Norman Gulamerian, Artist With a Grand Passion, Dies at 92


This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Norman Gulamerian was a successful businessman and an artist, but his life was shaped by his love for an exuberant young widow and her five children.

He met Mary Alexander briefly after a funeral in St. Louis in 1963. An optimistic, can-do Julie Andrews type — she even sang — Mrs. Alexander was raising her children (Christopher, Rebecca, Seth, Eve and Jennifer) on her own after her husband had died of a heart attack.

When Mr. Gulamerian, who lived in New York, met her again two years later, he was taken by the whole package — the lively children tumbling over one another not to mention Mrs. Alexander’s dark beauty, her joyous light brown eyes and the way she threw her head back when she laughed.

He courted her through the mail, sending her hundreds of letters and asking her to marry him. One proposal arrived in the form of a drawing of a male bird on the ground looking up at a tree, where a female bird sat with five baby birds.

He was, after all, an artist.

Born in Brooklyn to Armenian immigrants on Aug. 29, 1927, Mr. Gulamerian had attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan (now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts), where he developed as a painter, though he didn’t graduate: He left to join the Navy and spent his 18th birthday on a ship bound for Japan.

After the war he returned to Brooklyn, earned his high school diploma, attended Brooklyn College and resumed painting.

“He wanted to prime his own canvasses, but he couldn’t find any linen, so he imported a roll from Belgium,” said Jennifer Pagano, one of his daughters. “His brother said to him, ‘If you can’t find it, other painters can’t either.’ So that was the start of their art supply business, in 1949, out of their basement in Brooklyn.”

He and his brother, Harold, called their company the Utrecht Art Supply Corp. because they lived near Utrecht High School. It grew into a well-known chain of art supply stores from New York to California. Mr. Gulamerian also wrote a textbook, “The Language of a Work of Art” (1963).

He had an easier time starting his business than he had persuading Mrs. Alexander to marry him. Although she had fallen for him, she was reluctant to move East and leave behind her large extended family in St. Louis.

But she finally said yes. They married in 1969 and moved to Watchung, N.J., close enough to New York so that he could commute to work but far enough out to have a big house with a bedroom for each child. It was also big enough for an art studio, where Mr. Gulamerian painted massive triptychs, usually of religious subjects, though he did not believe in organized religion.

Mary Gulamerian’s health declined in recent years, and her husband moved with her into an assisted living facility in nearby New Providence, N.J. She died last year.

He caught the coronavirus in early April. The nurses called another of his daughters, Eve Balboni, and allowed her to sit with him briefly.

He couldn’t speak. Ms. Balboni reminded him of their family history. “And when I told him that he had married Mom and us in 1969, he just cried out when he heard the word ‘Mom,’” Ms. Balboni said.

He died on April 13. He was 92.

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