Sophina Coty, 99; Rockport artist was known for her gallery

Mrs. Coty operated her Rockport art gallery for more than 30 years.
Mrs. Coty operated her Rockport art gallery for more than 30 years.

Sophina Coty liked to tell visitors to her Rockport art gallery that she had invented purple.

Vivid colors were a key part of her paintings, which she sold in her gallery. Well into her 90s, she continued to paint, sketch, and draw.

“Some people regard maturity as a disease,” she told the Globe in 1989, when she was in her 70s. “Actually, it opens up many vistas. People who have matured can find ways to express their wisdom, kindness, and humility.”


Mrs. Coty, who for more than 30 years operated the Rockport art gallery she had opened with her husband, died of heart failure Feb. 8 in Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester. She was 99.

Sophina Coty
”Fisherman painting buoy”
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An artist popular for her still lifes, and for renditions of old fishermen and Judaic scribes, Mrs. Coty tried her hand at life portraits decades ago and once accepted a commission from an affluent woman. Her subject insisted that Mrs. Coty remove the lines in her face from the finished work. Mrs. Coty decided to never again paint such portraits.

“People judge everything by numbers these days,” Mrs. Coty said in 1989. “Age is a label. That’s the way the world turns. If we could loosen up and drop the age barrier, people would be much happier.”

Born Sophina Gladys Cohen, she was 5 when she won a contest while her family was living in Watertown. The watercolor set she was awarded provided tools to explore a medium she pursued for much of the rest of her life.

After her family moved to Dorchester, she graduated from Roxbury Memorial High School and studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


She met another artist, Sam Coty, and they married in 1939. They lived in Dorchester before settling in Newtonville in 1944.

Mr. Coty was known for seascapes, which were exhibited in museums and galleries, and for clowns and Northern New England landscapes.

Sophina Coty
“Aged Rabii”

In a studio in their basement, Mrs. Coty taught art to individual students and groups.

“She really got the best out of those kids,” said her daughter, Deena des Rioux of New York City. “She inspired them.”

In the mid-1960s, Mrs. Coty and her husband decided to open a gallery on Bearskin Neck in Rockport.


“They were workaholics,” des Rioux said. “They raised two children, they taught students. You’d get tired just watching them. And my mother always made it seem effortless. The reason she lived so long was because she had a laid-back attitude.”

In the 1989 interview, Mrs. Coty recalled that family life “centered around art. During vacations, we would pack up the children, traveling about the country wherever there were galleries.”

One year, Mrs. Coty worked at a Maine summer camp, her daughter said. To cultivate the artistic interests of campers, Mrs. Coty came up with creative project ideas, such as encouraging them to send home postcards made out of birch bark.

Within the Rockport artist community, the Cotys were known as pillars of support for artists and gallery owners of all ages.

Sophina Coty
“Man and kitten”

“She was always lively,” said Betty Lou Schlemm, a Rockport artist whose gallery was close by. “We were all very serious about our art and we stuck together because we knew how hard it was to be an artist, that it was not light matter.”

When artist John Caggiano was getting started in the early 1980s, Mrs. Coty offered advice.

“I was one of the young kids on the block you might say, so she could have just kept the information to herself, but she shared it with me and gave me helpful hints about how to succeed,” he said.

Mrs. Coty recalled in 1989 that artists and shop owners were “like a big family here on the wharf. We have a good time all summer and fall. But in the winter, they are off to other places. That’s when it’s easy to get lonely at times.”

In the offseason she busied herself with painting and other endeavors, such as making lamp stands and tables. She also made and sold jewelry that included what she called “Sophite gems.”

She expanded her creative pursuits in the late 1970s by commuting to Boston for a printmaking class.

“Printmaking is very difficult and complicated,” Mrs. Coty told the Globe. “The course involved lugging a lot of heavy equipment in town.”

Nevertheless, she added, “I enjoyed being in a class with 18- and 19-year-olds. We would help each other.”

Sophina Coty
“Charm of the day floral”

Watercolors, however, remained a signature medium. For more than a year she worked to create what she described as a “philosophic” depiction of a rabbi.

“He’s in meditation,” said her son, Brett of Rockport. “You can feel his pain. It feels like he’s taking on the burden of centuries of his people.”

That watercolor and reproductions of it were displayed at several colleges and universities, including Boston University, Clark University, Purdue University, and Assumption College, along with the Winthrop Public Library, Mrs. Coty told the Globe.

“Her stronger point was her drawing ability,” Caggiano said. “She was very good with that.”

After Mrs. Coty’s husband died in 1985, she continued to run the gallery for about a decade.

“My mother was always figuring out the best way to market her work and my father’s work,” her son said.

Other than her son and daughter, Mrs. Coty leaves no immediate survivors.

A service has been held, and burial was in Sons of Jacob Cemetery in Danvers.

Still life depictions of flowers were among Mrs. Coty’s most popular work, and she once showed a reporter a comment left by a customer: “Your flowers keep springtime in my house year-round.”

“I have drawn pictures and painted all my life,” Mrs. Coty said in the 1989 interview. “Nothing could ever stop me.”

Emma Stickgold
can be reached at