Friday, September 28, 2007

Robert Minichiello, 28 April 1942 - 26 September 2007

Robert on Angel Island (early 1970s):

You would never hope to meet a greater devotee of the music of Mahler than Robert Minichiello. If you named a Mahler symphony he could whistle its themes! Tonight I was at the San Francisco Symphony with Paul Harmon to hear Mahler’s DAS LIED VON DER ERDE, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, with baritone Thomas Hampton and tenor Stuart Skelton (a performance being recorded for release on CD). I believe that Robert wanted everything in life to be orchestrated, and so it was highly appropriate to attend this performance on the evening of the day following his death. I had expected that this would be a great opportunity to have a good cry, but looking at that magnificent singer, Thomas Hampton (from my own county in Indiana) I could only see Robert’s eyes. I was still in his hospital room trying to read what those eyes were trying to say after he could no longer speak. The Song of the Earth ends

‘I stand here and await my friend;
I await his last farewell.
Oh, my friend, I long to enjoy
this evening’s beauty at your side.
Where are you? You are leaving me alone so long!
I wander back and forth with my llte
along paths covered with soft grass.
Oh beauty! Oh world, drunk with love and life forever!’
He dismounted and offered him the drink
of farewell. He asked him where
he was heading, and also why he had to go.
He spoke, and his voice was soft with tears:
‘My friend,
fortune was not kind to me in this world.
Where am I going? I go to travel in the mountains.
I see peace for my lonely heart.
I’ll turn toward home, where I belong.
I will never stray far.
My heart is calm and awaits its hour.
Everywhere, the beloved earth
blooms in the spring and
is newly green! Everywhere and forever
the distances are blue and bright!

View from Robert's room at Marin General Hospital:

Everyone who knew Robert – friend and relative – knew that he could be sweet and kind, or he could be a difficult case. I tend to summarize his troubled and troublesome side as “passive-aggressive co-dependent”: If he came for a visit, you waited to hear him say, “Couldn’t I just move in here and stay with you?” Or, “I am going somewhere, may I store all my possessions with you for a while?” “I’ve moved out of my apartment, the neighbors are too awful; I am at the corner of Haight and Masonic with all my stuff – Can you come pick me up?”

I suppose, before giving up trying to understand, most of us at some point asked, “How are you surviving? What do you live on? When are you going to settle some place and stick to one purpose?” and I think he simply felt that none of us knew how to be free, and that we did not understand his struggles when it came to architecture (“fortune was not kind to me in this world”). Robert, 1969, UBC Project:

I saw a T-shirt once inscribed with “Everybody’s crazy,” and I agree with that. We all have our foibles, and that’s that. So when his sister Judy was asking for feedback for her to use to write an obituary, I tried to capture the facts about him as I knew them. I wondered if I wasn’t going over the top in giving a positive spin on them, but I ended up believing in that spin, and thought for now, all thing past and forgiven, I would not be modern and add one honest person’s remark, perfectly true: “Robert was a pain in the ass.”

What I wrote for his sister Judith Montes and his friend Zoe Borkowski is much too long for a newspaper obituary, but there is no reason I cannot print it on my blog:

“All the great scholars are not in universities; some, like recently deceased Robert Minichiello (28 April 1942 – 26 September 2007) are faithful to the kind of passionate search in the service of hard-earned principles that cannot be compromised and that institutions inhibit. Of his two loves, painting provided solace while architecture tormented as professional architecture firms, which are businesses in a mercantile society, fail to execute the works of visionary architects. Robert, to preserve the audacity and originality of his vision, had to follow a solitary path. Like one of the architects he admired, Erich Mendelsohn (creator of the “unorthodox” Einstein Tower, constructed to meet the particular needs of a particular astronomer) who designed curved and organic structures long before their current general accepance, Robert designed buildings to satisfy specific needs, yet saw no reason why they should not be imaginative and delightful. He often took it upon himself to design an urban project that surprised city officials rejected, but, awakened to a site, later had some simpler, less imaginative plans drawn up by the large firms that corporations favor over visionary innovators. (Many of Mendelsohn’s buildings, too, remain visions on paper.) Robert has been one of the many international architecture students who, in their twenties, served a summer internship learning by helping architect, Paolo Soleri, to construct his experimental town, Arcosanti, in the Arizona desert, in accordance with his concept, "archology"--the fusion of architecture with ecology, demonstrating ways that urban conditions can be improved while minimizing destructive impact on the earth.

