Welcome to a new NPR series where we spotlight the people and things making headlines — and the stories behind them.
The Golden Gate Bridge may be the most iconic monument on the San Francisco Bay. But for decades, smaller monuments would pop up along the East Bay shoreline: whimsical sculptures of biplanes, like the Red Baron, perched on pier pilings.
Tyler James Hoare was the man behind those sculptures, and he died on January 31 at 82 years old.
Who was he? Tyler James Hoare was born in Joplin, Mo. – along Route 66, as he boasted in an old video. He studied at the University of Kansas, where, at the time, abstract art was the big thing.
His professors would push him in that direction, but he wouldn't have it. He preferred collages and large pieces.
Hoare moved to Berkeley in 1965 with his wife and daughter, and he set up a studio in the basement of an old Victorian home. He began installing sculptures on pier posts in the 1970s. He would say that the bay became his gallery.
He started with the Red Baron, made of stretched canvas, wood, plaster, and other kinds of found materials. But he also built human figures, sharks, viking ships, and even a UFO with battery-powered Christmas lights.
For years, the water and weather would wash away his creations. But he wasn't upset about it, he would just put another up.
At an artist talk a few years ago, Hoare recalled that while installing two of the first airplanes, he got a group of friends on two boats and one person stayed ashore with paperwork. That is, fake paperwork saying that the City of Berkeley had bought the piece.
How do his loved ones want him remembered?
His wife of 60 years, Kathy Hoare, told NPR she wants him remembered by how creative he was, and how detached he was from his work. "He wasn't snobby about it," she said. "He was just an explorer who liked art, and art was everything."
A longtime friend, Bob Colin, saw that selfless dedication too. He said Hoare was so committed to art that it was almost surreal. "It was his job, his personal life, and that's what he did every day."
Kathy Hoare will also remember him for the dedication he would show the people he loved. For example, she had always loved to dance, but her husband, try as he might, couldn't quite get it right. One day, they visited one of the bars he'd designed, for his day job. And as they sat there, something changed. "On the jukebox came a Cajun tune, I think it was by Rockin' Sidney, and Tyler jumped up and he said, 'I can dance to that, I can dance to that. You wanna dance to that?' And I said, 'OK, yeah.' And so that started out our dancing career, going to Cajun dances."
The takeaway: Hoare never got used to the digital world. He didn't own a computer or email account. But Matt Reynoso, an old friend and owner of The Compound Gallery where Hoare used to show his work, said he was still an "amazing communicator." He would often call and send letters.
"I had more voicemails on my phone from him than anybody else, because nobody calls and leaves voicemails anymore. But he does," Reynoso said. "So I had to, you know, clear out my voicemail [every now and then] because I would keep them."
Bob Colin said the letters were so special, even down to the envelopes. "He would illustrate [them] completely, sometimes not leaving enough room for the address and return address on the envelope. But it would just be filled with these beautiful illustrations," Colin said. "And somehow, it surprised me, the mail service always got it to me and I was delighted. I saved all of those. But there was everything about Tyler that was so magnetic. And so attractive. And so completely mysterious, enigmatic, and unique."
So for those reading this, perhaps you can go look at some ephemeral art today, or call someone you love. In memory of Tyler James Hoare.
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.