Renaldo Kuhler (American, 1931-2013) was a visionary artist who worked in secret for sixty years, creating an imaginary country he named Rocaterrania—after Rockland County, New York, his childhood home. By day, Kuhler was employed as a scientific illustrator for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, where he created thousands of meticulous illustrations of myriad natural history specimens-reptiles, fish, turtles, and the like, as well as the flora of the region. Although Kuhler’s self-designed uniform (a green sleeveless jacket with tight-fitting shorts, knee-high white socks, and a neckerchief with a handmade slide) instantly signaled his unique character, family, friends, and coworkers had no idea of his prodigious private art work begun in the late 1940s, when he was a teenager.
When Kuhler’s father, Otto Kuhler, a German immigrant and an accomplished designer of streamlined trains, retired and moved his family from upstate New York to a remote ranch in Colorado, a young Renaldo found himself isolated and lonely. He began to invent and illustrate the complex story of Rocaterrania, envisioning the nation’s entire history, its royal family, its political intrigues and uprisings. Beautiful women resembling Marlene Dietrich and Janet Leigh, Scandinavian and Eastern European immigrants, and a politician who looks curiously like Richard Nixon populate Rocaterrania, along with neutants—individuals neither truly male nor female.
The cities in Rocaterrania’s picturesque nine provinces are adorned with distinctive Rocaterranian architecture and connected by well-planned railroad and metro systems. Rocaterrania has its own government, religion (Ojallaism), and evolving language and alphabet, as well as an organized labor service, a prison system (modeled after a New Jersey state penitentiary), a university system, a Rocaterranian Olympics, and an independent movie industry.
Nearly all of the more than 400 illustrations in The Secret World of Renaldo Kuhler (Blast Books, 2017) have never been published before. In graphite, ink, acrylic, oil, gouache, watercolor, colored pencils, and markers, they demonstrate Kuhler’s unique imaginative power, skillful draftsmanship, and wide range of style-from delicately shaded graphite works to rough comic-book-style ink drawings.
After decades of secrecy, Kuhler first shared his work and the story of Rocaterrania with filmmaker Brett Ingram, whom he met by chance in the mid-1990s. In 2009 Ingram released Rocaterrania, a feature-length documentary with prized footage of Kuhler at home and at work.