BUTLER INSTITUTE OF AMERICAN ART Holocaust survivor extends life with his pastels
The artist finds the beauty in old, falling-down barns and shares it through his pastels.
By LAURIE M. FISHER
Artist Herman Margulies celebrates the beauty in what many dismiss as ordinary. The 79-year-old prolific pastelist creates vibrant landscapes that capture the essence of the four seasons.
But his 1,500 works of art are more than just pretty pictures, he explained in a recent interview. "My paintings and inventions are a legacy to human life, to extend human life and make it beautiful," he said.
A retrospective of 75 of his pastels is being exhibited at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown through Oct. 21.
The renderings of countryside barns have personal artistic significance. "Barns are a symbol that I created for myself. I find plenty of beauty even among the wear and tear of old barns. When I saw neglect [of the structures] I realized that they were survivors like me," noted the Holocaust survivor.
Subject material: Margulies frequently travels the countryside of Connecticut and Europe in search of subject matter. He often photographs a landscape to create a slide to use for artistic inspiration.
The barns are typically falling down and surrounded by junk and old equipment, he recalled.
"But still I make paintings look beautiful. Even if the structures are old, you can still see life going on around. They are haunting," Margulies said. He plans to publish a book of his paintings that will include the history of each barn.
The solace and comfort found in barns date back to Margulies' youth. He was the first of four sons born to a Jewish family from Boryslaw, Poland, close the Russian border. At age 4, he could read, write and sing in four languages.
Later, he lived through Nazi oppression in the Polish Jewish ghettos and managed to survive the horrors of concentration camps. Often, he would hide in the hay of a barn to avoid capture. When the war ended, he discovered he was the only survivor of his family.
Success story: Margulies immigrated to America in 1951 with only $20 in his pocket. He worked for 23 years at Sterling Drug and received 22 international patents for inventions including the disposable syringe, HandiWipes and a cigarette box.
Proud of his accomplishments, he had not pursued his dream as an artist, he said. At age 62, he retired from full- time work to create in his studio in Washington, Conn.
"I paint every day. It's like going to prayer," he said.
Even in the artist's studio, he did not abandon his knack for invention. Margulies created a way to project the slide image of the landscape in a white wall tunnel. "It duplicates the feeling of air, like you are looking out a window to a scene," he explained.
While he used paint outside; now he prefers the comforts of his own studio. The artist creates to the tempo of classical music, he added.
Margulies said he has a library of more than 5,000 slides. "I will need two lifetimes to produce all I would like," he said with a laugh.
Dianne Bernhard, an artist, arts advocate and patron, was drawn to the passion of Margulies' work. "I knew that whoever painted these paintings loved what he was doing," she said.
"It was if the paintings were dancing, shouting and singing. Looking into one of his paintings gave you all kinds of emotions, sadness and joy. Color is used in a way I've never seen in pastels," she added.
"That's the way you know great art, how it makes you feel. I could see Herman's whole emotional processes going on in each canvas. It gave me a great respect for painting and painter," she explained, adding that she owns some 400 of his works including the pieces exhibited at the Butler.
How Margulies paints: Lou Zona, executive director of the Butler, was impressed with Margulies' pastels when he reviewed the museum's 2001 midyear entries for the annual show.
"You get caught off guard. Someone commented 'I didn't know pastels can do that,'" he said explaining he believed certain effects can only be achieved with oil paint.
"However, Margulies uses fine lines and achieves the vibrancy of oil paint in an impressionist's immediate medium. I think of pastels as having an unfinished feel. Except when you look at Herman Margulies' pastels, they are very finished."
Zona said Margulies' talents represent how creative people tend to be brilliant in many ways.
"Here is a man who is a genius in what he has invented for the medical community. If he had only done that, he would be remembered. He translates that talent into these works of art that are compelling.
"His paintings are a celebration of the beauty of life. Maybe since he lived with horrors of death, he began to experience and become more sensitive to things about life and the joy of looking at nature," Zona added.
"Art was and is my asset for survival and will last as long as I have my vision. Painting has extended my life. Your artistic talent will rescue you in the most difficult situations. Each day I spend in the studio is both ecstasy and agony for me, but the rewards from it are the completed painting.
"One more legacy that I will leave is my name on the bottom left of each work. My name will always be there, even though it was almost erased by the Holocaust," Margulies said.
XMargulies will conduct a public artist demonstration at the Butler, 524 Wick Ave., from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday. Call the museum at (330) 743-1711, Extension 117 for reservations.