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Robert A. Bowlby


In 1954 I was in Houston consulting with Joe Krakower, Architect. Joe needed another hand in the office. I called Bruce Goff to locate an OU grad. BG recommended Bob as someone intelligent, earnest about architecture, cultivated and a good worker. That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between us. As I remember our first meeting Bob drove up in and old Buick convertible. As he stopped flames shot out from under the hood. Bob got out with a fire extinguisher lifted the hood and doused the fire. Later he would drive BG around in that same convertible. Later when I was teaching at OU beginning in 1958, Bob helped me with drawings for the Prairie House and in ’62 advised Martha and Earl Cunningham to retain me as architect for their house in on the golf course at Quail Creek in Oklahoma City. He did most of the working drawings and all of the supervision as I left to teach architecture at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. By then Bob’s working drawings had become something special with his carefully thought out notes making clear the architect’s intent. Eventually, Bob went on to do legendary working drawings for BG on the Price Studio and other designs by BG all the while driving BG around in his old convertible. BG never learned to drive and was driven around by his assistants in questionable cars. My wife Mary had been given her brothers ancient black Plymouth and passed it on to BG. He was grateful but I don’t think the car lasted more than a year.

Later I was counseling with B. Coleman Jr., a friendly and enthusiastic architect in Lexington who’s dad, J.B. Coleman, had political connections that enabled B to get state work. Bob came out and designed a large handsome parking structure for the University while B and I did a design for a block sized parking structure on campus. We used, a dark red- purple clay tile, manufactured by the brick and tile company, to soften the standard car ramps from pedestrians and cars passing by. The color blended with dark red brick and a campus building across the street from the garage. The voids in the tile pattern caught snow in attractive patterns.

Bob met his wife Tony through B. Coleman. Both Bob and Toby had sparkling dark eyes that I thought helped bring them together. They moved to California and built a house of Bob’s design in Carmel Heights near Monterey. The house was long and sloped up a hill accommodating four levels. I found the design very original and successful. Nanine and I house sat for a week and enjoyed it thoroughly. I remember fixing corn cheddar chowder for Louise Mendlesohn who was chauffeured by Joe Wythe, an OU grad student and teaching assistant. Eric Medlesohn had visited OU during BG’s tenure. He asked to meet me when I was a third year student upon viewing my student project on exhibit. (Ariel Parkinson, who I later met had been an acolyte to Louise for a number of years. Ariel, herself was an artist and a force of nature. Nanine and I purchased two of her acrylic paintings from a San Francisco gallery, both five by five feet in size but more about Ariel later.)

The Bowlbys then moved to Denver where they bought a house near a public conservatory for plants covered by a good example of Bucky Fuller's dome. Bob remodeled parts of the house with his own distinctive flair. Nanine had a sister-in-law in Denver so we could visit with the Bowlbys and Joy Hilliard during the same trip. The more I got to know Toby the more I enjoyed her earthy conversation and her fascination with beads and with educational, civic issues and arts organizations.

Bob has been instrumental in managing Friends of Kebyar, the news letter started by Jack Golden that over the years continues to publish the work of BG, his students and other architects with sympathetic interests. I am encouraging Bob to write on his experience with BG. Bob has a sparkling sense of humor and I always enjoyed working with him. One example of his wit and persistence was when doing working drawings on the Cunningham house, he referred for months to a narrow two story high pointy curving form as the “tooth” as an example of my relating forms in the house to Dr. Earl Cunningham’s practice as an orthodontist. In June 2008 Leslie Correll and I spent four days together with Bob and Toby sightseeing in Utah’s southeastern National Parks and Monuments. We had a great visit with them and were awed by the vast and fascinating landscapes.


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