Jeffrey Martin Arnstein, an antiques restorer who was a mentor to at-risk Baltimore teens, died of cancer July 30 at his Towson home. He was 75.
Mr. Arnstein, after a busy career in Connecticut, moved to Baltimore nearly 15 years ago and established a home studio in the Murray Hill section of Baltimore County.
Among his projects, he refinished an 1830s staircase in the shop of Howard Street antiques dealer Robert Quilter. He also worked with Sumpter Priddy, an Ashland, Virginia, dealer.
“My father moved from having a restoration shop into doing on-site work for his customers. He loved that work,” his daughter, Ellen Arnstein, said.“He loved being in people’s homes and learning about his customers’ lives.”
“He had a great interest with the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum,” said his life partner, Jane Lambdin D’Ambrogi.
He also worked on the restoration of the St. Thomas Synagogue in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“My father earnestly found his way from Judaism to Buddhism to Unitarian Universalism,” said his daughter, Ellen Arnstein. “And he practiced anti-racism and anti-Zionism with a fierce devotion.”
“He was dedicated to racial justice and the affirmation that Black Lives Matter,” said his minister, the Rev. Clare Petersberger. “He didn’t just speak it, he acted on it and was part of the program Mentoring Male Teens in the Hood. He was outgoing and generous with his time and expertise. He had a great sense of humor. He was a sweet soul. He wanted his legacy to be kindness. That was a word he chose.”
Mr. Arnstein volunteered at Earl’s Place, a recovery center for men. He also taught at Reading Partners Baltimore.
He volunteered to address minor repairs on the Federal-period furniture collection of the 1801 country home of Charles Carroll Jr. on the Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus.
“I met Jeffrey shortly after his arrival in Baltimore. His excitement in discovering Homewood and its collections of Baltimore furniture was readily apparent. He quickly volunteered to assist and address several pieces that had been sun-bleached and had finish problems,” said Catherine Rogers Arthur, director of artistic property at the Maryland State Archives.
Born in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx, New York, he was the son of Henry Arnstein, an insurance inspector, and Elvira, a medical secretary. He attended New York City schools and earned an anthropology and biology degree at Queens College on a scholarship.
During the Vietnam War, he was a conscientious objector and taught at a public school in Harlem. He served in the Peace Corps.
Mr. Arnstein started a small antiques and jewelry shop on New York’s City Island and soon began refinishing furniture.
“He seemed to really like working with his hands. He started the business on his own and it became his life’s interest,” his son, Reid Arnstein, said.
“He taught me and my brother to love and honor the forest woods and to care for others even if they don’t seem to care for you,” his daughter, Ellen, said.
Mr. Arnstein learned his craft and established a restoration business in the Colt Building in Hartford, Connecticut.
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“His shop was filled with the industry’s highest-end pieces waiting to be revived,” his daughter said. “It was also a crossroads for respected collectors, dealers and curators of the trade, as well as an exciting meeting place for many of Hartford’s artists and makers.“
His daughter said Mr. Arnstein worked for auctioneers Sotheby’s and Christie’s, as well as the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Lyman Allyn Art Museum and the Connecticut Old State House.
“His work was nothing short of magic,” his daughter said. “He was revered — he was part chemist and part wood magician. Even though he was colorblind, he could tell a difference in hue. He had apprentices who were his fact-checkers, but he got it right.”
As a young man, he spent months hiking large sections of the Appalachian Trail. He spent a night with a familyand found himself adopting a donkey they owned.
“My father was never clear on the details of what happened to the donkey,” his daughter said.
A celebration of his life will be held at noon Sept. 10 at the Towson Unitarian Universalist church.
Survivors include his partner, Jane Lambdin D’Ambrogi; a daughter, Ellen Arnstein of East Granby, Connecticut; and a son, Reid Arnstein of Port Monmouth, New Jersey.