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Orem 'Jerry' Wahl

An owner of a Chase Street framing shop, he was a knowing observer of Mount Vernon and the downtown arts scene

By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

6:43 PM EST, December 14, 2011

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Orem "Jerry" Wahl, the co-owner of a Mount Vernon framing shop who was a theater first-nighter, died of a heart attack Saturday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 73.

Pat Moran, a friend and film casting agent, said he was stricken while in the lobby of his home, the St. Paul at Chase condominiums.

Born in Baltimore and raised in East Baltimore, he was a 1955 Patterson High School graduate. As a child, he was a drum major and performed in local theater. Friends said he spent his childhood weekend afternoons at the old State Theatre on East Monument Street, where vaudeville acts played alongside films. He served in the Maryland National Guard and saw duty during the Cambridge riots in the 1960s.

After working at the old Union Trust Co., Mr. Wahl sold cameras for downtown's Hochschild Kohn department store in the 1960s. At night he was a bartender at Martick's on Mulberry Street. There he served drinks to Baltimore's arts and newspaper community.

"He was outgoing and a superb bartender," said a longtime friend, Georgia Parker of Baltimore. "He was a keen observer of the Baltimore arts scene. He knew the professional side; he knew its gossip side as well, but he was never mean-spirited."

She said Mr. Wahl loved downtown Baltimore and Mount Vernon. "He was the master of the city in an understated way," Ms. Parker said. "He had a great memory and could recite all the minutia of a performance he had seen decades ago."

She said Mr. Wahl often greeted friends as "Babe." He also had a shorthand for local spots he patronized. The Prime Rib restaurant, where he was a familiar presence, was "The Rib."

In the 1970s, he worked at Mansion Fine Arts on Charles Street and beginning in 1985, he and Sharon Stockfield, a co-worker, opened their own business. Because they were both branching out on their own, they named their venture Partners. They did framing for interior designers and others, and held small art shows for local artists. Their first shop was on Morton Street and later moved around the corner to the first block of W. Chase St., where the business remains.

"People trusted us," said Ms. Stockfield. "He seemed to know everybody in town, and they would bring in their artwork and say, 'Just do what you think is best.'"

James R. Pierce, a fellow framer and friend, recalled visits to the Chase Street shop.

"It was just filled with stuff, and you wondered how any work got done," Mr. Pierce said. "And yet, he knew how to do it. His customers liked him, and he was knowledgeable in a personal way."

James L. Brown, a Bolton Hill resident, said that Mr. Wahl, who knew so many Baltimore artists of the 1960s, understood how their paintings would best be displayed.

"He knew instinctively what type of frame would complement the work," Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Wahl's childhood affinity for the performing arts continued throughout his life. He had seats at the old Ford's Theatre on Fayette Street and at the old Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, which he defended in a 2001 Baltimore Sun article.

"The place has never been gorgeous, but it certainly functions. You can see and hear from practically every seat," he told a reporter. "The Mechanic has a certain intimacy."

He also attended the Vagabonds, Fells Point Corner Theater and Cockpit in Court in Essex.

"Orem was a bon vivant and a big supporter of local theater," said F. Scott Black, dean of the School of Liberal Arts at the Community College of Baltimore County. "I thought that I kept up with New York theater, but he had all the latest news before it came out in the papers. He had friends all over the arts community and was a generous, giving person. He had the ability to make a big, grand gesture or write you a personal, thoughtful note."

Mr. Black recalled Mr. Wahl as a "true Baltimore character." He said he had an inventory of designer eyeglasses that he wore for theatrical effect. "He could be like Elton John," Mr. Black said.

Ms. Moran said she and her husband once accompanied Mr. Wahl on the Queen Elizabeth II during a stormy winter Atlantic crossing. "He was seasick the entire time, but when he finally got to London, he was at the theater every night," she said. "Even there he had contacts."

Mr. Wahl has no immediate survivors. Plans for a funeral were incomplete.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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