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Bob Rauschenberg, art giant and Captiva resident, dead at 82; Remembered for his generosity, goodwill

By Staff | May 14, 2008

Robert Rauschenberg, known among wide circles for his prolific art and his generosity, is dead at the age of 82.

The eminent artist who lived on Captiva died Monday night from heart failure after a short illness, according to Lauren Staub at Rauschenberg’s gallery, PaceWildenstein, in Manhattan. He died while surrounded by loved ones, she said.

Rauschenberg passed away in his home “by his own decision to go off life support,” said Captiva resident and friend Mike Mullins.

Mullins said Rauschenberg was responsible for helping found the Captiva Property Owners Association.

“He has always been a huge supporter of this community,” Mullins said.

That support included taking over properties that some people could not afford to pay taxes on.

Rene Milville, a member of the Captiva Community Panel, shared his thoughts about Rauschenberg’s contributions.

“He’s made a lot of significant impacts,” Milville said. “Rauschenberg was the founder with words and deeds for the Captiva Community Panel. He was our biggest supporter and out biggest helper.

He was the founder of the Community Panel, which is the most important organization on Captiva. He’s made a big contribution to the community by laying the seed work.

The panel was founded eight years ago.

Rauschenberg volunteered the expertise of his lawyer, Jamie Costello, who provided the time, effort and financial support that made the panel’s inception possible.

He gave us the seed money that created the foundation for the Captiva Community Panel,” Milville said. “He was basically the sponsor of it.

Loss and a remembrance of his artistic and philanthropic works is being felt in and around the islands and Fort Myers.

Local artists were impressed by not only his work, but his generous spirit.

Myra Roberts lists meeting Rauschenberg as one of her life’s highlights.

Bob Rauschenberg is in all the world’s finest art museums and art history books,” she said. “He is our Island’s most famous icon. As an artist and art history teacher, I was dazzled and greatly honored when Bob purchased my Audrey Hepburn painting for his permanent museum collection. He was a funny and very generous man. It was a great honor to have talked with him. His art will live on forever, and I will miss him.

Randon Eddy, who is known for her award-winning environmental work and contributions to charitable causes, said she appreciates Rauschenberg’s emphasis on helping others.

He had a unique (artistic) style and he was very generous to the community,” she said.

Tower Gallery’s Connie Sebring knew Rauschenberg as a participating artist in the annual Arts for ACT auction, and she greatly admired his patronage for the event. ACT stands for Abuse Counseling and Treatment Inc.

I think he’ll be sorely missed because he’s been very active in the art community in this area for a long time, and he’s been a huge supporter for ACT,” she said. “He was a very talented guy, and very well-known worldwide.

Sanibel poet and resident Joe Pacheco wrote a poem inspired by the late artist.

I appreciated many of the things he tried to do in taking ordinary things and making something special out of it,” said Pacheco.

Pacheco, 77, whose poems have been published and heard in a variety of media including National Public Radio, recalls meeting Rauschenberg as a young man in New York.

Pacheco said he inspired him to create a poem using found things — just as Rauschenberg did with items like tires and quilts.

He was a giant,” Pacheco said. “He was the most famous artist alive till now.

Rauschenberg’s art made him famous. But his love of giving made him adored and loved by many.

He was a huge contributor to Arts for ACT and its gallery is in Fort Myers, said Mullins.

Bob was supportive of so many charities,” he said.

Just across the bridge, Dr. Bob Schwartz sighed as he digested the news of Rauschenberg’s passing. Schwartz, who runs the AIDS Treatment Center in Fort Myers, was a recipient of the renowned artist’s goodwill.

Rauschenberg gave a gift of $100,000 to the clinic during some recent hard times.

We were going down hill and he turned us around,” Schwartz said.

Rauschenberg’s touch was felt by many.

Bob will not only be missed by our little charity but the world as well,” Schwartz said.

The doctor said he got the chance to know Rauschenberg a bit since his wife, Dr. Eileen Schwartz, was his neurologist.

He was terribly optimistic,” he said.

Schwartz described how the artist would listen to something told to him, take some time to think about it and then break into a huge grin.

His smile would light up the room,” he said.

Rauschenberg passed away with his loved ones by his side, including his partner of 25 years, Daryl Pottorf, and his sister, Janet Begneaud, said Staub.

He also is survived by his son, Christopher.

Rauschenberg was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on Oct. 22, 1925. After a stint at the University of Texas studying pharmacology and serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he decided to study art. In 1947, he enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute. In early 1948, the eminent artist traveled to Paris to study at the Academie Julian. There he met the artist Susan Weil whom he later married. They had a son, Christopher.

In the fall they returned to the United States and studied under Joseph Albers at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, until the spring of 1949. Later that year Rauschenberg moved to New York and took classes at the Art Students League. There he worked with Morris Kantor and Vaclav Vytlacil. Rauschenberg returned to Black Mountain College in 1951 and again in 1952, where he formed friendships with Merce Cunningham, John Cage and David Tudor. 

While at Black Mountain, he participated in “
Theatre Piece No. 1” by John Cage, which has since become acknowledged as the first “Happening.” Since the early 1950s, Rauschenberg maintained involvement in theater and dance which resulted in costume and set designs for Merce Cunningham, as well as Paul Taylor, Viola Farber, Steve Paxton, Trisha Brown and for his own productions.

Among Rauschenberg’s most famous works was “
Bed,” created after he woke up in the mood to paint but had no money for a canvas. He decided to take the quilt off his bed and use paint, toothpaste and fingernail polish.

For more information about Rauschenberg and his work, check out his gallery located in Fort Myers at the Edison College campus. The gallery’s Web site is: http://www.bobrauschenberggallery.com.

Staff writers Linda Christman and Jane Brickley contributed to this story.