Artist Mervin M. Jules, work nationally known

August 07, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Mervin M. Jules, a nationally known graphic artist and teacher who grew up in Baltimore, died of Alzheimer's disease July 29 at his summer home in Provincetown, Mass. He was 82.

Known as "Jules," he produced drawings, lithographs, silk-screen prints, woodcuts and oils, work that is represented in collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Library of Congress in Washington, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York and Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. His paintings have been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad and have won many awards and prizes.

In oils, his themes included children, musical motifs and scenes of Baltimore and Provincetown, where he began painting in the early 1930s.

"Mr. Jules grinds his colors in rectified beeswax, from a tube, or dry applied from a palette knife," said The Sun in a 1959 article. "A blowtorch is then used to fuse the colors after which the paintings are buffed with a soft cloth. This gives a gem-like luminosity to his paintings and permits him to achieve an unusual variety in color and pattern, especially with his expanses of sea, sand and skies."

Mr. Jules lived in Forest Hills, N.Y., during the winters. He was chairman of the art department of the City College of New York from 1970 until his retirement in 1980. From 1945 to 1970, he had been a professor of art at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.

"Teaching compels you to crystallize your own ideas about art, especially when you have to articulate those theories for inquiring young minds," he told The Sun in 1959. "You have to be on your toes."

Born and reared in Forest Park, he was the son of a haberdasher who owned Jules Men's Store on Pennsylvania Avenue. He was stricken with polio when he was 3. Although the disease left him dependent on two canes and braces, it did not dampen his desire to pursue a career as an artist.

He graduated from City College in 1929 and earned his bachelor's degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1933. He then moved to New York where he shared a fifth-floor, cold-water walk-up with several other young artists.

"Everyday he had to crawl up those five flights of stairs," recalled his sister-in-law, Margery Jules of Pikesville. "He learned how to drive a car and went all over -- he let nothing hold him back. He traveled all over the world with his knapsack and canes."

He continued his education with the New York Art Student's League, studying with famed muralist Thomas Hart Benton. Mr. Jules' first exhibition was at the Hudson D. Walker Gallery in New York in 1937.

"During World War II, when he lived in Huntington, Long Island, he raised chickens and vegetables and lay on the ground with his crippled legs in order to weed the garden so his family and friends could have fresh poultry and produce," said Mrs. Jules.

"He loved Cape Cod and was close friends with such artists as Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and Zero Mostel, the actor, with whom he played poker every week for years. He would say of the poker group, 'They don't know what they're doing, and I need to make a few extra bucks,' " she recalled with a laugh.

In 1940, he married the former Rita Albers, who died in 1974.

He is survived by a son, Frederick Jules of Milwaukee; two daughters, Gabriel J. Zepecki of Fairfax, Va., and Hideko Morita of Forest Hills, N.Y.; a brother, Charles Jules of Pikesville; and three grandchildren.

The family suggested memorial donations to the Provincetown Art Association or the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA 02657. Services were held July 29 in Provincetown.

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