paintings are on display. But stunning bronze sculptures of her as model/muse, created by her first husband, adorn outdoor walls and the entrance gate.

As one might imagine, it is not unusual for each of them to finish one another’s sentences or make loving comments. Case in point, regarding the property that took them six months to put into habitable condition:

“We were looking for a place to build a studio, as well as a property we felt comfortable living in,” said Elisse. “We came here and sat for one whole day, and it felt really wonderful. After we moved into the house, we started on the studio, which is almost perfect. Nothing is perfect.”

“You’re perfect!” Robert chimed in.

As Elisse puts it, “We both had experiences of many different things in life, and we knew what love was really about by the time we met. Robert was totally supportive of my work; there was mutual support and love. We were soul mates, weren’t we?”

“Absolutely,” Robert answers firmly, while also referring to their relationship as a renaissance and adding, “We still are. Living together as two creative people was very easy to do. We respected each other’s creative ability and reassured each other on a daily basis. We brought so much joy and support to each other’s lives.”

I recently saw a black-and-white image of a couple who had been married for 65 years. It reminded me of Elisse and Robert. The pair was wrapped sweetly in one another’s arms, and the caption read, When asked how they managed to stay together for so many years, they replied, “We were born in a time where if something was broke, you fixed it, not threw it away.”

Robert harkened back to those times during our conversation. “My Scottish mother and English father were both born before the motorcar and the telephone. They would often talk about life as they knew it no longer existing,” he recalled. “Now, the life I knew no longer exists. But Ojai seems pretty much the way it was before the Second World War, which I was in. This life here is yesterday: peaceful, beautiful, and idyllic. We look at the birds and smell the flowers.”

Which is exactly what Elisse and Robert and I did on the Sunday morning of my visit. We spotted squirrels and two woodpeckers with bright red heads in the garden. Elisse showed me her favorite oak tree, a majestic old specimen, and I picked an orange that somehow called to me from of one of their many fruit trees.

If it ain’t broke, as the saying goes, don’t fix it. Here’s a toast to the good life, the long life, the creative life—and a life of love, in idyllic Ojai, all under the guise of Cupid’s potent arrow.

The art of Elisse Pogofsky-Harris:

In the living room, antique curios and mid-19th-century portraits reflect the couple’s interest in history.

November 13th. The first painting Elisse did after her mother passed away appears to show a wolf acting as spiritual guide, leading her into infinite darkness. Only after she’d finished did Elisse realize the work was a self-portrait.

Elisse “happily spends all of her time” in the studio she designed and had built in 1999.

Only a few of the artist’s paintings hang in her home. Here, a dining table points the way to one of them.

A pool and cool grayish blue color scheme work to ward off Ojai’s infamous summer heat.

Elisse Pogofsky-Harris and Robert Brown at home in Ojai.


Back to top