Bob Cassilly

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Bob Cassilly working on a dragon sculpture at Trailnet RiverView Park in St. Louis in 2008.

Robert James Cassilly Jr. (November 9, 1949 – September 26, 2011) was an American sculptor, entrepreneur, and museum director. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Cassilly was the founder of the idiosyncratic City Museum, which draws about 600,000 visitors a year and is one of the city's leading tourist attractions.[1][2]


Biography [edit]

Early life [edit]

Cassilly was born in Webster Groves, Missouri, to a homemaker and a building contractor.[1] He began skipping school by age 14 to work as an apprentice for a local sculptor.[1] Cassilly graduated from Vianney High School, then earned a bachelor's degree in art from Fontbonne University in St. Louis.[1]

Career and sculptures [edit]

Cassilly built and ran a restaurant after college. He sold the restaurant, which allowed him to move to Hawaii, where he carved wooden figures.[1] Cassilly reportedly grew tired of Hawaii and returned to his native St. Louis. While earning a master's degree in art at his alma mater, Fontbonne, he met his second wife, sculptor Gail Soliwoda. They remained business partners until their divorce in 2002.[1]

In May 1972, Cassilly was visiting St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City when Laszlo Toth attacked Michelangelo's The Pieta. Cassilly was the first to act and subdued Toth.[3]

During the mid-1970s, Cassilly renovated a townhouse in a dilapidated St. Louis neighborhood, a project that led to the construction of six new townhouses, for which he designed the archiectural flourishes.[1] The project led Cassilly to start making sculptures professionally.[1] He soon became known for his public pieces that depict animals, ranging from turtles to hippos.[1]

The City Museum was launched after he and Gail bought a 250,000-square-foot (23,000 m2) complex, which included the International Shoe Building, offices and a 10-story warehouse, for 69 cents per square foot in 1983.[1] They renovated the site and opened it in 1997 as the City Museum, helping to spark a renovation boom in downtown St. Louis.[4] The museum includes an aquarium, shoelace factory, a fire truck, two airplanes, and a Ferris wheel on the roof.[1] The Project for Public Spaces listed the museum among the "Great Public Spaces in the World" in 2005.[1][5] In 2002, financial obligations forced Cassilly to begin charging visitors a fee to park at the museum. Cassilly hung a sign in the museum's parking lot reading, "Greedy Bob’s Parking Lot."[1]

Cassilly's other works include hippopotamus statues installed at Hippo Playground in Manhattan's Riverside Park in 1993.[1] In 1997, Cassilly also contributed hippo sculptures to Central Park's Safari Playground near W. 91 Street.[1][2][6] He designed two turtles for Turtle Park in St. Louis.[4] A giant concrete butterfly, called the Mysterious Monarch, was unveiled in Faust Park outside the Butterfly House, Missouri Botanical Garden in 1997 in Chesterfield, Missouri.[2] Cassilly's giraffe statue, which stands at the entrance to the Dallas Zoo, is the tallest sculpture in Texas at 67½ feet tall.[1][7] His works for the St. Louis Zoo include the Sea Lion Fountains and a 45-foot squid statue.[1]

In 2000, Cassilly began work on Cementland, a repurposing of a former cement factory on a 54-acre (220,000 m2) site in north St. Louis.[1][4]

On September 26, 2011, Cassilly died at Cementland after the bulldozer he was driving flipped down a hill.[8][9] He was survived by his third wife, Melissa Giovanna Zompa, and their two children, Dylan and Robert III; and two children from his second marriage, Daisy and Max.[1] Cassilly's first wife was the former Cecilia Davidson and his second wife was Gail Soliwoda.[1]

Commissioned sculptures [edit]

References [edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Martin, Douglas (2011-09-29). "Bob Cassilly, Playscape Creator Fueled by Whimsy, Dies at 61". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Toroian Keaggy, Diane (2011-09-27). "Cassilly's inner child was never far from the surface". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  3. ^ Schlafly, Tom (2011-09-29). "Remembering Bob Cassilly". St. Louis Public Radio. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  4. ^ a b c Summers-Sparks, Matthew (August 25, 2007). "One Part Cement, Two Parts Whimsy, One Odd Park". New York Times: Art & Design. 
  5. ^ PPS's The City Museum
  6. ^ "Safari Playground". Central Park Conservancy. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  7. ^ "Bob Cassilly’s sculptures included Dallas Zoo giraffe". Dallas Morning News. 2011-10-10. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  8. ^ "City Museum founder killed in bulldozer accident". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. September 26, 2011. Retrieved September 26, 2011. 
  9. ^ Currier, Joe (2011-09-27). "Cassilly found dead at site he worked on for years". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2011-10-23.