Renaldo Gillet Kuhler
November 21, 1931 – June 2, 2013
Renaldo Gillet Kuhler, 81, passed away on Sunday, June 2, 2013, at Rex Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, surrounded by his closest friends.
Renaldo was born in Teaneck, NJ and grew up in Rockland County, NY, the son of the late Simone and Otto Kuhler, a renowned artist and designer of streamlined steam locomotives during the Art Deco period.
At the age of 16, Renaldo moved with his parents to a remote cattle ranch high in the Colorado Rockies. To cope with the boredom and isolation of ranch life, Renaldo invented an imaginary country he called Rocaterrania and began his secret life’s work, illustrating the nation’s history in pencil, ink, and paint.
In 1960, he graduated with a B.A. in History from the University of Colorado in Boulder where he designed titles for Dog Star Man, a film by his friend Stan Brakhage, a renowned experimental filmmaker. Renaldo was an exhibits designer at the Eastern Washington State Historical Society in Spokane until 1967 when he returned to Colorado to for two years of study in museology. In 1969, he was hired by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences where he eventually trained himself to become a scientific illustrator par excellence. He retired from the museum in1999.
In 2009, Renaldo’s theretofore private world of Rocaterrania was unveiled in a documentary film, and his beautiful illustrations have since been exhibited in Baltimore, New York, and Raleigh, and will be exhibited in Paris later this year. Renaldo was proudest of his 30-year career as a scientific illustrator in which he produced hundreds of plates detailing the anatomies of myriad natural history specimens.
As talented as he was, Renaldo will be best remembered for his generosity, old world charm, and the loveable eccentricities in which he reveled. If ever there was a man unafraid to be himself, it was Renaldo.
He loved bathtubs, gaslights, long legs, ice cream, and horses ears, played a violin he built from plywood and laminated paper, and smoked mullein from a handmade “cig-pipe.” He loved hiking the trails and parks of Raleigh and made several pilgrimages with friends to his Mecca in Asheville, The Grove Park Inn. Self-described as “urban Amish,” Renaldo never drove a car, used a cell phone or a computer, and only begrudgingly traded his rotary phone for a touchtone model in his later years. He gave descriptive nicknames to most of his friends and acquaintances and designed his own tailored “uniforms.”
Describe a 6’4’’ man with a long white beard and ponytail hiking up Glenwood Avenue wearing lederhosen and a boy scout neckerchief, and any longtime Raleigh resident will exclaim, “I’ve seen that guy!” Renaldo never met a stranger and no one who ever met him for even a moment ever forgot him.
Renaldo’s home away from home was the 42nd Street Oyster Bar in Raleigh where his photograph is prominently displayed above the bar. He possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of history, architecture, and movies, and was a student of calligraphy and languages. He was staunchly liberal, gave generously to environmental and humanitarian causes, and was a true defender of the underdog in every facet of life. Most of all, he was a good friend to those lucky enough to have known him.
In Renaldo’s own words, “Each man is a nation unto himself and what he does with that nation is up to him.” Rest in peace, Renaldo. You are loved and you will be missed.
Renaldo’s friends gatherered at the 42nd Street Oyster Bar in Raleigh on Tuesday, June 18th from to celebrate his life, share stories, and raise a toast to a true original.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy: 866-202-9788 or www.railstotrails.org