In Memory of Jack Hillmer

“Who inspired you the most?” my son Chris asked yesterday. I mentioned a few people, but I was thinking about parents and people who had controlled my childhood. I was not thinking of teachers and employers.

As I mentioned in my April blog, I was labeled “Our Little Architect” in the second grade, age 6. I could draw what I saw, and the world was a 3D place. I sketched in perspective before I knew what it was. I didn’t know how to spell Architect probably until the 5th grade, but after that first sketch, my teachers and parents put me in a long narrow box labeled Future Architect. You have seen this sketch in another article about What NOT to Say to a Client. Today it becomes another inspiration.

Jack Hillmer was my residential teacher when I attended UC Berkeley. He was curious about my 3D brain. One day I brought in a stack of Polaroid shots of the furniture I had made and was building; it was my hobby.

As closely as I can remember he said, “Oh my, Peter. Please don’t go into architecture! You’ll never be happy unless you build it yourself. I’ll show you on our next field trip.” He explained how contractors work out things they don’t understand: First, NOT asking the designer; second, concluding the designer didn’t know what they wanted, so blundering forward and screwing it up, they lastly blame the designer. This pattern still goes on today.

At that single moment, Mr. Hillmer gave me permission not to be an architect. No one had ever given me permission NOT to be, before. This freedom was intoxicating. It meant not being in a narrow box anymore. At last I was free, and free to become an architect as well. I changed my label, adding “furniture maker.”

I didn’t realize until today how much of an inspiration Jack Hillmer made on my life from that moment forward. I never finished my formal architectural studies, but I learned the skills needed to design and build anything, large or tiny, from conception to occupation. I studied at IBM in the late 60’s so I was knowledgeable of the digital potential, but it was the late 90’s before I actually had a PC with a 3D program to use as a design tool. Now I have three, yet I do more photography, graphics, writing and publishing.

Everything I do in life has an architectural structure to it, including re-constructing this article. The common denominator is my 3D brain, and my ability to imagine something never seen before.

I went online to see what might be written about Mr. Hillmer; I wasn’t sure when he died, but I usually called him when I was changing directions in my life. Our final 2002 conversation was another continuance of the furniture talk back in the 1970s. Jack was always making sure I was doing what I loved doing and not getting sidetrack.

Today I honor him for inspiring me to be anything and everything I wanted to be, and if I became an architect, so be it! Reflecting back at my crooked path, and then looking at the results of all the twists and turns, I can easily say, “Thank you, Mr. Hillmer!”

Yes, I carry a sketchbook with me most of the time.   You are alive and well inside many of us, Jack.

Special thanks to Dave Weinstein for writing this article about Jack Hillmer. 

150PBs Protrait img_6395Photographer, Writer, Poet, Publisher, Architect, Industrial Designer, Grandfather, Mentor, Friend, Philosopher, and Furniture Builder. I love to travel as much as possible on a crooked path leading into unknowns. The camera and the computer are my favorite tools, although a pencil and a blank page can do as much explaining as a 1000 words. Because I am color blind (protanopia, red-green blindness) I cannot mix paint colors successfully, so most of my art is created from photographs or pencil. While visiting Monet’s gardens last fall, I became acutely aware of the vividness of the colors in his gardens, and the lily pond. I realized because of the moisture in the air, there is a natural sun filter softening the shadows. This simple natural filter changed my perception of color, photography, and painting. I have a new tool to add to my arsenal: soft light! It allows colors to be vivid because the darkness of the shadows in not competing.

I am living in Moon Valley, Phoenix, with my wife, Adrienne Gill and can be contacted at