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Artists, civic leaders, celebrities pay tribute to Robert Graham

January 7, 2009 |  3:55 pm

Anjelicabig A hushed throng of artists, arts patrons and civic leaders joined friends and family of the late sculptor Robert Graham at a funeral Mass on Wednesday morning at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Filing through the cathedral’s “Great Bronze Doors,” which Graham considered his greatest public commission, the crowd came to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of a creative force who died at 70 on Dec. 27 after a long illness.

Los Angeles’ leading public artist, Graham is probably best known for sculptural monuments in prominent locations across the country, including tributes to Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington, Joe Louis in Detroit, Duke Ellington in New York and Charlie “Bird” Parker in Kansas City, Mo. But his most enduring subject was the female nude, which he explored in hundreds of works, large and small, throughout his long career.

The funeral, conducted by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, lauded both aspects of his artistic achievement as well as his endearing personal qualities. Recounting his experiences with Graham during the design process for the cathedral doors, Mahony noted that the artist insisted on making the doors open inward as a welcoming gesture to all who entered, thus breaking the city code requiring doors of public buildings to open outward.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor,” Mahony said with a nod to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who later delivered a eulogy to the artist. “Please don’t tell the building department. It’s too late.”

Steven Graham, the artist’s son; Jack Quinn, a close friend; and actor Danny Huston, half brother of Graham’s widow, actress Anjelica Huston, gave readings during the service. After Communion, Anjelica Huston read a poem, “He Bids His Beloved Be at Peace” by William Butler Yeats, and family friends provided personal remembrances.

Villaraigosa called Graham “a sculptor in love with humanity.” Gallerist Earl McGrath recalled the joy of being a matchmaker between Graham and Huston and serving as best man at their wedding.

Roy Doumani, for whom Graham designed a house in Venice, said his friend “had dignity without conceit or arrogance. Dignity means being worthy of honor, and the word describes him well.”

In her eulogy, Maria Shriver, who attended with her husband, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, recounted a visit to Graham’s studio with her “very Catholic” mother. Quietly appalled by her intimate tour of nude sculptures, the older woman ended the session with a prayer for her daughter, the artist and “his poor wife,” who had to endure the presence of so many unseemly artworks.

For Shriver, however, Graham was a great, longtime friend who made an enormous contribution. “He was a work of art, and his life was a masterpiece,” she said.

Among the artists in attendance were David Hockney, Peter Alexander and Helen Pashgian. Other artists, including Tony Berlant, Tom Holland, Ed Moses and Doug Wheeler, served as pallbearers.

-- Suzanne Muchnic

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Visitors gather outside Graham’s “Great Bronze Doors” at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

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Actor Jack Nicholson was among those attending the funeral.

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California First Lady Maria Shriver, who delivered the eulogy.

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Pallbearers included artists Tony Berlant; Tom Holland; Ed Moses and Doug Wheeler; gallerist Earl McGrath; as well as Graham's son, Steven Graham; and Huston's half brother, actor Danny Huston.

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Actor Harrison Ford was among those paying respect to the late artist.

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Actress Sharon Stone after the service.

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Cardinal Roger Mahony and Anjelica Huston.

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Credit: Associated Press

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