Paul Bartel was passionate about strings and equally passionate about sharing his love of classical music with students. The violinist, music educator, owner of the Baroque Violin Shop and founder of the Wyoming Fine Arts Center is remembered by Cincinnati’s music community as being generous, humble and always supportive.
‘He was a guy who was larger than life, always giving, always caring, always seeming to have boundless energy,” said Milan Dukic, executive director of the Wyoming Fine Arts Center since 2008. “In the early days of the center, if there was a shortfall, Paul wrote a check. He believed in the mission of having a community center and of having kids learn music.”
Mr. Bartel died on July 27 after a long battle with cancer. He was 67.
Mr. Bartel often spoke about how playing the violin in school became the inspiration for what he would become, Dukic said.
He was born in Columbus, OH. A 1972 graduate of Miami University, Mr. Bartel taught violin students and repaired instruments on the side while still a student in Oxford, OH. He taught strings at Finneytown School District for seven years, continuing to repair musical instruments in his spare time.
With a vision to support young string players and school music programs by providing high quality instruments at low cost, he resigned from teaching to devote himself full-time to the Baroque Violin Shop, then in his Finneytown home.
As the business expanded, Mr. Bartel purchased the historic, 1805 Carrie-Jessup House in Finneytown in 1990, and spent six months restoring it. Over the years, the shop’s musical instrument rentals, repairs and sales have boomed, making the business one of the largest in the country, with a substantial inventory of stringed instruments.
The shop rents and sells violins, violas, cellos and basses to thousands of students and professionals in 50 states. There are 7,000 to 9,000 rental instruments in use at any given time, said CFO Stephen Heck, Mr. Bartel’s son-in-law.
“What I really respected about him was that he was quiet about his generosity. Most things people never knew about, because he didn’t want himself to be a focus,” Heck said. “He never did things to enhance his business. That was only secondary and never the focus.”
An example of that quiet generosity was a scholarship fund that he and his wife, Jan, established to underwrite music lessons for under-served but talented young people.
“He was initially going to give away three violins, bows and cases, valued at about $5,000 each. He ended up giving away almost 20 sets, totaling around $75,000, just because he was inspired from all the stories that people from across the country sent to him,” Heck said.
In 1995, Mr. Bartel purchased the 1850s-era former Masonic Lodge on Wyoming Ave. from the city of Wyoming, with the idea of transforming it into a community arts center. Empty and in need of repair, he told “Wyoming Living” how he had hired local Boy Scouts to help clean and paint it. He conducted a massive renovation at his own expense. It opened that fall as the nonprofit Cincinnati String Academy, which evolved into the nonprofit Wyoming Fine Arts Center.
It was visionary. Today, nearly 1,000 people, including students, parents and collaborating organizations, participate each week in a diverse menu in music, dance, theater, visual art and arts summer camps, taught by more than 30 professional teachers. The collaborative programs involve many other local arts non-profits: Linton Chamber Music PB&J concerts, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Prep Department, Playhouse in the Park, Springfield Township’s ArtsConnect and Cincinnati Public Libraries. Resident organizations for whom Wyoming Fine Arts Center is also a home include the Flying Cloud Academy of Vintage Dance, Cincinnati Contradancers, and the Cincinnati Civic Orchestra, one of the oldest all-volunteer orchestras in the nation.
New free art programs in several Cincinnati Public Library branches are partly funded with an Impact Grant from ArtsWave.
“Just think,” Dukic said, “None of this would come to be without Paul.”
In 2001, without fanfare, Mr. Bartel donated the building to the nonprofit organization. Several months ago, the Wyoming Fine Arts Center board honored him by naming the 300-seat ballroom the Paul Bartel Ballroom.
“One thing about Paul is that he never wanted to be in the limelight. He’d be honored and humbled that so many people cared,” Dukic said.
Mr. Bartel was an enthusiastic ambassador for music education, often taking his prized 1680 Stradivarius violin to schools across the region to play for students. When Wyoming’s school board proposed canceling fourth-grade string instruction, he rallied parent support to save it.
“He had a charismatic personality,” said Alberta Schneider, retired Wyoming Schools strings teacher. “The kids were always thrilled and excited when he came in to demonstrate the violins. He was a real presence in the music world. I don’t think there was any strings teacher in Ohio who didn’t know who Paul Bartel was. It’s a big loss to our community.”
An expert in his field, Mr. Bartel taught classes on instrument maintenance and repair at a weeklong annual workshop at Ohio State.
Mr. Bartel was devoted to his family. He owned property in Indiana and enjoyed sharing it with the Boy Scouts for hunting, target practice and camping, said his son-in-law.
Mr. Bartel is survived by his wife, Jan of Wyoming, and six children: Jason (wife Mandy) of Wyoming; Brad (wife Claire) of Cincinnati; Francie (husband Carl) of Indianapolis; Carolyn (husband Stephen) of Cincinnati; Jeremy (wife Tasha) of Dayton; Emily (husband Max) of Nashville and 15 grandchildren.
Mr. Bartel’s life will be celebrated in a memorial concert, 1:30 p.m. Saturday Aug. 3, at Wyoming Fine Arts Center, 322 Wyoming Ave.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Paul and Jan Bartel Scholarship Fund at musicartdance.org.