Robert C. Lienhardt, MICA history of art teacher and neighborhood presence, dies

Robert Cullen Lienhardt, a retired professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art who was recalled for the whimsical ceramic frogs he distributed, died of complications of dementia and a stroke Sept. 26 at Arden Courts of Towson. He was 86 and had lived in Bolton Hill.

Born in New York City, he was the son of Marion Catherine and Winfield Schley Lienhardt, an engineer.

He obtained a bachelor’s degree at Rutgers University, and enlisted in the Army during the Korean War. He was assigned to Germany, and while there he visited Romanesque churches — an experience that awakened a fascination with art history.

He pursued graduate study in Germany under the G.I. Bill and received a doctorate from the University of Paris. His dissertation was on the early Christian churches in Turkey. He spoke German and French, and appeared as an extra in the film, “The Longest Day.”

Dr. Lienhardt joined the MICA faculty in 1967 and taught art history until he retired in 1992. He later became a substantial donor to the school and made other bequests to arts organizations.

“He taught large classes — maybe 100 students. You had to pass his course to graduate, and he was known to be a difficult grader,” said Tom Cowen, a former student who became a close friend. “Over time, he eased up on the grades.”

Dr. Lienhardt spent his summers and occasional sabbaticals pursuing art history. He visited ancient art sites — Palmyra in Syria and places in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel and India. He saw the Buddhas at Bamiyan in Afghanistan before they were destroyed in religious conflicts.

“He was determined to see firsthand the art he was teaching about, and particularly loved Italy, especially Rome,” said his companion, M. Barbara Leons, whom he called “my sweetie.”

Friends said he would buy older Mercedes sedans in Europe and drive them through the Balkans and Middle East. When he reached India, he would abandon them and fly home. At times he also had an export business and shipped jewelry to Baltimore for resale at local fairs.

“He wasn’t a tourist. He was a traveler in the 19th-century sense. He gloried in getting to know the local people,” said Ms. Leons.

In the 1980s he traveled to Nepal. He made three visits to the Mount Everest base camp. He was a frequent visitor to Bali, where he became fascinated by local religious rituals. Most recently he traveled to Mexico.

Dr. Lienhardt had been a classic automobile collector — he had owned a 1934 Packard four-door convertible and later regretted that his father made him sell it. He taught a MICA course called “The American Automobile.” At one time he drove a 1967 Corvair.

In a 1977 story in The Sun about the auto class, he said: “Before World War II it wasn’t the Rolls Royce or the Mercedes that were thought of as the big prestige car everywhere. It was the Packard.”

He encouraged his students to photograph rusting cars in junk yards. He also asked them to sketch oversized Cadillacs and Chryslers, models he called “cars from the day of the giants.” He led his students to antique cars exhibitions at Hershey, Pa.

“I think cars are America’s most popular art form,” he said.

Dr. Lienhardt lived in a corner Mosher Street home and rented apartments to students. He was within walking distance to his old classrooms at MICA, as well as Theatre Project and Chesapeake Shakespeare Co. He also was a regular at Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performances. He was a major donor to these cultural institutions.

He kept composition books with notes and schedules of the performances and gallery openings he attended. He often arranged his daily schedule while seated at the Mount Vernon coffee house.

“He was a fixture at the City Cafe, and soon I became friends with him and his friends,” said Kimberly Forsyth, a reservoir Hill resident. “He supported all the arts institutions he visited.”

“Bob was often quite outgoing and friendly and would greet complete strangers we’d encountered in our walks,” said Hugh Ronalds, a walking companion and fellow Bolton Hill resident. “He carried treats to give to the dogs these strangers might have.”

Friends said Dr. Lienhardt dressed simply and did not carry electronic devices.

“He ran his life out the canvas bag he carried,” said friend Becky Brown. “He knew he had memory problems at the end of his life and yet he did very well. Bob was also a generous person but you would never know he had anything.”

Many knew him from the ceramic frogs and turtles he made at the Waxter Center for Senior Citizens. He handed them out, he said, “to cheer someone up.”

“The ceramic frogs he made were his calling cards which he left with friends and acquaintances throughout the city,” said Ms. Leons.

Over the years he left some of the figurines at the Peabody Institute box office, where they rest on a cabinet. A memorial fund has been established in his name at the institue’s free concert series.

Visitation will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home, 6500 York Road in Rodgers Forge.

In addition to Ms. Leons, a retired Towson University professor of cultural anthropology, survivors include a niece, Karen Modine Fiocchi of Rhinelander, Wisc. His marriages to Birgitte Kueppers and Gisele Delanoy ended in divorce.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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