David Bermant was a longtime good friend of mine as well as my son-in-law. We agreed and also disagreed on various points of philosophy as well as art. Mostly we agreed, and when we didn't we needled each other mercilessly and laughed a lot. The man's sense of humor seldom left him.
David's two great interests were building shopping centers -- which he did with enthusiasm and success both on the East Coast and in California -- and collecting art. The art dealer to his heart was of a technological nature. The title of one of the several major shows he sponsored, PULSE (People Using Light, Sound, and Energy), is a clue to the sort of unique work he felt was the art pertinent to our time. It was art that utilized modern science and technology and did something other than hang on a wall or stand on a pedestal. And he felt that such art should be shown in public places, not just in museums and galleries.
Many pieces from his extensive collection are on loan or contributed as gifts to the City of Santa Barbara and to UCSB. At the airport, in the County Building, in the main library, in public schools, and at several locations on our beaches could be seen examples of his unusual, colorful, moving art pieces. To make sure the art form he loved should continue to flourish beyond his lifetime, he established and funded the David W. Bermant Foundation: Color, Light, Motion.
David was born in New York City, grew up in Manhattan, and, at 21, graduated cum laude from Yale University. Six months later, in January 1941, he volunteered to join the U.S. Army. Starting as a private, he ended his army career as a major of artillery in Patton's Third Army, earning a bronze star with an oak leaf cluster for his actions. In 1947, he married Ruth Jesephson and they had four children: Ann, Jeffrey, Wendy, and Andrew. After 46 years, they were divorced. David then married Susan Hopmans and they established a home in Santa Barbara as well as in the Santa Ynez valley. Here he created facilities for and maintained a large collection of the art he felt was so significant.
I knew David Bermant as a man who had a great capacity for enjoying the material as well as the aesthetic pleasures of life. A connoisseur of food and wine, he once flew to Paris to participate in a special gourmet event and flew back within 24 hours. He delighted in fine cigars until he realized that good health would be an even greater pleasure.
David could be tough when circumstances required, but his sense of humor was never absent. Even during his terminal illness, he was able to make wry jokes about the situation. A vital part of his personal philosophy came from discussions he had had with a Yale professor he admired, F.S.C. Northrop. They pondered the big questions of what is "right," what is "wrong," and what is "truth." In a letter summarizing the conclusions he reached, he wrote to me: "I think one can find truth for one's time. One can find right and wrong for one's time. Maybe none of these are eternal, but they are to be found. I'm going to try to seek out the truth as long as I live and always tell the truth as long as I live, not only to others but mostly to myself. I will never lie."
Staying true to that difficult agenda may well be a bit part of the reason for his long, happy, and successful life.
By Walt Hopmans