William R. Mead Professor of Art, Emeritus
Interviewed on December 7, 1978
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[This transcript was created at the time of the original recording and may contain errors and omissions.]
Charles H. Morgan
William R. Mead Professor of Art, Emeritus
December 7, 1978
At his home on Snell Street
Horace W. Hewlett
For: Amherst College
HWH: This is Horace Hewlett talking with Professor Charles Hill Morgan, William R. Mead Professor of Art, Emeritus at Amherst College in his home on Snell Street on Thursday, December 7, 1978.
Charlie, we just talked a little about the purpose and the direction of our discussion. I’d like to start by commenting that you came to Amherst on the faculty in 1930; you retired in ‘68; you were in and out of town quite often during that interval; but let’s go back to your original visit to Amherst. I read in your book on the history of the Amherst art collection of your coming up to meet with President Pease and that you had a commitment to Bryn Mawr, I believe, and could not come until the following year. Do you have any recollections about Stanley Pease at that time?
MORGAN: Oh my yes. For one thing he looked and spoke and acted so much like Calvin Coolidge that when the two of them were in the receiving line together you had to take a double check to be sure which one you were talking to. He was very crisp and to the point. I think he was probably a very shy man fundamentally. He certainly was kindness itself to me in the way of promoting what I was trying to do.
HWH: At that time you said that you were one of three doctoral graduates from Harvard in 1928. What was the form of graduate education in the fine arts at that time?
MORGAN: Well let me see. If you were headed for a Ph.D., and I didn’t start out to, I just was filling in time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought I might as well take a master’s because I’d been offered a job as assisting in tutoring in the Fine Arts Department and so I thought I might as well fill in time and pick up a master’s along the line. Then, of course, one thing leads to another and life in Cambridge was most attractive. So I thought, well I don’t know what I want to do, I might as well go on and pick up a Ph.D. It might be a meal ticket some day. What one did was to take four courses in the field. You had to get B or better to have them count, and that was when I began to learn that it might be fun to study. Is this the kind of thing you want?
HWH: Yes, absolutely.
MORGAN: Well, in college it was always a game with me to see how close to passing I could get without failing. And since I was not sure of my skills, I always took one extra course to be sure that I’d have the requisite number. I continued that in graduate school, only instead of making the game a C minus, the game became B minus, because it had to be some form of B. But old Uncle Chandler Post had the wit to give me a C plus when I needed a B minus to have the course count. I was naturally cross with Uncle Chandler for not making it a B minus, but I also got cross with myself for being such a fool, and from then on I had nothing but straight A’s, and it was just as easy-- ten more minutes a day was all the difference. So I picked up the master’s and then went on for a doctorate. I had to spread that over two years because I could only do half-time credit work in courses because I was doing half-time teaching. So that took two years. After that I continued with part-time teaching for another year and passed my general exams, my oral exams. And here I had a choice: should it be oral or should it be written? They were very kind in those days, you didn’t have to take both. My faculty advisor strongly suggested that I do the oral because, he said, “You can help steer that a little bit. You have weak spots along the line and as you get on dangerous ground you can usually switch the conversation a little bit and get out that way, so you’d better do it.”
Oh, maybe I’m wrong about that. No. That was getting my bachelor’s degree. It was strictly an oral with the Ph.D. It was a three-hour oral and the whole department was there. It was a very terrifying experience. I had boned up so carefully on all the little details that I suspected might be asked, though I never thought about the bigger picture at all. True enough, they started right off with massive little details, such as Coptic bone carvings and things like that, and I was all primed. Paul Sachs thought they were being kind of rough on me, so he decided to be easy with me and nearly flunked me as as a consequence. He said, “Just name the important French painters from David to Degas,” or someone like that. I couldn’t think of one of them. I mean it was such an easy, general question that my mind was all primed the other way. After he prompted me-- first of all there’s David and then there’s Gerricaux and then there’s Delacroix-- oh yes, oh yes. Finally at the end of it he came to the last man and he got up and walked out, and I thought, gee, I’d better say, “Gentlemen, I won’t take up any more of your time.” Then George Chase, who was my mentor in archeology, fished in his pocket and pulled out a few simple Greek coins and asked me to identify them and I got back on balance and that was all right. Then after that, there had to be a thesis. I went abroad for that for six months.
