In the five years that Bob Cothran has lived in the Kendal at Oberlin community, he has brought with him a giving spirit, a creative imagination, and an infectious energy and zest for life. This man, with a quick gait and a warm smile belies his 85 years.
The scenic designs created throughout Bob’s career as a set designer remain in the memories of many theatre goers, and have received significant recognition. His graphic design, printmaking and mural painting are not only how he has and continues to express himself, but in his words these projects are “like breathing.”
Bob’s current project is enormous, and consists of a large mural, in three parts, for the walls outside the Fox and Fell dining room at Kendal. Over three years ago, Bob was approached for suggestions for this expansive space and when presented, his idea was enthusiastically received.
In giving thought to this project, Bob recalled the work of an English painter, Rex Whistler, who, in the early 20th century, was commissioned to paint a mural for the Tate Gallery restaurant in London. Whistler depicted a pastoral scene that encircled the room titled, The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats. The mural was formal, with mythical animals such as the unicorn.
With preliminary pencil sketches, Bob conceived a more whimsical approach playing off Whistler’s theme. As Bob explained, his process in any project is a metamorphosis, possibly vague at first, gradually unfolding, new ideas occurring, and sometimes very different from his original scheme. Bob laughed as he said, “A pursuit of rare meats certainly wasn’t appropriate for Kendal,” a community with a number of vegetarians, but… The Journey in Search of Curious Herbs and Spices was, thus the title of the mural.
In this mural, where ladies and gentlemen are on a journey through the land searching for fictitious herbs and spices, Bob sees the underlying theme as them searching for the flavor and essence of life. The complexity and detail of the mural invites people to return again and again, discovering something new each time. The whimsy and humor in these murals are delightful.
The first panel of the three panel mural took 21 months to complete, and the second panel, which was recently installed, took 15 months. Bob immediately began working on the third and final panel, which he thinks may take less time than the others to complete. Bob says that the countless hours he continues to devote to this project is an absorption that is keeping him healthy. He said that he can’t imagine being bored, with all that life offers.
Bob welcomes visitors to Kendal’s Craft Room, where he is at work most days. He is generous in taking the time to answer questions about the murals and his life’s work.
Bob Cothran shared that “the nature of his life experience has been incredibly, staggeringly fortunate.”Story by Nancy Freed