Skip to content ↓

Professor R.O. Preusser Dies

A memorial service in celebration of the life of retired Professor Robert Ormerod Preusser, who died November 16 of cancer, will be held in the MIT Chapel on February 8 at 2pm. A reception in the Faculty Club will follow.

Mr. Preusser, professor emeritus of visual design in the School of Architecture and Planning, was 73.

Professor Preusser developed the first studio course at MIT for non-artists, encouraging students to use their scientific and technological studies to create two- and three-dimensional visual forms. A team of his students created the first Fortune 500 magazine cover to employ computer-generated design. In 1969, he taught a similar studio course at the Institute for Educational Technology at the University of Surrey in Guildford, England.

From 1974 until his retirement in 1985, Professor Preusser was director of education at MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies.

Professor Preusser was born in Houston, TX, where he began art lessons with McNeill Davidson in 1930. Between 1939 and 1947, he attended the Institute of Design in Chicago, where he did his first teaching at art classes for children; Tulane University, and the Art Center School in Los Angeles. In his early teens he began exhibiting nationally and internationally.

During World War II, from 1942 to 1945, he served as a camouflage technician with the Army's 84th Engineer Camouflage Battalion in North Africa, France, Italy and Germany.

Professor Preusser was a co-founder of the Contemporary Arts Association in Houston in 1948, and later co-director of the Contemporary Arts Museum.

In 1950 Edith Halpert selected him as one of five promising young painters for the Newcomers Gallery in her New York Downtown Gallery. In addition, Art in America Review nominated him as a "Promising New Talent in USA" in 1956.

When Mr. Preusser moved to Cambridge in 1954 to teach at MIT, he had been art editor of the Texas Cancer Bulletin, stage set designer for Houston's Texas Stage, associate curator of education at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and art instructor at the University of Houston.

He was invited to MIT by his former teacher, Gyorgy Kepes, now Institute Professor Emeritus. A one-year appointment led to tenure and a 31-year teaching career at the Institute.

Professor Preusser's paintings were closely allied with his teaching philosophy of experimentation and innovation. Two exhibits of his works were held in Houston in 1990 and, in 1991, he was honored with a retrospective exhibition of his paintings in the MIT Museum.

His works are included in some 200 private and museum collections, as well as in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Art critic Elizabeth McBride, commenting on the Houston exhibitions, said that "in any one piece what is most noticeable is the process of internal transformation. There's a concrete quality to his abstractions and a spiritual quality to all his representation... Within this wonderland of experimentation, Preusser manages to remain true to an entirely personal world, for over the years his painting has maintained a serene stability."

He leaves his wife, Mary Ellen (Cadenhead); a son, Eric O. Preusser of Boston; a daughter, Alison G. Perroni of Billerica; a daughter-in-law, Diane K. Preusser; a son-in-law, Joseph J. Perroni, and a granddaughter.

Donations may be made in his memory to the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital or Hospice of Cambridge.

A version of this article appeared in the December 2, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 37, Number 15).

Related Topics

More MIT News