SAH Newsletter

Obituary: Narciso G. Menocal (1936-2018)

by Anna Andrzejewski and Richard Cleary | Sep 07, 2018

Narciso G. Menocal, Professor Emeritus of Art History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and longtime SAH member, passed away on August 4, 2018, in Madison, Wisconsin. He was 82. Narciso is most widely known for his writing on Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, but from the 1990s, he devoted much attention to the literature, art, and architecture of his native Cuba.

Born in Havana in 1936, Narciso immigrated to the United States in 1960 as a refugee of the Cuban Revolution. He completed his professional architectural education begun in Cuba at the University of Florida, earning his B.Arch. in 1964.  There, Turpin Bannister encouraged his interest architectural history and supervised his M.A. thesis (1966), a comparative study of the socio-political influences affecting the architecture of the Monastery of Cluny and Suger’s Abbey of Saint-Denis. Along the way, he married Marta Cosío, who survives him.

Bannister pointed Narciso to the University of Illinois where Walter Creese inspired his exploration of Louis Sullivan’s intellectual formation and mature theory that became the subject of his dissertation (1974) and first book, Architecture as Nature: The Transcendentalist Idea of Louis Sullivan (1981). Narciso was a central figure in a generation of scholars who liberated Sullivan’s reputation from the proto-functionalist shackles of “form follows function” in favor of a more nuanced view of the architect as a transcendental romantic. He capped this thread of research with Louis Sullivan: The Poetry of Architecture (2000), written with Robert Twombly.

Narciso joined the Department of Art History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1972. For nearly forty years, his elegantly-crafted lectures and challenging seminars introduced generations of students to the study of American and European architectural history. He nurtured many to pursue graduate study in architecture and architectural history. These students and colleagues alike enjoyed generous hospitality and lively conversations at Narciso and Marta’s home.

Beyond the university, Narciso’s professional contributions included service to the SAH as a co-chair of the 1980 meeting in Madison, member of the board of directors (1998-2001), and a contributor to the 2004 monograph, The Charnley House:  Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Making of Chicago’s Gold Coast.  He also was a member of the advisory board for the Cambridge University Press series, Modern Architecture and Cultural Identity. He edited two volumes of Wright Studies; an edition of John Lloyd Wright’s memoir, My Father, Who Is on Earth (1994); and the Cuba theme issue of the Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts (2002). 

Anna Andrzejewski, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Richard Cleary, University of Texas at Austin


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