Long time Santa Barbara resident, visionary sculptor Mel Zaid, succumbed to the complications of a non-COVID respiratory virus on March 19, 2020. Having recently overcome several bouts of illness and having only slowed his pace as an artist in the last few years, he actually died unexpectedly at the age of 97.
He was born in Philadelphia to immigrant parents and was one of four brothers. They grew up during the Depression and his parents had hoped he would finish high school and be able to get a modest job in an office. Instead, he served in the Army in World War II. As part of the GI Bill he underwent testing and his natural talent in mathematics propelled him into science and engineering. He received advanced degrees from Stanford University and M.I.T. After university he returned to the east coast, married and raised a family, became the managing director of R&D for several major corporations, and ultimately established his own engineering consulting firm.
In 1970, dissatisfaction with his work and the collapse of his marriage led him to make a complete break with his old life – he wanted to become a sculptor. He moved to New York City where he studied at the New School under Chaim Gross and Bruno Lucchesi.
It was during this period that he met and fell in love with film editor Eugenia “Kena” Hodge. She abandoned her career and for the next 40 years they lived together as active and creative members of artist communities in New York, Boston, and (finally) Santa Barbara. Kena became noted for her exquisitely delicate porcelain ceramics while Mel, with a few exceptions, used Kena’s face and profile as the model for a remarkable body of work. Their creative symbiosis and mutual devotion became a legend among friends and colleagues.
During his remarkable “second act”, he was not satisfied with creating technically skilled but prosaic sculpture, instead he integrated his science and engineering training with his artistic sensibilities to challenge the viewer to consider his sculpture from different perspectives. He created his own visual language to articulate what the intuitive viewer was seeing and he called this language and work Multi-space Art. His artwork included a challenge to the viewer to consider not only the positive and negative space that the work obviously inhabited but also the multiple universes “mind-constructed” (imagined) within the piece. His concepts and terminology were esoteric while the work itself remains stunning and unique. Some of his work and an explanation of his concepts are visible at the website http://www.multispace.net/.
A Jewish gravesite funeral service, at the Santa Barbara Cemetery, was performed in his honor on March 25th 2020, after which he was interred with his wife Kena Hodge-Zaid. He is survived by his three sons: Andrew (wife Holly); Jon (wife Ida) and Adam; and his daughter Cristina Hodge Thronson. He is also survived by six grand-children: Sara, Maya, Melvin, Carolina, Thomas and Katherine Thronson Zimmerman.