EXPIRED: 10/27/09 – August Coppola, 75, will be remembered as a Renaissance Man. He created the Exploratorium’s Tactile Dome in San Francisco, brought visual arts to the blind, fought for a High School of the Arts in San Francisco, and didn’t just break ground but broke sky.
“Augy was a brilliant man,” said his friend Jerry Brown, who as California governor in 1981 appointed Coppola to the California State University Board of Trustees. “He was a man of letters and ideas. I learned from him.”
The father of actor Nicolas Cage, and the brother of director Francis Ford Coppola and actress Talia Shire, Coppola was often referred to as someone’s relative. But it was his own charisma and immense intellect that left lasting marks on California and on San Francisco. In fact, a 150-seat theater at San Francisco State is named for him.
More than 20,000 people a year visit the lightless maze in a corner of San Francisco’s Exploratorium, where they “feel, bump, slide, and crawl through and past hundreds of materials and shapes,” according to the 1971 press announcement of the now-famous Tactile Dome.
Fascinated by touch and its taboos – he told the Exploratorium that “the first commandment in life is given: ‘Don’t touch’ ” – Coppola’s exhibit made touch mandatory. He later wrote “The Intimacy – a Novel,” about a man who interacts through touch.
When a professor named Gregory Frazier invented a process in which readers describe movie action so that blind people can better understand it, Coppola opened the AudioVision Workshop with Frazier and championed the idea at the Cannes Film Festival.
And then, of course, there’s the coffee. When he became dean of the College of Creative Arts in 1984, Coppola brought a tablecloth and a gleaming espresso machine into the utilitarian conference room.
“The first thing he’d do was take everybody’s coffee order,” a colleague, recalled. “I was not a coffee drinker, so the next meeting he had hot chocolate. There was a [sic] graciousness about him.”