“Before our age of restoration of older buildings for the preservation of architectural heritage, in a period when developers were trashing San Francisco Victorians and more monumental buildings, Robert dubbed himself “the rubbler,” saving fragments that provide glimpses of the beautiful architecture destroyed. Meanwhile Robert, the wandering scholar, energized and educated others with an overflowing stream of fresh cultural information, a stimulus his friends will greatly miss. Asked by the daughter of Bay Area architect, Stafford Jory, to archive her father’s work, Robert wove Jory’s work into a treatise on California architecture which he presented before the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, with a public exhibit of Jory’s drawings in the Rare Books Room of the San Francisco Public Library. Besides his many sketches of buildings, animals, and people, and his architectural plans, Robert Minichiello’s heritage is spread through the minds of everyone who ever knew him and were led into a deeper experience of life and a more profound understanding of art. He made beauty an everyday gift, along with the laughter induced by his whimsical nature.

“Robert (Roberto Antonio Paolo) Minichiello – who sometimes used a professional name of Brad Mitchell – was the son of George Minichiello and Angelina (“Chulie”) Repici Minichiello of Boston. He is survived by brothers George (and spouse Ellen) and John (and Kim), and sister Judith Montes (and Dan Montes); 4 surviving uncles and 4 surviving aunts; 6 nieces, 4 nephews, 3 great nieces, 8 great nephews, and many cousins. He will be remembered with love by his many friends, including Linda Beaumont, Zoe Borkowski, Joan Chapman, Sherrill Cheda and her sons Andrew and Marc Perry, Jim Eilers, Charles Perrier, and Dr. Lynne Portnoy.”

Robert in one of his favorite spots, the Mill Valley Library:

View from Robert's Window, Dawn, 26 September 2007:


sfwillie said...

Sorry to hear about Robert. He was your dear friend. I still remember the New Year's Eve in Fairfax.

The Blue Elephant said...

Oh, no. Not that New Year's Eve -- 1969 becoming 1970 -- in Fairfax. I will have to send you a verse about the morning after. Was that a Chekhov play or one by O'Neill? I hope I am a different person now -- but still crazy.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Blue Elephant:
I'm not sure why, but I was thinking of Robert today, and found several mentions of him on your blog. I was so shocked to hear that he had died. He introduced me to Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti, told me about Paolo Soleri, and fed me, at least once, his instensely flavored meatballs, which he worked on for days. I still remember him even though that was Seattle in, I think, the 70's.
Leila Gorbman

Anonymous said...

As a technology luddite I have tried each year for several years past looking up Robert's name in hopes of contacting him. He and I were in the same Graduate Architecture studio at the University of Washington. I didn't have any luck narrowing down which R.M. would be him and finally this year decided I would go back to the department and pester one of our former instructors to see if anyone had more info on him.

So you can imagine my surprise and shock to see your blog and little by little it seemed that this was the vary Robert I had been looking for so haphazardly...especially when one entry showed architectural drawings.

The model he presented was indeed organic - it was a gorgeous bright royal blue made from flour and salt and was bowl shaped. It did not go over very well with the instructors and I remember wondering the next quarter if he became discouraged and left UW.

He was the most interesting person I met in graduate school - all 3 years of it - and I wanted to tell him so. I recently reread a copy of a paper he wrote on doors and windows - it was philosophical but written in a rather sketchy manner.

The Blue Elephant said...

I cannot know the name of the "Anonymous" who most recently added a comment, but I am glad that he discovered the entry about Robert Minichiello. If he had difficulty, it might be because Robert had an uncle named Robert Minichiello so that the Robert we knew also assumed a second name, Brad Mitchell.
-- JE, 22 Sept 2013.