Robin Louis Ptacek. Art historian, professor, curator, writer, traveler and community activist, Robin Louis Ptacek was the second of four children born, in Chicago, Ill., to Robert Arthur Ptacek and Lorin Ptacek Wade. He is survived by his mother, his sister Melissa Ptacek Speetjens (John), niece Maile Speetjens, nephew Frank Speetjens, and his younger brother Greg (Alisse). At early age Robin embraced art. Even as a child he was an inveterate collector of objets d'art. He pursued this passion through school, first at Beloit College in Wisconsin and ultimately earning a Ph.D. in art history from the University California, Santa Barbara. A lover of modern and contemporary art, his master thesis documented how America's unique post-WWII highway culture influenced the emerging Pop Art scene. He chose as the topic of his doctoral thesis the work and legacy of Bisson Frères (Louis-Auguste Bisson and Auguste-Rosalie Bisson). His monograph on these seminal 19th-century photographic artists remains among the definitive works on the subject. His career in art history flourished with professorial positions at universities in California, Maryland and Texas as well as serving as a curator of modern art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. As a fellow of the Soros Foundation, he spent a year-long sabbatical in Romania, assisting the reestablishment of art history academia there, following the country's new gained freedom with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Adept at languages, he spoke French, Spanish, Italian, German, Romanian and Czech. Bitten with wanderlust, he traveled extensively throughout Europe as well as the Americas. A skilled wordsmith, he wrote for a wide range of publications from leading academic publications in his field to the popular press. In one memorable article that he penned for California Magazine ("His Fair Ladies," 1983), he recounted his months spent as an assistant to famed Hollywood director George Cukor. Following his professional retirement to Palm Springs, he pursued a new career as a social activist, volunteering his time and talents at several organization serving the senior and GLBT communities in the desert cities. He also renewed a career that he had begun at Sotheby Parke-Bernet, where he had worked as a curator, by providing expert art appraisals to local area art collectors. A talented artist in his own right, he followed his muse to create a number of artworks inspired by the beauty of the desert landscape. Robin died peacefully on November 29, 2012. According to his wishes, his cremated remains will be scattered in the Pacific Ocean off of his beloved island of Kauai, Hawaii.
Published in The Desert Sun from Dec. 6 to Dec. 8, 2012