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The S.B. Questionnaire: Hugh Margerum

Talking Art and Time with the Renaissance Man Behind the Presidio Neighborhood

Hugh Margerum in his Santa Barbara studio
Paul Wellman

“It was ready to happen,” says Hugh Margerum about spearheading the creation and branding of the Presidio Neighborhood. “There are a lot of interesting businesses there.”

He sees the resurgence of the area, which includes the Lobero Theatre, the El Paseo complex, and the adjacent shops, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms as a response to the Funk Zone. “We have way more history and way more variety,” Hugh explains.

A very dashing man with a full head of white hair, Hugh has an “aw shucks” quality that he describes as “detached amusement.” He is a renaissance man, working on several careers and projects at once. In 1981, he and his brother, Doug, founded the Wine Cask, and currently he’s an ambassador for Doug’s Margerum Wine Company, running the wine club and helping with marketing and promotion.

Hugh is also an accomplished artist who has exhibited his work for many years. “My work is an abstract interpretation of things that happen in nature and everyday life,” he says. “I find I’m often dealing with reconciling opposites and dealing with contradictions, in life, philosophy, and art.” Most Wednesdays, he gets together with other artists at Studio One Eleven to “make art.” He’s curating a show at the Arts Fund in May entitled “Disorderly Construct,” in which 10 artists will presenting work from a place unfamiliar to them.

And then there’s an even more fascinating side to Hugh: He engages in artistic “guerrilla” activity for the good of the community. He can’t share specifics without risking the benefits that this clandestine work brings to Santa Barbara, but he does smile and say, “I’d rather have more time than money. It takes empty time to be creative.”

Speaking of good deeds, Hugh started a holiday toy drive in the Presidio Neighborhood called “Toyz ‘n’ the Hood.” It runs until December 22.

Despite all of these public activities, he still describes himself as an “outgoing introvert.”

Hugh Margerum answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Detached amusement. And I’m left-handed.

Who do you most admire?

One person who comes to mind is the painter Philip Guston. He was a respected abstract painter of the New York School in the 1950s, but the real mark he made in the art world (and art history) was the result of a courageous shift he made in his work late in life. The influential late works are beautiful and uneasy paintings that address the transience of life and speak to the nature of being an artist.

What do you like most about your job?

I have two jobs. As an artist, I value my creative freedom and time alone exploring abstract concepts. In my role with Margerum Wine Company, I love the great people I work with and the visitors I get to be around, the fun culture, plus being able to enjoy and share world class wines.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Thomas Jefferson. I know he had his flaws, but he had a vision, intellect, and a renaissance mentality that got this country off to a good start. Those Founding Fathers were really an incredible, compassionate, radical, and visionary bunch. We could really use some people like that nowadays.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

It’s a mindset that I have felt on different occasions and in different circumstances numerous times over the years. Feelings of perfect happiness have happened while hiking in high mountains, engrossed in painting, driving around town with my top down, in moments of intimacy, on a Mexican beach. The common thread: I suppose it’s being in the NOW, available to us at any time.

What is your greatest fear?

Public humiliation.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Claudia, our wonderful housecleaner who has been coming every two weeks for the last 20-plus years.

What is your current state of mind?

Detached amusement again. Though, since the election, elements of disgust and doubt have crept in.

What is the quality you most like in people?

A sense of humor.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

Intolerance.

What do you most value in friends?

Honesty, humor, empathy, loyalty, and trust.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“That reminds me of a Seinfeld episode. Have you seen the one where….?”

Which talent would you most like to have?

To be an incredible drummer.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

To be less uptight.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I have an incredible son, Lyle, who is living in San Francisco. I can’t take full credit for the great guy he has turned out to be, but I know I had a little something to do with it. A few things: I read to him every night at bedtime, took him backpacking in the Sierras, and installed a rope swing in his bedroom when he was five years old.

Where would you most like to live?

It may sound trite, but Santa Barbara. I love the balance of culture, good food and wine, the beautiful beaches, mountains, and islands, the climate, creative people, and the proximity to one of the world’s great cities. I just wish this town would get it together and put in a public ping pong table or two!

What is your most treasured possession?

I’m still paying it off, but it’s the cozy home I share with Carol, my lovely wife of 29 years.

Who makes you laugh the most?

My brother, Doug and sister, Amy. When we get together, hilarity ensues.

What is your motto?

“Laugh Everyday.”

On what occasion do you lie?

Once in a blue moon.

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