Bill Minschew, 1937-2008

from The Fresno Bee, October 10, 2008, Donald Munro


Word comes that noted Fresno State professor and artist William "Bill" Minschew, who owned a glorious hilltop Tollhouse retreat on Highway 168 that he painstakingly developed through the years to resemble a Tuscan estate, has died at age 71. An obituary ran Thursday in the Charlotte News & Observer. (No obituary ran in the Bee.) Minschew died on Oct. 1. The funeral is 2 p.m. Sunday in Wilson, N.C.

Here's a recap from his obit:

He graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina in 1961. Upon graduation, he received a national Fulbright scholarship for post graduate work to study 17th-century sculpture and painting at the Academy of Fine Arts, Rome, Italy. Returning to the United States, he became a professor at California State University in Fresno. His work has been exhibited in numerous one-man and group exhibitions and in more than one hundred private collections.

I last wrote about Minschew (shown above in a 2000 Bee photo by Tomas Ovalle) on the Beehive during CSU Summer Arts, when he sponsored a July 8 reception for the program's guest artists and instructors.

When he died, Minschew was working on a show titled "The Egypt Portfolio: Selected Prints," in conjunction with the Conference on Middle East Studies at Fresno State, which runs Oct. 16-18. A reception will be held the first night of the conference.


Show's a fitting memorial to local artist 

The Fresno Bee, October 16, 2008, Donald Munro

Artists draw upon their own lives as a foundation for their work. William "Bill" Minschew didn't realize it at the time, but for his last exhibition, he offered a premonition of his death.

A fiberglass sculpture of himself partially wrapped like a mummy is one of the pieces in "The Egypt Portfolio: Selected Prints," an exhibition that coincides with the International Conference on Middle East Studies opening today at California State University, Fresno.

Minschew, a professor emeritus of art and design, died Oct. 1 at age 71 at his landmark Tollhouse home, which he had fashioned into a residence resembling a glorious estate in the rolling hills of Tuscany.

As for his show's theme, his fascination with Egypt stemmed from a trip to that country several years ago. He showed his ideas to Vida Samiian, dean of Fresno State's College of Arts and Humanities and a prime organizer of the Middle East conference. She suggested that he develop his themes for a small exhibition accompanying the conference.

"I was very impressed by the level of abstraction," Samiian says. "He was such a phenomenal artist, such a creative mind."

The conference is drawing an impressive array of international academics, including keynote speaker Haleh Afshar, a professor at the University of York (and also a baroness and member of the House of Lords), who will speak on "Islam and Feminisms."

Although most of the other works are prints, Minschew decided to throw in the mummy into the show to add a wrinkle.

Richard Cook, a close friend who knew the artist for 35 years, says the self-sculpture was an older fiberglass piece that had been around Minschew's studio for years.

"It was not originally a mummy," Cook says. "He decided to wrap it in gauze and make a mummy out of it for this event."

Another of his close friends, Joyce Aiken, laughs when she thinks of the partially wrapped mummy as one of his last public works.

"It sounds like something Bill would do," she says.

Aiken describes Minschew as a "Renaissance person" who had so many ideas he couldn't actually produce them all.

Most of his exhibitions during his long career were local, including at the Fresno Art Museum.

Though he also showed his work in Italy and Los Angeles, Aiken says that Minschew was often so busy making his art that he didn't always put enough effort into marketing it.

For Minschew, passion as an artist was everything. When he wasn't working on individual pieces, he was tinkering with his hilltop property, which features elaborate stonemasonry gardens and a vast lawn shaded by a canopy of trees.

Aiken remembers that a few years ago she asked him when he was going to stop working on his house and get back to his art.

He looked at her and said, "This is my art."

Funeral services were held for Minschew Oct. 12 in North Carolina. His friends will hold a memorial event, tentatively planned for Nov. 15, at the Fresno State campus.