When Robert Emmett Mueller ‘48 studied electrical engineering at MIT in the mid-1940s, the young man from St. Louis discovered his lifelong path–in art.
Not that he lacked interest in technology. Mueller had received his amateur radio license at age 13 and worked as a radio technician for the navy during World War II. But one day, as he wandered through the mathematics department at MIT, a display case caught his eye. “Inside this case were plaster models of hyperbolic functions, demonstrating the variety of shapes that mathematics engenders,” he recalls. “I began doodling them in the margins of my notebooks.”
Drawing, which he began as a child and continued during navy travels to Africa and Spain, became something more at MIT. “Doodling transformed into serious artistic study when I took an architecture course with professor of visual design Gyorgy Kepes,” he recalls.
After MIT, Mueller earned his degree in aesthetics from New York University in 1951 and soon moved to his current home in Roosevelt, NJ, where he studied with social-realist painters Ben Shahn and Gregorio Prestopino. “These friendships honed my social consciousness,” says Mueller. His work began to express his concerns for women, blacks, and the poor.
One of his recent creations is a large woodcut triptych about the U.S. invasion of Iraq. During the Vietnam War, he completed a 12-panel woodcut, titled America: Dream Deferred, depicting hell, an apocalypse, and a crucifixion. “I make this art as a reaction to the horrors of war,” he says. This work and other woodcut prints by Mueller were exhibited most recently in Roosevelt at the Eleanor Gallery last spring. His drawings, paintings, and woodcuts have been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Stadtmuseum in Berlin.
Mueller’s wife, Diana, worked for several decades as a lawyer in New York and is now retired. The couple’s son, Erik, lives with his wife and three-year-old son, Matthew, in Washington, DC. Mueller’s daughter, Rachel Mueller-Lust, is a cognitive psychologist who lives in New York City with her husband. Mueller and his wife enjoy visiting with family and talking frequently with their grandson on the telephone. “Matthew spins a great story, now that he’s talking,” he says with a laugh.