Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bill Gilbert 1964 - 2008


"Portrait of Bill" , 28" x 36" ? Oil on Canvas, 1989

My dear friend, Bill Gilbert, passed away this Sunday, February 24th, after fighting a long battle with cancer.

Bill and I met our first day at RISD and became friends right away. We shared an apartment beginning our sophomore year and were pretty much inseparable. "The Frank and Bill Show". Bill was a Jewelry and Light Metals major and I was a Painter, but we always took pleasure in discussing each other's work and he always had something constructive and honest to say.

This is a portrait that I painted for Bill before I moved to Mexico. It pretty much says it all. He loved buying old cars and fixing them up. He loved old industrial buildings, later buying one in Philadelphia and converting it to living and studio space with his wife Maryanne. He almost always had on a brown leather jacket like in this painting of him parked in front of the old Providence Electric Company in Rhode Island.

Always up for an adventure or a road trip, Bill jumped at the chance to drive with me from Rhode Island to Mexico in 1990. He was always ready to hop in one of his old cars, put the top down, and just go "cruising".

Bill loved anything old and gritty. He was a big fan of flea markets, antiques and dare I say, dumpster diving and trash picking on those days when Providence households would put out larger items for the trash collectors. He was a Jeweler and Metal smith by trade. Besides making his art, he ran a business repairing antique metal of any sort. Always willing to help others, he taught jewelry and metal work at several Philadelphia area colleges. Bill's jewelery and sculptures had a style that was all his own. Isn't that what all of us artists hope to achieve? There was an honesty to his work, his personality shined through in everything that he made.

Bill and Maryanne have three children, Tyler, Max and Sofie. Although our lives grew apart over the years, I know that he was a great Dad and Husband. A talk on the phone with Bill would always last an hour or more. Dyslexia kept him from becoming a big email communicator like I have become, so a call from Bill was always a special thing. I am grateful to his wife for emailing updates on their struggle to all of us that live so far away.

Maryanne was a pillar of strength for Bill throughout his struggle. I don't know how anyone could handle all of the ups and downs of surgery, chemo, tests, doctor visits, caring for Bill plus caring for the kids, run a house, continue with her job and still keep a positive attitude. I see why Bill loved her so much.

How does someone begin to organize memories of someone so important in their lives? All of those burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and fries in "The Pit" at RISD. Late night trips down to the "Silver Top Diner" or Sunday mornings spent with a big stack and coffee at one of the other greasy spoons around Rhode Island. There were late night drives up to Lake Winnepesaukee in New Hampshire at any time of year. Water skiing, driving on frozen lakes and hoping the car would not go through the ice, trips to Block Island. There are the ups and downs we had with assignments and crits throughout our years at RISD. The many late late nights of working hard to get assignments in on time. His stacks of Easy Rider and Heavy Metal magazines. There are so many more stories and so many memories. Is there a way to organize memories, or is the beauty of memories the way in which they just randomly pop into your head at the most opportune moments?

Bill had the biggest smile, and the biggest heart, of anyone that I have ever known. He was truly loved, and will be missed by all.

51 comments:

christine mercer-vernon said...

Frank, I send you my deepest, sincerest condolences at such a sad time. It sounds like you have a host of wonderful stories to keep Bill's memories alive. Think of them often and smile, you were given a treasured gift to have such a wonderful friend.

Joanne said...

Hi Frank,
I am so sorry for your loss of a dear friend. What a wealth of wonderful experiences you two had together. That is the kind of friendship that never ends or grows apart... a rare and special relationship. I know you will miss him greatly. My thoughts are with you in this difficult time.
Joanne

Jason Waskey said...

An excellent celebration and remembrance of a good friend. I'm sorry for your loss, Frank.
My condolences.

Dean H. said...

Sorry for your great loss, Frank. Cherish the memories. Thanks for introducing us to a very special man.

Jennifer said...

Frank, I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. It sounds like he was a wonderful guy, and I'm glad you have so many good memories of him. All my best to you- Jennifer

Jack Riddle said...

Frank--a beautiful tribute to the kind of friend one rarely finds in life. From your writing it looks like both Bill and you were lucky in that regard. My condolences, Jack

Frank Gardner said...

Christine, Joanne, Jason, Dean, Jennifer and Jack. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this. I appreciate it.

Don Gray said...

A great tribute to your friend, Frank. Cancer takes down so many before their time. I'm sorry for your loss.

Frank Gardner said...

Thank you Don.

eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eric said...

