Robert Curtiis
Jan. 29, 1943 - Feb.10, 2016

He was a motorcycle racer and a peace activist, an artist and a businessman.

Robert Curtis, known as Bob, a leather designer who set up shops and sold his wares across the East End, died on Feb. 10 from complications related to a 2011 motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed. He was 73 and had been in hospice care at the Stone Creek Health and Rehabilitation Center in Asheville, N.C.

Born in Danville, Ill., on Jan . 29, 1943, to Dr. John S. Curtis and the former Elizabeth Taylor, he moved to Madison, Wis., when he was 5.

He graduated from West High School and went on to study art at the University of Wisconsin.

Mr. Curtis was an ardent opponent of the Vietnam War and was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. When it came time to report to the draft board, he managed to avoid conscription in a manner reminiscent of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” or perhaps the 1969 counterculture film “Easy Rider.” According to his wife, Mary Clare Galvin, who lives in the house the couple purchased in 2006 in Burnsville, N.C., when he was interviewed at the selective service office, he said, “You don’t want to give a guy like me a gun.” The officer agreed.

In 1968, he was on the move, first living in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, then in Chicago. While living in the Second City, he began working with leather. After mastering his craft, he moved to New York, setting up a shop on West 10th Street in Greenwich Village. That soon led to shops on the East End.

In 1968, Mr. Curtis arrived in Sag Harbor, where he shared a house for quite some time with John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful.

He later bought a house in Clearwater Beach in Springs, where he lived for many years.

Mr. Curtis designed leather goods that were sold to leading stores in Ne w York City and around the country. He opened Animal Crackers on Job’s Lane in Southampton, and in 1972, he opened Havana 1919 in an old house on Amagansett Main Street. He got the name for the store from the inscription on the back of an old photograph.

He had a shop on Park Place in East Hampton for a time and for many years ran a store at 47 Newtown Lane, which operated as Robert Curtis Fine Leather, Billy Martin’s, and East Hampton Leather.

His clientele ran the gamut from Bonackers to rock stars. He designed for the Rolling Stones, sold goods to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and designed items for Billy Joel and Joseph Yurman.

He met Ms. Galvin at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett in 2004. They took to each other immediately.

“He loved the ocean,” she remembered, and would go sailing every weekend. He had always enjoyed racing motorcycles. It was his Zen, his wife said. For years, he was a familiar figure at the Bridgehampton Race Circuit, which closed in 1998. He had many cycles, but his favorite was a 1978 Norton that he doted on, keeping it looking brand new.

In 2006, the couple retired to a 10-acre property they bought in North Carolina, and he was called to the motorcycle tracks in the Asheville area. He volunteered at local prisons, talking to inmates about the virtues of living a drug and alcohol-free life.

The couple married in 2010. Mr. Curtis was involved in an accident on the racetrack the following year. Though he would never walk again, he never lost his loving spirit, his wife said. “I’m so grateful to have had this experience,” Ms. Galvin said. “The last five years were spectacular, in ways I cannot explain.”

Besides his wife, he is survived by a sister, Barbara McDonnell of Savoy, Ill., and a brother, John Curtis of Appleton, Wis.

 

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