Sunday, June 21, 2009

Obituary: Robert Grilley - Class of 1938

MADISON - Robert Grilley, age 88, died in Madison on Monday, June 15, 2009. He was born in Beloit on November 14, 1920, to Robert Earl Grilley and Ella Louise (Cruger) Grilley, but spent most of his childhood in Lancaster and Madison. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1942 with high senior honors in Art and English. Following his lifelong love of airplanes, he received his pilot's license through the Civilian Pilot Training Program in 1940 and remained a pilot until age 80. After graduation, he enrolled as an aviation cadet and became a B-17 navigator during World War II (8th Air Force), flying 30 missions over Germany. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, Presidential Unit Citation and ETO with two Bronze Battle Stars. Upon returning to Madison after World War II, he earned a Master's degree and joined the UW Art Department faculty in 1945, where he taught life drawing and painting for 42 years. He was selected by a prominent group of individuals representing Art in America as one of the country's rising new talents as a painter in 1957. He was chair of the Graduate Art Program from 1960-65, of the Art Department from 1962-65 and conferred Professor Emeritus status upon retirement in 1987. Professor Grilley was an inspiring teacher, respected figure painter, and later in his career chose to focus much of his work on family and friends. He completed several commissioned portraits of prominent Wisconsin leaders and is represented in permanent collections of the Butler Institute of American Art, De Beers Collection, Wichita Art Museum, Nelson Rockefeller Collection, Wustum Museum of Fine Arts, Krannet Art Museum, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, UW Memorial Union and Wisconsin Historical Society. In 1985, he won Best-in-Show at the Butler Museum of American Art. He had a large retrospective show in the Wichita Museum of Art in 1987, and another at the UW Memorial Union in 2005. In a creative departure from visual arts, he wrote about the juxtaposition of war and art in his memoir, Return From Berlin: The Eye of a Navigator published by the UW Press in 2003 and later internationally by the Pen and Sword Press in England (2005). He is survived by his loving wife, Ei; daughters, Rinelda and Juneko (Andy); sons, Rob and Dorian (Margie); grandson, Davis; granddaughter, Clare; and many other family and friends. Happy Father's Day! Plans for a Memorial Service are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to the University of Wisconsin Foundation "Great people.Great place." initiative."

Originally published in the Wisconsin State Journal on June 21, 2009.

Note: Robert Grilley's class year is based on information in the 1938 Orange & Black yearbook. The photograph accompanying this post is a scan of his senior photo.


Sonora said...

I was a grad student who studied with Mr. Grilley at the UW from 1981-84, and am very sad to hear of his passing. My deepest condolences to his wife Ei and daughter Juneko. All of his students carry with them a part of his artistic genius and wonderful memories of him during our time on the 7th floor of the Education building. Fly high Mr. Grilley!

Sharon Ely Forsmo
Phoenix, AZ

Lucinda said...

I, too, studied under Robert Grilley as a graduate student. Mine were the confusing years of the Vietnam War, when chaos on campus ruled. Through it all Robert remained steadfastly committed to a no-nonsense work ethic. A skill of his caliber was difficult to learn, let alone master. I was in awe of his talent.

I'll never forget the day he walked into my tiny studio in the old house on University Ave, near the 602 Club. He picked up a small square of masonite and quickly painted a head, to show how to mix and layer colors. I kept that little painting for years, studying it off and on.

Life intervened, but forty years after graduate school, I picked up my brushes again and began painting anew. I wrote Robert a letter to see if he remembered me and to thank him for all the advice he had given me all those years ago. He wrote back, and we became Pen Pals for several years. It was wonderful to connect with him and learn more about my teacher as a person. Right to the end, he painted and I was still learning from him.

I will miss him terribly. I treasure all his letters. My website is: