Born in Teaneck, New Jersey in 1931, Renaldo Kuhler was the only son of a German immigrant who became famous for designing steam locomotives with a streamlined Art Deco look. When Otto Kuhler retired in 1948, he moved his family from the suburbs of New York to a remote valley in Colorado to live the life of a cowboy. Seventeen-year-old Renaldo did not, however, share his father's dream, and he found the isolation unbearable. In reaction, he retreated to a fantasy world he named Rocaterrania, recording it's complex history in dozens of journals and sketchbooks.
It began with two imaginary friends who played in the orchestra of what would become the Schwartz Opera House in Cuidad Eldorado, which soon emerged as the nation's capital city. Renaldo envisioned himself playing second violin. To help transform the fantasy into reality, he built a violin with wood scraps and laminated paper, and then drew the opera house, his new-found friends, and the city where they lived. As the cast of characters grew, their intricate interrelationships became political movements that led in turn to national crises, which breathed life into the ever-expanding vision.
The course of Rocaterrania's history reflects events in Kuhler's life. The nation began as a monarchy during the time that Renaldo felt trapped on the ranch under the rule of his authoritarian parents, but successive tyrannical regimes were overturned as he gained his personal independence. Eventually, when Renaldo achieved career stability as an illustrator, Rocaterrania settled into a peculiar democracy.
For 30 years, Kuhler served as chief scientific illustrator for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, and was well-known throughout the town. Always sporting his self-styled uniform, inspired by Rocaterrania dress (railroad cap, military-style jacket, shorts, a bolo tie and white knee-high socks), Kuhler's home away from home was the 42nd Street Oyster Bar, where he affectionately nicknamed the other regulars. Filmmaker Brett Ingram documented Renaldo Kuhler and his incredible imagined world in the highly acclaimed film Rocaterrania. Renaldo Kuhler died in June of 2013 at the age of 81.
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