Robert Margulis, 57, professional musician and graphic artist

August 22, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Robert Wolfe Margulis, who took up a career in graphic art after years as a self-taught professional musician, died of pancreatic cancer Saturday at Sinai Hospital, three months after being diagnosed with the disease. The Northwest Baltimore resident was 57.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., he moved to Baltimore as a toddler with his family and was raised in the Pimlico area. He was a 1963 graduate of City College and attended what is now Towson University.

Growing up, he taught himself to play several musical instruments, including the clarinet, banjo, harmonica, mandolin, violin, drums and guitar.

Russell Margulis, his younger brother, remembers witnessing for the first time Mr. Margulis' resolve to master music when their father brought home a $6 guitar from a pawnshop. Once he conquered two chords, Mr. Margulis was hooked, moving quickly on to learn the more complicated classical guitar.

"When he decided to play classical guitar," his brother said, "he worked hours and hours and hours getting the chords right and making sure everything was perfect."

Mr. Margulis became an adept classical guitarist and performed in many recitals. His knowledge of symphonic music was extensive, family members said, and he could give a complete background and biography on most of the great classical composers.

He was so in tune with all things musical that he followed along with orchestral scores when listening to classical compositions, providing insights and interpretations.

In their younger days, the brothers toured lounges and clubs across the country as The Margo Brothers, playing pop and jazz "from Sinatra to Stevie Wonder," said Russell Margulis, also a Baltimore resident. "He loved all kinds of music."

Audiences enjoyed Mr. Margulis' skill on the drums and guitar, and his lively, humorous stage presence. During short comedy acts reminiscent of the popular folk-singing Smothers Brothers, Mr. Margulis could take on silly characters, including "Uncle Neddy Nordic," a Norwegian storyteller whose dramatic gestures overshadowed the fact that he spoke in gibberish.

"People would be in stitches," Russell Margulis said. "He was a very funny guy."

After about 10 years, Mr. Margulis left professional music in the 1970s, and became a graphic artist. He and a partner started H&M Displays, which designed heavy-duty backdrops for performances at venues ranging from Toby's Dinner Theatre to the Renaissance Festival.

While working in graphics, Mr. Margulis never strayed from his love of music, often performing at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, where he was a member.

Even his favorite memories centered around music.

Family members said Mr. Margulis frequently recalled the time he was recruited as a guard for a Beatles performance at the Civic Center in the early 1960s. The job gave him the chance to meet the famous group, and even talk privately with them between performances.

Another of Mr. Margulis' great loves was art.

His original artwork, vibrant scenes of people in all walks of life, has been shown in several area venues, including coffeehouses and churches. At the request of several clients, he specialized in reproductions of famed artists such as Picasso, Gauguin, and his personal favorite, Van Gogh.

Mr. Margulis also had a passion for the environment. He led many hikes for the Sierra Club and was an expert on the history surrounding Gettysburg, Pa., often taking people on tours of the Civil War battlefield and bringing to life what would otherwise be an ordinary history lesson, friends and family members said.

"He just knew Baltimore inside and out," said Diane Burtschi of Baltimore, a longtime friend and companion. "He could have been a tour guide."

Mr. Margulis enjoyed sailing, once building his own sailboat - High Anxiety - that he often sailed on the Chesapeake Bay. He liked to share his wide range of knowledge, from free sailing lessons for novices to teaching elementary schoolchildren the fundamentals of chess.

During fund-raisers, Mr. Margulis' church would auction off his sailing lessons, Russell Margulis said.

A graveside service was held Monday at Ohel Yakov cemetery in Bowleys Quarters. A memorial service will be held at 7:30 tonight at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, 1710 Dulaney Valley Road.

Mr. Margulis also is survived by his mother, Doris C. Margulis of Baltimore; a sister, Shelly Reyes of Westfield, Mass.; a niece; and a nephew.

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