Remembering Ethan Maytum: A larger-than-life RI arts patron

For those who knew him, it was not unusual to use Maytum as a synonym for Mayhem. A small collection of friends whose lives were touched by Ethan Maytum gathered last week in Cambridge, MA to remember him, and every story of his exploits shared around the room would have likely been dismissed as an exaggeration unless you had known him personally.

Ethan was a known character around the Providence arts and business communities. A native Rhode Islander who followed an entertainment career to LA for several years, Maytum maintained an RI presence and returned a few years before the pandemic.

He passed away last February, on Valentine’s day, a few days before his birthday and a few days after the passing of his mother.

His larger-than-life personality always made an impression. He didn’t seem to encounter an event he couldn’t convince them to let him into. A former culinary writer, he navigated the high-end local wine tastings and restaurant openings with enthusiasm and discerning taste buds (favorite spots where you might find him extending a meal into a three-hour event included Apsara, Mediterraneo, Cooke House and most of Federal Hill). His over-the-top greeting of anyone and everyone made it hard to get a word in edgewise in a conversation, but it also led to him making many introductions and connections and instigating friendships and relationships that stood the tests of time.

“Ethan felt comfortable in his own skin and in any setting. He had a unique knack for making introductions between people who then went on to become friends,” said Jim Leach, Senior Managing Director of National Trust.

Stories about Ethan, and by Ethan, often stretched credibility. He once told me he was the first person to buy artwork from Shepard Fairey, the RISD grad who went on to be a celebrated artist. He mentioned it to me casually, almost randomly, one time in a conversation. Yet, when Fairey had an exhibition in Providence in 2019, he confirmed every word of it. That was not an unusual experience with Ethan; he would claim to be close friends with various celebrities of all sorts, and share not-for-publication stories about them. Someone would call bull****, and next thing you knew, that person was on Ethan’s speaker phone saying hi.

A few of Ethan’s friends shared thoughts at his memorial, or via email.

Ethan was a canard, a charlatan, a drunk, a survivor. He exploited every opportunity at every turn and took advantage of everyone who cared about him,” said Paul Roselli, President of the Burrillville Land Trust “I knew Ethan since he was a student at Brown University, [where I worked], having met him at the home of Steven Forbes in London … and began our 30 plus year relationship. There are many stories about Ethan. Not sure if any of them are true. But it doesn’t matter if they were true or not. Like the Easter Bunny, Santa, or any fairy tale, we want to believe. The tales spoke to the child in all of us. Rooting for the good guy and in Ethan’s case, praying that these tales would help him win his battle with all his demons. His skill and rule-breaking manner posed challenges for all of us who knew him.”.

“When you spent time with Ethan, something larger than life was always bound to happen. He’d have accidentally left his phone on a train to a different state. Or you’d suddenly find yourself having lunch with a high-level music producer,” said Terry Mullaney, Senior Wealth Advisor at Wilmington Trust.

“When we had some real and honest conversations, it was testimony to how awesome he was. He was complicated, but he cared about people,” said RI-based children’s book author Amanda Grafe.

“It seemed fitting to pay tribute to the impact he had on so many lives – Ethan had a lot of compassion for his friends. If something was troubling you, he would go through it with you,” said Shelby Pierce, President at Creative Resources Network, who organized and hosted the small memorial gathering last week. “He took all the world’s problems to heart.”

“There was an alumni event I was involved with,” said John Casey, a former classmate at Brown. “He ended up helping — first with finding a venue, then food, then alcohol donations … entertainment. Even though he wasn’t officially responsible, he ended up helping with everything and the event would not have happened without him. That’s what he was like — he just barreled in and helped people with his full effervescence.”

Ted Finn, CEO of Uplift Ventures, recalled fondly being part of Ethan’s unofficial chauffeur network. He would come down from Massachusetts for their semi-regular summer pilgrimages to get Iggy’s Doughboys. “Wherever you might go in Rhode Island, Ethan would give you a complete run down on the history of that place, going back generations,” he said.

“I knew Ethan Maytum for 30 years. He was an early supporter of my art who’d regularly purchase prints and tee shirts from me at the RISD student sales in the early 90’s. Ethan was quite the gregarious conversationalist and we’d often discuss at length various art and socio-political topics. That happened regularly for many years, including most recently late 2019 in Providence. Ethan was at all the good parties from RI to NY to LA and in the end I think that’s what got him,” wrote Shepard Fairey from California. “Rest easy my man.”

Providence lost a distinctive provocateur with Ethan’s passing. And wherever he may rest now, his impact on those around him created substantial memories and a profound legacy of mayhem.