After Harold and Josephine visited Armenia, my wife Marie and I could see how it affected their outlook. They witnessed firsthand the struggle of so many, and the experience crystallized something they were already considering—to help Armenia’s children, especially those who were poor or in need. It was emotional and meaningful, and led to establishing a foundation that is still having a positive impact two decades later.
Harold and Josephine Gulamerian visited Armenia only one time, but that single trip continues to pave a brighter future for thousands of children in the homeland.
Harold’s parents hailed from Van (eastern Turkey), and he was born in 1924 in New York City. His only other relative was his brother, Norman, an artist; they decided to open Utrecht Linens, which supplied artists with the highest quality art materials for the best value, in Brooklyn’s Bush Terminal in 1949. Norman also saw an opportunity to import fine quality linen from Europe—an item not available in the US— and Utrecht grew quickly through both ventures. Then, in 1957, Norman and Harold developed a revolutionary acrylic gesso, a product used to prime canvases and prevent paint soaking through, which changed the game entirely for many artists. It is still considered the best acrylic ground available today.
The previous year, Harold married Josephine, who was of Belgian descent. Her parents had moved to New York City, but returned to Belgium in 1923 when she was nine; fate brought her back to Manhattan in 1952 to meet Harold.
She joined the brothers at Utrecht, whose supplies were heralded widely by artists for their superior performance. In the 1960s, they expanded their product lines, and the company continued to grow exponentially. Their first retail store was in Manhattan, and by the time the business was sold in the mid-1990s, they also owned stores in Berkeley, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington D.C. In 2013, Utrecht merged with Blick Art Materials. Josephine passed away in 2004, and Harold a decade later.
Throughout life, Harold and Josephine were devout Christians, patrons of the Armenian Church, and often liked to say their Armenian friends became their family. Josephine was especially active in the Prelacy Ladies Guild, and the couple had a longstanding friendship with His Holiness Karekin I of Blessed Memory, who, at the time, was first Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia and then Catholicos of All Armenians. In 1996, they established the Harold & Josephine Gulamerian Foundation to benefit children in Armenia. The following year, His Holiness presented them with the St. Gregory the Illuminator Medal, the highest recognition from the Armenian Church.
Then came their singular trip to Armenia in 1998 at Karekin I’s invitation. Josephine was touched profoundly, and decided upon their return that the foundation would focus on helping Armenia’s youngest citizens through programs for those in need, as well as projects that would develop skills for future success. Since 2000, the Gulamerian Foundation has donated more than four million dollars to various endeavors administered by the Holy See of Etchmiadzin and the Fund for Armenian Relief. The couple would be proud to know that the hard work demonstrated by the Gulamerian Youth Center students in Ashtarak is evident in the numerous prizes won at local and national levels, and through acceptance at prestigious institutions, including the Komitas State Conservatory in Yerevan.
Michael Haratunian, a close friend who knew the Gulamerians for many years, shared a mutual friendship with His Holiness. As board president of the Harold and Josephine Gulamerian Foundation, he said, “After Harold and Josephine visited Armenia, my wife Marie and I could see how it affected their outlook. They witnessed firsthand the struggle of so many, and the experience crystallized something they were already considering—to help Armenia’s children, especially those who were poor or in need. It was emotional and meaningful, and led to establishing a foundation that is still having a positive impact two decades later.”
Their benevolent spirit toward the next generation is also resonating at AGBU. The Gulamerian Foundation made a $250,000 pledge to the AGBU Children’s Centers Afterschool Reimagined Campaign, and the organization is naming an art studio in their memory at the Malatya Center. Speaking directly to Harold and Josephine’s dedication to the arts and to bettering the lives of children in Armenia, the donation is focused on helping renovate the art studios; providing them with essential art tools, supplies and equipment; and supporting the development of a new and enhanced arts program, including workshops, guest instructors, and an innovative curriculum. This substantial gift will benefit the arts program at the AGBU Children’s Centers, and other like-programs, including the Ashtarak Center.