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Fred Marer, 93; Ceramics Collector, Math Professor

June 20, 2002|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fred Marer, a mathematics professor of modest means who built an extraordinary collection of contemporary ceramics and donated it to Scripps College in Claremont, died of pneumonia June 6 at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in West Los Angeles. He was 93.

Marer made his living as a professor of mathematics for 30 years at Los Angeles City College, but he fed his soul with avant-garde ceramics and intense intellectual relationships with the creators of the works he purchased. His legacy is a holding of more than 1,500 pieces that represent the evolution of a lively art form during the last half century.

The collection--presented to Scripps in segments over about 25 years--is particularly strong in works from the 1950s and '60s by major California artists, including Peter Voulkos, John Mason, Ken Price, Jerry Rothman, Paul Soldner, Michael Frimkess and Henry Takemoto. Ceramic pioneers Laura Andreson, Shoji Hamada, Otto and Vivika Heino, Marguerite Wildenhain and Beatrice Wood are also represented, along with many younger artists.

Soldner, who taught ceramics at Scripps for many years and organized the college's annual ceramics exhibition, is credited with persuading Marer to donate his collection to the college. But Marer offered little resistance.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 21, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 7 inches; 264 words Type of Material: Correction
Marer memorial service--An obituary of ceramics collector Fred Marer in Thursday's California section gave an incorrect time for his memorial service. It will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive.

"I thought it should go to a friendly place where it wouldn't get lost," he told The Times in 1993, when he announced a landmark gift of the most valuable core of his collection.

"Fred Marer was an extraordinarily generous man who had the vision to recognize the importance of West Coast ceramics and the new sculptural direction of art in clay," said Mary MacNaughton, director of the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps. "He was eager for young artists to learn from his collection, and we are happy to make that possible. Every year, hundreds of ceramic students from all over Southern California visit the Marer Collection at Scripps."

In addition to his large gift of ceramics, Marer donated 200 Japanese prints to Scripps and 146 artworks--mostly European prints--to Pomona College.

Born in 1908 in New York City, Marer was a high achiever who began his college education on a scholarship at Fordham University. He moved to Los Angeles for graduate study at USC, where he earned a master's degree in mathematics. Hoping to pursue a doctorate, he found employment as a social worker and briefly worked as a substitute teacher in the Los Angeles public schools.

He entered a PhD program at UCLA, but couldn't afford to continue. Instead, he took a job teaching math at Los Angeles City College, where he served as head of the department.

His abiding love affair with ceramic art began in 1954 with a visit to a faculty exhibition at the Los Angeles County Art Institute (now the Otis College of Art and Design). Voulkos, who became the nation's leading ceramic sculptor, had recently arrived at the institute and had just begun to attract a cadre of adventurous students who would transform ceramics from conservative decoration to an avant-garde art form.

Marer spotted a tiny pot by Voulkos and sent him a note asking if he could buy it. Voulkos scrawled his reply on the back of the note: "Sure. Come over any time." When Marer returned, the pot had been stolen, but he bought two other pieces--and kept going back to the ceramics studio. Before long, he had a burgeoning collection and the beginning of lifelong friendships with artists.

Marer often said that his primary contribution to the renowned ceramics revolution at Otis was coffee. "I would buy 3-pound tins, always at sales, which the artists would brew in an empty can, hobo style," he said in a remembrance published by Scripps. But he is remembered as a catalyst for productive discussions and a passionate advocate who played a valuable role in the development of ceramics.

"Fred Marer was the switchboard of the ceramic art world," said historian and dealer Garth Clark, who got his professional start in Los Angeles and maintains an influential ceramics gallery in New York. "He was a very generous man who was the point of introduction in the field. When you came to Los Angeles, you would contact him, and he would put you in touch with all the artists and curators."

Marer hosted regular dinners for artists and quietly provided assistance in the form of temporary housing or employment, Clark said. "He was tremendously friendly and wonderfully warm, but he was also tough and demanding intellectually. He didn't like small talk; if you made a loose remark, he would make you defend it. There was a real rigor to him."

Marer characterized his involvement with ceramics in more casual terms.

"I bought what I liked, practically always from people I liked," he told The Times. Reflecting on his acquisitive passion, he jokingly put it in financial terms. "When I was a kid, I couldn't even buy a nickel piece of candy. When I was teaching at LACC, I had to do something with all that money."

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