All is Flux

The Nautilus Foundation: Medieval Castle in the Woods



(page 3 of 4)

DAVE BARFIELD

It is not known whether these documents make up all of Bucher’s papers. Katie McCormick, the head of Special Collections, notes,  “The gap between his death in 1999 and the sale of the property in 2014 means that we don’t know who interacted with the material or what may have been moved or thrown away. We don’t have a full catalog of the holdings of the Nautilus Foundation at the time of his death.”

Nor is it clear what happened to the entirety of Bucher’s collection of art, artifacts and furniture, though to be sure, 87 lots were sold at an estate auction in Philadelphia in 2012, including the famous (in Bucher lore, at least) mahogany-frame yellow sofa purchased from Albert Einstein’s estate. Not included in the sale were a painting given to Bucher by Josef Albers, his collections of French Impressionist lithographs and Picasso prints, or his illuminated manuscripts, presumably sold separately.   

Asked about the collection, Claudia Bucher responds, “I think it is where he put his love. His collection was a container for the love he could not make manifest with real people. I think this is why he was so obsessed with maintaining it into perpetuity. And, I think this is what made his donation of the estate to a foreign, impersonal entity so difficult.” 

Artifacts of the Past for the Children of the Future

Finding it difficult to populate an artist’s colony in Lloyd, Bucher, operating from his Tallahassee home on Groveland Hills Drive, began recruiting a board of directors for a new, more ambitious project around 1986. The Nautilus Foundation incorporated with renowned Swiss architect Justus Dahinden as vice president in 1987 and achieved nonprofit status the following year.  

Bucher described the Nautilus Foundation as formed in reaction to the cultural decline of the ’80s, performing the service of monasteries that maintained the study of language and literature during the Dark Ages. “The Nautilus, a magnificently proportioned (Fibonacci series), ever-expanding shell would become the symbol of a Foundation which would preserve artifacts and documents of the past for the children of the future, and through symposia, performances, tutorials and fellowships generate solutions addressed to uncertain times,” he wrote following his residence in California as a Getty Scholar.     

Soon the first construction on the Lloyd property was erected, an audiovisual building dubbed “The Turtle.” Tallahassee builder Bill Garrison helped Bucher complete the Foundation’s main building, the Trivium. Constructed of steel and reinforced concrete, Bucher claimed it was designed to last 500 years or more. Nevertheless, the building was plagued with cracking walls and a leaking roof. David Heaps remembers Bucher’s obstinacy concerning the project: “One of Bucher’s specialties was medieval castle foundations. He wouldn’t listen to anybody.”

George Brooks, one of Bucher’s students and now a professor at Valencia College, describes one class meeting in spring 1990. “He came to class with his shirt unbuttoned halfway down, sweaty, and looking like he had been doing manual labor all morning before class … which he was!” That morning Bucher had solved the problem of lifting a heavy roll of rubber sheeting to the roof without the aid of heavy machinery by using a system of pulleys, he told his students. “He was pleased with himself at applying medieval building know-how to getting things done in the modern world that most people would have to hire expensive machinery to accomplish.  And that was how Bucher was — he felt a kinship with medieval builders and tried to bring their creativity and skill into his own works.”

The Nautilus Foundation officially opened on October 28, 1990, with an exhibit of R. Buckminster Fuller’s designs and models. Later exhibitions included William S. Burroughs’ “Shotgun Paintings” and “Chernobyl Insects” by Cornelia Hesse.

The Nautilus Foundation’s Dark Ages

The Quadrivium was still incomplete as Bucher made a last frantic push to secure funding in the mid-’90s, scouring other organizations’ donor lists and submitting multiple requests to foundations. Even after suffering a stroke in 1996, he continued seeking funds to finish the building. He also began searching for an heir to carry out the mission of the Nautilus Foundation. 

In February 1996, the Board of Trustees agreed to transfer the Nautilus Foundation to Florida State University. Bucher signed a gift commitment to FSU in June. At an estimated worth of more than $3.1 million, FSU announced the bequest as one of the largest gifts to its Capital Campaign. But the deal ultimately fell apart. By March 1998, Bucher realized that the university was unable to commit the funds needed to finish, repair, and maintain his buildings.     

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