Sonoma Valley Sun


Life Tribute for Robert Eugene Berner

Posted on April 6, 2023 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Robert Eugene Berner, also known as “Berner,” passed away peacefully on March 1, 2023. He was born on August 12, 1932, to Fred and Evelyn Berner in Orlando, Florida. His grandparents, both graduates from the Chicago Art Institute, encouraged his natural talents to draw and paint when he was quite young. This influence became a foundation for lifelong artistic pursuits, along with a love for music and dancing.

After serving in the Navy during the Korean War, Robert studied Industrial Design at Pratt Institute in New York. He moved to San Francisco in the 1960s and arrived in the midst of the counterculture experience, surrounded by independent thinkers, activists and creatives. He created the logo for the Society for Individual Rights and worked on publications about the movement. He had a following of fans with his geometric, op art, organic blend of painting, with many pieces commissioned for clients. Alongside this, he worked as a scientific illustrator at UC Berkeley in the Department of Anthropology.

At the end of the ’60s, Robert moved to the warmer Sonoma climate, but he continued his involvement with poets and artistic endeavors in San Francisco. He worked with famed composer Lou Harrison to create the characters and design sets for a planned puppet opera. Throughout the 1970s, opportunities to expand his creative juices landed him commissions for murals, teaching positions and a chance to exhibit his work with his peers, such as well-known painter, Ray Jacobsen. 

In the 1980s, Robert immersed himself in calligraphy, joining the “Friends of Calligraphy”  in San Francisco, and rubbed shoulders with some of the best calligraphers and teachers of the time, including Alan Blackman. Around the same time, he opened the Sonoma Scriptorium and Graphics Arts Center in the town of Sonoma, where he did graphic design for businesses and taught calligraphy. Later in the decade, he partnered with friend Gina Roman to form Image Access Center, a computer graphics design firm. Some of their work included the Pets Lifeline logo and video graphics for KRCB, Channel 22.

Always on a learning path, Robert studied consciousness, partook in workshops through the Institute of Noetic Sciences and formed a local group of friends to study the brain. He and his partner of 54 years, wine historian William F. Heintz,  consistently shared notes on meditation and the philosophies of spiritual practices. Robert even challenged himself to explore being a Buddhist monk in Thailand.  But his travels always led him back to Sonoma and his creative community of friends. In the 1990s, he became involved with the Collage Collective of Sonoma and helped to create the “Doors” show, where backyards became galleries using upcycled doors.  

Never one to sit still, Berner loved gardening and doing landscaping. It was yet another arena to express his creativity. But more than growing plants, Berner knew how to make friends and would want to meet everyone on the path. He had an insatiable curiosity about life, learning, people, history, archeology, poetry and writing. One of his most impressive achievements was his set of journals, spanning seven decades, detailing his art processes, experiences and how he might come to understand it all better. Robert lived to enjoy his 90th birthday. 

Robert was preceded in death by his beloved partner, William F Heintz.  He is survived by his longtime close friends, who became his family: Lew and Pat Zuelow, Dan and Tara Chadd, Michael Chadd and Janice Ososke, Geoffrey Chadd and Michelle Mason Chadd, Susan and Jonathan Zall, Gina Roman and Doug Graham. 

Deep gratitude is offered to Claire Rase and Carol Anne Pugliese, Robert’s awesome palliative care team, along with Janet Byrd, NP, and his amazing compassionate team of caregivers, especially Susan Heeringa-Pieper, Camille Bosque, Ted Norquist, Jim Scriven and Tammi Haynes. 

Considered a bit of a Renaissance man, “Berner” was cherished by many and will be missed.

The public is invited to a Celebration of Life on April 15, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Pueblo Serena Clubhouse in Sonoma. Gifts in memory of Robert can be made to Homeless Action Sonoma or Pets LifeLine. 


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