Bill Gilbert was the first person I met when I started going to RISD in the fall of 1982. I was a commuter student and did not have the network of friends that most of the risd freshmen developed through their orientation and housing arrangements.

I remember being impressed with how genuinely friendly he was to me - a yokel local from RI. "Hi - I'm Bill" hand extended - my first impression of my college experience tied to his offered friendship.

He dressed like a biker - leather, mustache, skull rings - but was truly a gentleman in the best sense.

For me - the world is a lesser place without Bill in it - and I am heartbroken as all who knew him are.

Here is a photo of Bill at our 20th reunion in 2006 - having fallen out of touch over the years - it was a treat to spend time with him again. (from left to right, Mark Goodkin, Bill Gilbert, Brad Foltz and me – Eric Meier

His online obit is here.

Frank Gardner said...

Great memories Eric, thanks for sharing them.
Such colorful images:
"He dressed like a biker - leather, mustache, skull rings - but was truly a gentleman in the best sense."

Thanks for the links. The photo brought a smile and a tear.

Brad wrote this morning and reminded me of another thing about Bill. He would put the top down on that '63 Chevy even if it was freezing cold out.

Bill Sharp said...

Frank, my condolences on the loss of your friend. I was moved by your remembrance of him.

Frank Gardner said...

Thank you Bill.

Elizabeth said...

A wonderful tribute to a good friend.
Not the moment to explain how to cook a tagine.
Will get back to you.

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Elizabeth, thanks.
You can send that in an email if you'd like.

Frank A. said...

Frank, my sincerest condolences to Bill's wife, Maryanne, their three children and to you, Bill's good friend.

Frank A.

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks for your kind thoughts Frank A.

Barbara Pask said...

Frank, I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. This is a nice tribute to him, he was lucky to have a friend like you. Take care, Barb

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks Barb!
No, I was lucky to have a friend like him.

Eric Orchard said...

Hi Frank. This is a really touching tribute to a great person. I'm really sorry to hear about this. The painting is beautiful and a fitting tribute.

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks Eric. Like I said in the post, that painting is classic Bill.

Todd Bonita said...

He sounds like one of the good ones, truly sorry for your loss. That paining is a great tribute to a guy who touched so many.
My condolences.
Todd

Anonymous said...

Frank,

Sam told me that you had a website so I checked it out. I am not surprised to read the tribute you wrote for my brother. It was beautiful and really captures what my brother was all about. If you were not a painter you might make it as a writer.

Maryanne asked me to speak tomorrow at Bill's Memorial Service. I haven't written anything yet, but I will certainly credit you for what you wrote if I borrow some of your words and memories.

I have many memories of visiting Bill in Providence and you are connected to all of them. Bill had many friends and he over the years there were other people who people might have labelled his best friend. The two of you had a relationship that transcended time and space. I was not surprised to hear that you woke up last Sunday.

You are here in spirit and you will carry memories of Bill that will allow his spirit to live on.

Martin

PS About a month ago I was at a party with one of your Poughkeepsie high school classmates. Her name is Lili Van Zanten and I'm sure you remember her. I have worked with her as a teacher for many years in the Byram Hills School District.

Anonymous said...

Frank,

Sam told me that you had a website so I checked it out. I am not surprised to read the tribute you wrote for my brother. It was beautiful and really captures what my brother was all about. If you were not a painter you might make it as a writer.

Maryanne asked me to speak tomorrow at Bill's Memorial Service. I haven't written anything yet, but I will certainly credit you for what you wrote if I borrow some of your words and memories.

I have many memories of visiting Bill in Providence and you are connected to all of them. Bill had many friends and he over the years there were other people who people might have labelled his best friend. The two of you had a relationship that transcended time and space. I was not surprised to hear that you woke up last Sunday.

You are here in spirit and you will carry memories of Bill that will allow his spirit to live on.

Martin

PS About a month ago I was at a party with one of your Poughkeepsie high school classmates. Her name is Lili Van Zanten and I'm sure you remember her. I have worked with her as a teacher for many years in the Byram Hills School District.

Anonymous said...

Frank,

Sam told me that you had a website so I checked it out. I am not surprised to read the tribute you wrote for my brother. It was beautiful and really captures what my brother was all about. If you were not a painter you might make it as a writer.

Maryanne asked me to speak tomorrow at Bill's Memorial Service. I haven't written anything yet, but I will certainly credit you for what you wrote if I borrow some of your words and memories.

