The Art Spirit Foundation collection of works by Herman Margulies consists of over 300 original pastel paintings. Herman often painted abandoned barns in the bucolic landscapes of New England. A reminder of early days when he and his family would hide in old barns to survive during the Holocaust. He titled each barn painting "Abandoned" with the sentiment they were abandoned but not forgotten.
Herman Margulies, the eldest of four sons, was born on December 7, 1922, in Boryslaw, Poland, a prosperous city close to the Russian border. As a boy, Herman was precocious. He read the newspaper at age four and practiced drawing. His mother encouraged his talent. By age seven, drawing was his passion, and the dream to become an artist was well established. He learned to speak seven languages.
In 1939, the Germans invaded Poland and the Hitler regime isolated the Jewish population. For a period, he and his family hid in the forest and deserted barns, self-made underground earth cellars. Eventually they were apprehended and sent away. Herman was seventeen. His mother and brothers were sent to Auschwitz, where they perished. Herman and his father were transported in cattle cars to Krakaw-Plaszow to labor, then to Mauthausen and finally Linz III. When the camp was liberated on May 5, 1945, Herman weighed 86 pounds. His father had died shortly before and Herman was placed in a cloister that functioned as a survivors’ hospital. Two patients shared a single bed and for several weeks he awoke to find the person in his bed had passed away, their cold feet next to him. A nurse recognized and remembered him from before the war. She brought him drawing supplies, which gave him the renewed hope of someday realizing his childhood dream. His motivations to live were strong, from his father's love in sharing his own food rations to save his son’s life to the memory of a Hungarian girl, Ilona. Herman fell in love with her in the concentration camp. He overcame the depths of suffering with this promise of love. Herman later learned that Ilona too had survived and after years of separation they were married in Hungary in 1946. They moved to Belgium where he worked in a coal mine to support them.
In time he found better work in a leather factory, cutting patterns for fashionable pocketbooks. Soon he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels. The marriage with Ilona was not to last. In 1947 she went back to Hungary. Herman then applied for a United States Visa. In 1951 he was admitted and immigrated to New York City.
He worked diverse jobs; printer’s assistant and such. He married again. This brief marriage gave him his only son, Alan. Herman was always convinced that love, in all its facets, was the backbone and force of life. He searched for the answer to this ideology and found a great share of it in several forms, at different times, by his own courage. Then a fortunate encounter occurred. He began working for the Sterling Drug Co. and then he met Laura. They married in 1963. Theirs was a marriage of 28 years. She regarded Alan as her own son and gave him a home. It was an inspiration to Herman and allowed his creativity to flourish. He copyrighted 22 patents in a 23-year career with Sterling Drug Company. His inventions included among many others: childproof packaging, the mousetrap, disposable syringes and the baby-wipes dispenser.
Although creativity was pervasive in everything he did, his desire to fulfill his dream was still there. Painting on the weekends was not enough. He left the Sterling Drug Company officially in 1985, to pursue this lifelong dream. "I wanted to become an artist. I wanted to start my dream, painting is my passion." His wife, Laura, supported him wholeheartedly. It was Laura who understood that pastel was his medium and encouraged him. Since 1985, Herman painted full-time and tutored art students from around the world in the medium of pastel. One of these former students was Dianne Bernhard. Herman would say: "She is like a daughter and mother to me." She and her husband Van fit into his notion of life perfectly. They were his students, and his family and later became his major Patrons. Many of his paintings are housed in the Bernhard's Art Spirit Foundation Gallery in Southport, CT. The foundation is a nonprofit organization established to promote the arts, particularly the medium of pastel.
"From the first time of seeing his work I recognized its outstanding quality because of the passion that is so obvious in his paintings," said Dianne. I think that all of us seek to be passionate in what we do in life. Herman was a true master both of the pastel medium and in his ability to express in depth his zeal and zest for life."
A steadfast survivor from another era, holding his ground as the scenery dramatically evolved around him, Herman Margulies was not unlike the subjects he painted. "As old as they are, they're still beautiful," he once said of the barns in his booming, smoky voice that retained traces of a Russian accent, "It’s history, a reminder of what was and what is, like everything else in this life."
Herman Margulies' work garnered more than 200 awards, including the Knickerbocker Gold Medal of Achievement and several exceptional Merit Awards from the Pastel Society of America. Early on, he was named a Master Pastelist by the Pastel Society of America and in 2001 was inducted into its prestigious Hall of Fame. That same year, a full retrospective of his work titled "Four Seasons" exhibited at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. The National Arts Club in Gramercy Park, New York, followed with a solo show of 75 different works. Dr. Louis Zona, director of the Butler, said of Herman, “Once one experiences the work of Margulies the medium of pastels takes on new significance. Clearly, Herman Margulies has become the undisputed master of pastel."
His painting Allegory to the Holocaust is in the permanent collection of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Museum in Jerusalem. He submitted annually to shows in New York City at the Pastel Society of America, the Salmagundi Club, the Allied Artists of America, the American Artist Professional League and the Hudson Valley Arts Association, the National Academy and the National Arts Club.
In 1999, Herman wrestled with the onset of cancer. We were fortunate that he had a remission and was given five more years to live. "When I was sick, I was never alone," he would say.
Despite his courageous efforts, the renowned American Impressionist painter, father and friend, died July 15, 2004. He was a longtime resident of Washington Depot in Litchfield County, Connecticut. He was omnipresent in Washington, seemingly always surrounded and revered by young people. A sharp intellect, progressive political views, and a social, youthful spirit, he acted as a magnet to all walks of life. In many recurring late night sessions at a local pub, Herman sipped his cranberry juice and chain smoked. He was always wearing his trademark ascot and thick Irish handmade wool sweater and he would give freely of his knowledge to those who had come.
Both he and his art were inspirational to his friends and students of all ages. The power and brilliance of his work reflects a lifetime of love, loss and his contagious passion for living. The legacy of his paintings bears witness to his talent and affect those who view them. He was 81 years old.
Herman has transcended time. He will always be with us, both in spirit and through his paintings.