Renaldo Gillet Kuhler

November 21, 1931June 2, 2013

Renaldo Gillet Kuhler November 21, 1931 – June 2, 2013 Raleigh

Renaldo Gillet Kuhler, 81, passed away on Sunday, June 2, 2013, at Rex Hospital.

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.” They broke the mold when they made you, Renaldo. You are loved and you will be missed.

Renaldo never married. He is survived by his sister, Winona Zabriskie and brother-in-law Bill Zabriskie of Naples, FL, niece Fern Zabriskie of Olympia, WA, and nephew Dane Zabriskie of West Chester, PA.

Brown Wynne Funeral Home handled the arrangements. Online condolences are welcome

Renaldo’s friends will gather at the 42nd Street Oyster Bar in Raleigh on Tuesday, June 18th from 5:00-7:00 pm to celebrate his life.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy: 866-202-9788 or


Renaldo Gillet Kuhler

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Mike Davitt

June 17, 2013

In my previous entry I neglected to use the name Renaldo gave me when we became friends in 1993. I'm very sorry I can't be with you all for the gathering at the Oyster Bar tomorrow night as I'm working in Germany. He's been gone just two weeks now and knowing that Renaldo will not be there this time when I get home causes me the feel the loss more deeply. It's sinking in. He was so good to me. I'll see if I can call the Oyster Bar tomorrow night while you're all there. I am Mike, the Frontiersman and I love Renaldo. The Frontiersman

Lorraine Readling

June 16, 2013

You will be missed, sweet man. Rest in peace.
Lorraine (the swan), Greg and Rain

Kay Maningas

June 14, 2013

Renaldo, I will trully miss you. There has never been another like you nor will there ever be. It was such a priviledge to know you,and I do feel blessed because of all the things you shared with me about your life. The world was a definately a better place by you being in it.

June 12, 2013

I already miss you, Renaldo. Rest in peace. Dr. Shelley

June 12, 2013

i had the pleasure of sitting beside Renaldo in Winstons Restaurant one night--an unlikely bar for Renaldo, and heard him pontificate about the world. He was 'out there" as they say, but I have never forgot that evening. They did not just "break the mold"--he WAS the mold! Onward, good friend--to the Finland Station! Let your freak flag fly high and long! EK Howard, "north' Raleigh

Jeff Beane

June 10, 2013

Farewell, Pleistocene Man. This world, maybe, was never meant for one as unique and talented as you. May you dwell in the heart of Rocaterrania forever. Of all the people I have ever met, I think you may very well have been the most unusual. And that right that there is saying something. --The Beane Salad (with/without vinegar).

Chris Tacker

June 9, 2013

Sleep well, Renaldo, and wake in Rocaterrania. There was no mold to break when he was made, because he was entirely his own creation. He was ever true to himself and to his artistic vision.

Michael Davitt

June 9, 2013

Renaldo has been a my dear friend for just short of twenty years since I moved to Raleigh in July of '93. Our mutual landlord, Chris Capetanos, also no longer with us, introduced us right in the middle of the road on Tilden St. His studio apartment was next to my one bedroom, so we shared many fun nights barbequeing and drinking beer with friends on our shared front porch. We referred to it as the Tilden St. Front Porch Bar and Grill. We became close friends. I will miss him deeply. Unfortunately, I can not be at the Memorial gathering as I'm working in Germany. I am fortunate to have had such a generous and creative friend from whom I learned a great deal.

Neil Laton

June 9, 2013

There was never a dull moment around you. You were a talented artist as well as a man of great conviction. There will never be another like you, and for that I am sad. Your work will live in the museum forever. You are truly a museum treasure!

Harold and Lucinda Denton

June 9, 2013

We met Renaldo only once but as his obituary said, we have never forgotten him as he welcomed us as instant friends. The documentary about him is a treasure and how wonderful his "country" will remain, a memorial to his genius.