I have many memories of visiting Bill in Providence and you are connected to all of them. Bill had many friends and he over the years there were other people who people might have labelled his best friend. The two of you had a relationship that transcended time and space. I was not surprised to hear that you woke up last Sunday.

You are here in spirit and you will carry memories of Bill that will allow his spirit to live on.

Martin

PS About a month ago I was at a party with one of your Poughkeepsie high school classmates. Her name is Lili Van Zanten and I'm sure you remember her. I have worked with her as a teacher for many years in the Byram Hills School District.

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks Todd.

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

44 years old? My baby bro is a few years shy of that :(
My condolences Frank. My husband and I were naming the too many friends we've lost in just the past 10 years. You never stop missing them.

Frank Gardner said...

Martin. My most sincere condolences to you, Daniel and your Mom.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. That means a lot. It was the hardest thing I have had to write. I have thousands of other Bill stories, but I had to cut it off somewhere. For now.
Thanks for the kind words.

Lili is a great person. That is cool that you are working with her.

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Mary, thanks.
Missing loved ones helps to keep their spirit alive with us while we are still around to enjoy memories of our lives together.

Karen Cole said...

What a beautiful tribute, Frank.

I am visiting your site courtesy of Elizabeth(house in Marrakesh). Love your work.

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks Karen.

Candy Barr said...

Fellow RISD pals are irreplaceable and we mourn our loss. I'm going to be at the May 3 RISD Alumna/Student Benefit St Sale, and know how special my connections are there as well.
Thanks for sharing the tribute to Bill and passing on the strength of true friendship.

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Candy. Thanks for taking the time to read this and leave me a comment.
It is good to hear from another RISD painter.

Alex Wolf said...

I am honored to be able to say a few words in memory of my dear friend Bill. Forgive me if I read. Hopefully, it will prevent me from crying.

Bill and I met in 1985 for a wonderful couple of months in San Miguel de Allende and around Mexico. Our friendship grew back at RISD and after, with many of you here.

Besides the friendship we enjoyed, over the years Bill and I developed a working relationship. He and I came from opposite skill sets. I arrived at RISD from a very academic background, heavy in languages and I was a novice to art making. Bill had struggled many years with dyslexia, but was making jewelry from an early age. We soon found similarities in our apparently different strengths - choosing the right image or object was like choosing the right word. We learned from each other while exploring and forged a sanctum to discuss what mattered to us. An issue for Bill at the time was a needed truce with words that had often bedeviled him. Our collaboration began when I started finding his voice with him.


Collaboration is a most interesting, rewarding, and intimate process. I have been lucky to work closely with a handful of people in the creative field as an aid to, or a part of, refining their vision. It is a fascinating thing to go spelunking in someone's mind: to get to know it as a place, to see what is kept and how, or what is passed over. My father used to say the most interesting thing about people is how they spend their money. I put that second to seeing how people organize their minds.

Bill's was an interesting mind to be in, it ran the gamut from pop culture to art to machines, from pre-columbian to present. Little toy soldiers to japanese swords, gears and obsolete parts: there was a real democracy to it which I appreciated, and a humility, which valued a museum's troves as much as a flea market or a junk pile. There was always something to look at and to learn. We were united in our love of devices: an object's history, character and purpose were a story waiting to be discovered. I credit Bill with making me work hard to be more precise in the dynamics and alchemy needed to translate an idea into an object or object into words: his constant changing of perspective resulted in an inintuitive, thorough process of seeing and I married that with my constant changing of idiom, either language or medium.

I showed Bill's work, styled and shot his work, made flip books, packaging and invites, hung shows, wrote reviews and grants. And I wore his work - for I got paid in jewelry much of the time. I lived one summer with him and Frank, we looked at art together, we ate a lot of sashimi. I have also worked with Bill’s mother Ruth, a painter. The distinction between working and playing blurred. I agree with my mother - I'd rather be lucky than rich.



I wrote to Bill recently, partly to reiterate what I loved about his work. I found four qualities: it's humor, beauty, simplicity, and weight.

Bill found humor and made humor. In every picture I have of him he is smiling. I will miss his irreverance.

He saw many kinds of beauty, sought new beauty, and shared what he found. I will miss his open mindedness.

He edited for simplicity even when working on complex pieces, and he liked distilling. This simplicity he employed afforded him time to share many things. I will miss his generosity.


Lastly, Bill had an acute sense of the weight of things and of gravity. His tabletop pieces were often heavy, an inevitable part of their presence. The jewelry has an unforgettable, sensual weight - you wear and feel the pieces in an active way - I enjoyed discussing how they felt with him. I was reacquainted with this when I wore one of his pieces every day for the last year.