HWH: What was the subject of your...
MORGAN: Well, I started out to do something very erudite-- paintings or designs under the handles of Greek vases. I had an idea that you might, you know, by seeing what the designs were, be able to work out a sequence and get a chronology that way. I worked on that for about four months on basic material before I went abroad. I had two great card files and got myself a little room in a pension in Rome and settled in. The first day I started across to the Vatican, walking (I used to walk, the pension was up by Santa Maria Fiaggiore which is about two miles away from the Vatican, I guess) and I was going to see the vases in the Vatican to start with. I got halfway across and I got to the Piazza d’Espagna and looked in a bookstore window and here was an announcement of the fact that the great German archeologist Jacobstal would in the next two years produce a book on this subject. I thought, well that’s the end of that. So I went back to the pension and I got my two catalog files and ceremoniously dumped them in the Tiber and had to think of a new subject.
I wrote frantically back to Chase to see what he would suggest and he said, well something will come to you, probably. So I joined up with a friend who was on a trip on the Presidente Wilson-- he was an old school friend of mine-- and we went up the Adriatic and to Vienna for the first time in my life.
In Vienna, I saw this statue, and I KNEW that that was the style of Lysippos (Lysippos was one of the great Greek sculptors). I was just sure of it. That’s not a scholarly approach, but I, in fact, thought, “Gee, this fits all I know of Lysippos, why don’t I work on this?” So after my friend and I had a month in Greece-- my first visit to Greece, this was 1927-- I started right in and I went all over Europe to every museum looking and looking and looking for more material that fitted into this one subject. Chase approved it.
I finally got the thing done and turned it in and had a special exam. They had a special oral exam, this was in January of ‘28, on your thesis field and a related one so that there were only two of the faculty there; one was the Greek sculpture in general, that was the thesis field, and the other one was Greek pots, which I had already done a lot of work on so that was a cinch.
Then I had the spring off, got married, and went straight to Greece and spent a year at the School of Classical Studies. That’s when Rhys Carpenter, who had to have someone to keep his seat warm at Bryn Mawr while he was directing the School at Athens, asked me to fill in for a year. Rhys Carpenter: he’s one of the greats at Bryn Mawr and in the whole field of classical archeology-- he’s a marvelous person. That was a very flattering offer, but I really wanted to stay on in Greece another year, but everybody seemed to think I ought to come home and get serious about things, so I did. And it was only a week after I accepted the Bryn Mawr offer that Pease wrote me and said, would you come, and the rest I’ve written down.
HWH: That’s interesting. Your interest at the doctoral level was initially and continued to be in classical art and archeology.
MORGAN: Yes. I took my degree in fine arts rather than archeology because if I’d done it in archeology I would have had to have a very extensive knowledge of Greek and Latin. I’d had a lot of it but not enough, and I wasn’t interested in that side anyway. So I could do my special work in that field, but I’d take the thing in the field in general in which I had a very good background.
HWH: Was Harvard preeminent among graduate schools in fine arts at that time?
MORGAN: I would say, yes it was. I can’t think what other places had programs. Princeton surely did and I would suspect Yale did.
HWH: Princeton probably leaned more toward the Middle Eastern or oriental.
MORGAN: Let’s see, Yale had its dig at Dura-Europus at the time, I think, so they were interested in that part of antiquity. Princeton was on the Christian index at the time. That was their big project, getting every known piece of Christian art indexed.
HWH: Well there weren’t a great many graduate students in fine arts at that time.
MORGAN: No there weren’t. No.
HWH: But today there must be an enormous number.
MORGAN: Oh today, well it proved to be a very profitable venture, you see, so now the market is flooded.
HWH: What turned your interest toward classical archeology?
MORGAN: I just had always liked it, Bud. I really don’t know. It may have been Tanglewood Tales when I was a kid, you know, something like that, but I’ve just always loved it.
HWH: Well you said in your book, too, that it took some time before the faculty would approve of a studio course in art. I think when I was an undergraduate there were none. YOU were the Department.
MORGAN: That’s right.
