Margerum Gives Artist Stamp of Approval

By Steven Libowitz   |   July 19, 2018
For Hugh Margerum, the writing's on the wall – and in the mail

How often do you get a handwritten postcard or letter in your mailbox these days? For most people in this age of email, text messages, WhatsApp, and Twitter, that would be pretty much never. But if you’re Santa Barbara stalwart Hugh Margerum, the answer is several a day. 

That’s because for the last several years, Margerum has been the recipient of what he called a “torrent” of postcards and letters in various formats and styles, nearly all of them created by his friend, Montecito resident Mark R. Collins, an amateur artist who hand-draws the pieces with simple images and a word or two on a daily basis before dashing them off to Margerum via the U.S. Postal Service.

“I remember receiving the first one, and thinking it was pretty cool,” recalled Margerum, who has been an abstract artist in his own right for four decades, and also helps run Margerum Wines with his brother Doug, with whom he founded and co-owned the Wine Cask restaurant for years. “When I told him I liked it, he started sending me more, every day, some times one and up to six or seven might arrive on any given day.”

Margerum saved every one of the items over the years, and recently realized that the boxes contained material that would make for a fascinating exhibition. Thus was born the cleverly titled “postMARKed”, which opens Friday night, July 20, at the Arts Fund Gallery in the Funk Zone during the neighborhood’s monthly Art Walk.

“It’s not high art, but it’s really amazing stuff,” Margerum said. “Mark’s not a trained artist. He just puts his thought on paper with words, with cursive writing and a drawing. Sometimes it’s juvenile, other times it can be witty and profound. There are one-offs, others are political, or even erotic. It’s just a crazy amalgamation of all kinds of stuff.”

To create the exhibit, Margerum collated the collected cards and letters, adding in a few that Collins sent to a couple of other people, as well as some of his own pieces that he sent in response, plus several items exchanged between Collins and the late Santa Barbara artist Keith Puccinelli.

“At first, I thought I’d organize it chronologically, then possibly by the themes,” said Margerum, who noted he is covering the Arts Fund’s small gallery space from floor to ceiling with the pieces. “But I decided to treat the installation of the show as creating a whole new piece. I’m just putting it together as a composition, with colors or subject matters that make sense to me as an artist.”

But the question still remains: Why go to the bother of making such pieces at all when the phone and all of its picture-making apps are so readily available?

“Doodling facilitates thinking and it’s a rewarding outlet,” explained Collins, who spends his days serving as the president of Glenn Foundation for Medical Research in Montecito and creates the artwork at the kitchen table while his wife, Lily Guild, a graphic designer and watercolorist, cooks dinner. “There’s no planning. I look for a sheet of paper and a pen and paint, and hope something interesting or funny lands on the paper. Writing on paper has diminished with the rise of digital communication. Let’s not allow hand-written mail to become extinct — especially illustrated mail.”

For Margerum, it’s the mailing that makes the whole process really come together.

“It’s a concept show, when you look at it as a whole,” he said. “All these hundreds and hundreds of pieces that are on the wall have all been on a journey. They’ve gone from Mark’s table to the mailbox to a mail truck, then to my house or someone else. And now here they are all together, here in the gallery.”

When the show closes, the little artworks will be on the move again, as each and every piece is on sale for the same price of $20. And if the buyer doesn’t live in town? “We’ll mail ’em,” Margerum said. Hopefully with another postmark.


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