I have always wondered how to define grief. I lost my father at sixteen and have had much time to consider it. The root of the word grief comes from weight, burden, heavy, grave. Recently, I have been reading the story of how air was discovered in 1671 to have, surprisingly, weight. Recently, in thinking of Bill, and the weight of his work, I came to the following conclusion.

Generating love is a weightless process, at times buoyant. When the one we love is gone, and the love is not received by them, it accumulates in us. Having to carry something with you that you made to be given away freely makes this undelivered love seem heavy. Having no place to put it is disorienting.

We are here today to celebrate Bill's life. Let us share this love we had for him which has no place to rest with each other, and in that act hope to achieve the buoyancy we felt from his love for us.

Frank Gardner said...

Alex, thanks for letting me post your eulogy to Bill.
It is very touching.
Even though I was not able to be there, I was with you in spirit, and thinking of you guys all day.

Ann Reyes said...

Frank, you have my sympathy for the loss of your dear friend. He must have been a wonderful person.

I viewed your paintings today for the first time and they are very nice! I've heard from artist friends that San Miguel is a beautiful place. Your paintings prove its true.

Frank Gardner said...

Thank you Ann!

Anonymous said...

Hi Frank

We've never met, however, I feel as if I know you through Bill's stories and getting lost in your paintings that all literally all over he and Maryanne's home.

I met Bill at Tyler School of Art and like you, he became an instant friend and in the years since has become like a brother to me.

Your tribute is a testament to Bill ability to be everyone's best friend and bring people together. Thank you - and thank you for posting Alex's eulogy as well.

I loved him very much and I miss him terribly.

Andrew Martin

Frank Gardner said...

Andrew. Thank you very much for taking the time to share this and post a comment.
You are right about Bill's ability to be everyone's friend. That is a rare gift.

FCP said...

Frank,
What a lovely tribute to your friend. I'm certain his family is very honored by your friendship and loving support in their time of sorrow. The painting does indeed say it all.
My deepest sympathy,
Faye

Frank Gardner said...

Thank you Faye.

Anonymous said...

Big Guy. I miss you, and think about you every day. Although we were miles away, I always knew you were there. The hours we would spend on the phone, always something interesting, something new, some way to hang out together and span the distance. I'm sorry I didn't make it there in the end. I didn't want to believe how sick you were. I miss you my friend and always will. My world is emptier without you in it. If there is such a thing as meeting again in the strangeness of the universe, I hope we do. With my love, respect, appreciation and tears. I think of you every day.

Tomorrow, 4th of July, Block Island, is another celebration of the happy times in your life. A returning home. Although I can't be there in body, I'm there in heart, mind and spirit. Sweet dreams my brother, my friend. You will be dearly remembered and deeply missed.

Susan said...

Bill was my boyfriend when I was in grad school at RISD from 89-91. I helped him get his application together for Grad school at Tyler and after he moved to Philly we went our separate ways. I just read the short announcement of his death in RISD views and feel so very sad. He was a fantastic guy to spend time with. I loved riding around in the big 1965 Grand Prix he called the Poodlelina. He saved my life once by bringing me to the ER when I was severely ill, dehydrated and incoherent. My heart goes out to his wife, children and family for their huge loss. I really loved him.

Frank Gardner said...

Susan, it is good to hear from you. Thanks for adding to this. Oh.. Poodlelina! a nice car.

Trine said...

Frank,
I just found out about Bill yesterday. It's so unfair. I have a very happy memory of biking full speed down the middle of the road under a full moon with Bill on Block Island. I'll never forget that feeling. Bill had his big smile, letting me let go of my fear. xo

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Trine. Thanks for adding your thoughts.
Bill had such a big smile didn't he?

Trine said...

Yes, he did.

Trine said...

Yes, he did.

Anonymous said...

Bill was a good friend during our years at RISD. Strangely, what I remember most was his "presence". Somehow things were always o.k. when Bill was around...he was like a guardian angel, carefully watching over our motley crew. Whether it was a late night goodie run or a simple sunday morning get-together, I can still remember turning to find Bill cracking his cheshire smile. Quick with a light or an art tool from his box, he always gave directly and freely from his heart. I know his spirit remains with us all.

Adam Rosenberg said...

Bill was a mentor of mine for a few years. I thought of him today and decided to do a search on him and came across your post. It's nice to read about when he was younger. If you ever want to reminisce with an old student of his drop me a line.