Karl Rawicz, artist, playwright and mentor, dies at 70

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Sonoma artist, playwright and director Karl Rawicz died at his home Feb. 9 after a long battle with cancer. He was 70.

Born in Nuremberg, Germany, Rawicz and his parents fled to pre-state Israel in 1933 when he was 3 years old.

Many of his paintings depict Holocaust themes and members of his family who died. Often Rawicz would glue poems or materials he collected to the canvas before beginning to paint. These items, often not visible in the finished work, helped inspire Rawicz and give his vision focus.

In addition, through his teaching and directing, Rawicz mentored many aspiring actors and artists.

"My father inspired people to follow their dream," said his oldest daughter, Karla Rawicz LaRive, "Everything he did, he did with passion."

Ironically, Rawicz and his family left Germany not because of the impending Nazi threat but because of his father's fiery temper. The elder Rawicz was wanted by the police for beating up a man and seriously injuring him. The man, it seems, called Rawicz a "dirty Jew" and, being a boxer, Rawicz reacted in the way he knew best. Other members of Rawicz's family were not as fortunate. Although some, including his maternal grandparents, were able to escape Germany, many more died in the Holocaust.

Raised in pre-state Israel, Rawicz left when he was 18, planning to study in the United States for a while.

"And I'm still here," said Rawicz in a 1997 interview.

After getting a degree in architecture from the University of North Carolina in 1956, Rawicz married his first wife, Mary Christley. They moved to the Los Angeles area where they had four daughters. In 1972 Rawicz moved to the Bay Area, living first in San Francisco, then in Marin County and finally in Sonoma. In 1981, he married his second wife, Diane Bieber.

In his professional role as an architect, Rawicz worked on a variety of commercial projects from banks to shopping centers and office buildings to the Los Angeles International Airport. He also worked for several film and television studios, designing sets.

In 1980, Rawicz gave up architecture entirely to devote full time to theater and art. His paintings have been exhibited in galleries from Seattle to Los Angeles.

LaRive believes her father's involvement in the arts was his way of dealing with the Holocaust.

"Dad's pain came out in his art, in his theater, in the way he expressed himself as a person," said LaRive, who sees anger and bitterness in some of her father's artwork. It wasn't until she was in her early 20s that her father started talking about the Holocaust and the family he lost. "He took the pain and turned it around."

Theater, however, was Rawicz's lifelong passion. When he first came to the United States, he was involved in the Raleigh Little Theatre in North Carolina where, in a production of "A Streetcar Named Desire," he met his first wife. After moving to Los Angeles he and his wife founded Studio West and in 1968 he received the Los Angeles Dramalogue award for Best Director.

In the Bay Area, Rawicz directed plays at Fort Mason Center and, from 1984 to 1987, served as artistic director of the Marin Theatre Company, where he won a Critics Choice Award. In 1986, Rawicz and Diane Bieber Rawicz founded the Eden2 Theatre Ensemble, dedicated to children's productions. Eden2 stands for "Educate, Enlighten and Entertain."

Most of the plays were written by Rawicz and were gender neutral and politically correct, according to LaRive. The plays, which Rawicz financed through grants, were presented at schools, shopping malls, book stores and other venues.

Rawicz was a board member of the Arts Alliance of Sonoma, the Sonoma City Opera and was a commissioner on the Cultural and Arts Commission of Sonoma. He also taught art classes at the Sonoma Community Center.

Rawicz is survived by his four daughters, LaRive of San Jose, Michelle Rawicz of Petaluma, Daniela Wolff of Berkeley and Kristina Rawicz of San Jose; five grandsons; and his wife, Diane Bieber Rawicz.

Contributions can be made to the Karl Rawicz Scholarship Fund, Senior Arts Program, Sonoma Community Center, 276 East Napa St., Sonoma, CA 95476.