March 18, 2002
Notes from Robert Ivy, FAIA
This portrait of Samuel Mockbee
served as the cover for a program of the evening's events.
Friends of Samuel Sambo Mockbee gathered in New
York on Thursday, March 7, to honor the memory of a man who
reminded the world that architecture is for people. Max Protetch,
who became Mockbees friend while showing his work, organized
the event at his gallery in Chelsea. Timed to coincide with
the rural Studios Biennial opening at the Whitney, the
time finally arrived for last good-byes.
Mockbees own personality filled the room, such that
you could almost hear his voice. Drawings and multiple video
images completed the illusion, or was it real? By 6:30 p.m.,
Sambos family, including three lovely daughters and
son Julius, had taken their seats, and the gallery had filled
to standing-room-only, augmented by a passel of Auburn students,
faculty, and friends who braved the trip north. Max and Jackie
Mockbee had invited over 20 people to say something.
Dennis Ruth, who had founded the studio with fellow traveler
Mockbee, led things off with a eulogy previously given at
Auburn. Literate and soulful, Ruths elegy began by quoting
the poem Do Not Be Ashamed, by Wendell Berry,
an apt kick-off for what would prove to be an evening celebration
of an architects humane genius. Although enjoined to
brevity, the proceedings continued until 9:00 p.m., and the
evening seemed short.
Some knew him well; others crossed his path briefly. All
brought eloquence and a sense of emotional resonance. Here
are random glimpses from the evening:
Paula Dietz, editor of the Hudson Review, standing elegantly
still and warmly sharing observations and memories.
Andrea Oppenheimer Dean and Timothy Hursley, whose book on
Mockbee and the Rural Studio had just been released, each
shared complementary experiences.
Andrew Freear, director of the graduate program for the Rural
Studio, who read quotes from real people from Hale County,
Alabama, whose lives had been altered in positive ways by
Sambo. A trusty, for example, from the local penal farm said
that Mockbee had been the first person to fully look at him,
to see him, and to endow him with his full personhood.
Karen Stein, who remembered the elation and sense of justice
we all felt on learning that this man and his architectural
program had captured a MacArthur grant.
Mack Scogin, who recaptured a rowdy story fully in character
with the original. Ask him to tell you himself.
Shelley Martin, a teacher at VPI, who quoted Mockbee
fellow Mississippian Eudora Welty.
As an architect who had grown up professionally with Sambo
(we both practiced in MississippiI returned in 76,
he in 78), I remembered how his gift was apparent from
those earliest days. The honor award submissions, which he
always won, carried the stamp of an authentic voice in clarity
and form. We faced similar clients in the nations poorest
state, shared the platform numerous times, and all knew that
he was ahead of the packa position he maintained.
Born in Meridian, an early exemplar of the New South, he
chose to live in Madison County, which represents the oldat
the crossroads of present and past, where the tension, and
action, reside. His architecture, literally recast from the
physical shards and abstract forms of the past, brought a
radical continuity, a witness that change was coming, and
had, in fact, arrived.
After my wife and I adjourned to the diner around the corner
for a cheeseburger, Sambos voice remained very much
inside my head, rich and sonorous and proud as hell for such
an evening in New York.
Heres a list of who spoke:
Max Protetch, owner, Max Protetch
D.K. Ruth, Professor and Director,
The Rural Studio
Paula Dietz, editor Hudson Review
Deedie Rose, a client from Dallas,
Tim Hursley, photographer of
the new book on the Rural Studio by Princeton Press
Andrea Oppenheimer Dean, author
of the book (Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture
William T. Dooley, Director
of the gallery of art at the University of Alabama Arts and
Karen Stein, editorial director
of Phaidon Press
William H. Sledge, MD, Professor
of Psychiatry, University School of Medicine
Lawrence Chua, writer
Reed Kroloff, Editor in chief
of Architecture magazine
Coco Brown, developer, Sagaponack,
Jane Adlin, Curator, The Metropolitan
Museum of Art, NYC
Joseph Giovannini, architect
and critic for New York magazine
Andrew Freear, Professor of
Architecture, Auburn University
Judy Hudson, artist and writer,
who interviewed Sambo in Bomb Magazine
Mindy Fox, Creative Director
of Earth Pledge Foundation
Shelley Martin, Assoc. Professor,
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ.
Mack Scogin, Mack Scogin Merrill
Elam Architects, Atlanta, GA
Robert Ivy, yours truly
to "From the Field"