HWH: Do you remember what the opposition was and who they were?
MORGAN: Yes, it was the Old Guard, Tom Esty particularly. I think Croc Thompson and Mike Smith felt rather strongly that way but not so much so, and I could deal more easily with them. But it was Tom Esty, who was really the whip for the old guard on the faculty, who didn’t like it much. But I finally persuaded him by walking over one evening and just laying the case before him and saying, as I think I said in the book, that if the aborigines were communicating to each other through pictures and sculptures before they had any literature, God knows, probably not even a vocabulary, why certainly... (Brief interruption.)
HWH: You moved around quite a bit. You said that you had material in four places; I think I counted six. When you started, you really started the Art Department here, because Dickie Mather’s statues...
MORGAN: I’ve forgotten. It’s in the book there some place. That was fantastic, that joint course of his in which oratory and such things came in. But that, I gather, died out pretty much before Mather’s time. He seems to have been made professor of sculpture and, I guess, he must have retired along about the turn of the century.
HWH: Three of the humanities had a hard time getting a toe hold here. Art was one; music was another; and dramatic arts the third. It was interesting to me that what began as one-man departments-- you, and your brother Vincent succeeding Billy Bigelow, and then Curt-- and when I was in College dramatic arts was part of English.
MORGAN: English. And Curt had to fight hard, too, for his independence.
HWH: Did you three sort of pull together for the humanities or was...?
MORGAN: Oh yes, we always did. I mean we backed each other up. That was very pleasant and that’s what led to the humanities course.
HWH: You indicated that you had art materials spread around. I’ve written down they were in Converse, in Williston, Appleton, and your courses were in part in Appleton.
MORGAN: There weren’t any art objects in Appleton.
HWH: Just the classes?
MORGAN: Just the classes. The mummy was in Biology, a lot of fragments of things around in the basement of Morgan.
HWH: Some in the old Pratt Gymnasium?
MORGAN: I don’t think in Pratt, I...
HWH: You mentioned George Bain was very cooperative; maybe that’s when he was in Biology.
MORGAN: No, that happened during the War when the Rotherwas room and a great many things from the Pratt estate came in and we had no place to put them.
HWH: And then still more down in the Hills storage barn behind B & G.
MORGAN: That was the plaster casts when they were evacuated from Williston when that was made over.
HWH: Well, I’m sure it wasn’t more fun trying to keep six balls in the air, distributed all over the campus, back pre-War, than it was to get that wonderful new building.
MORGAN: Well it was just a headache because, of course, the casts were in dead storage, so to speak, and so was the Rotherwas room and the only live storage we had was in Morgan. But you just had to check on things to be sure their condition was all right from time to time. Keep track and remember where they were. Of course we had records.
HWH: I wonder if you have any reminiscences or recollections of that period. Henry Bangs Thacher was superintendent of Building and Grounds, a loveable old fellow.
MORGAN: And very cooperative
HWH: And apparently everywhere you went people helped, but I would think it would have been hard to have kept your mind on what you were doing with things spread around so much.
MORGAN: Well, you see, it wasn’t all that bad because, as I say, with dead storage all you have to do is check every now and again to be sure things are in good shape and that they haven’t been vandalized or the moths haven’t gotten into them and that kind of thing. No, that wasn’t too bad, but it was a great relief to have everything under one roof again.
HWH: I checked in the catalog and I saw you were a one-man department for some years until, I guess, Charlie Rogers was brought in.
MORGAN: Yes, well you see every time I went to Greece I had to find somebody to fill in and the first one I got was Jack Clark, who had just graduated and Stanley had taken a shine to him, so that was fair enough. It was Stanley who got him the job as Director of the Springfield Museum after he left here. He was too young for the job; he shouldn’t have taken it.
HWH: As a matter of fact I think one of Stanley’s interests in him was because he roomed with Dwight Morrow, Jr. and Sherm Russell down in the home the Manthey-Zorns had and they were away for a year.
MORGAN: That could be. I didn’t remember that.
When I went over to Greece for three years, the problem was to find someone to come for three years and obviously it was going to be more than a one-man deal. And I needed someone who could inaugurate the studio course, there had to be somebody to implement it. I could have done it, but not very well; I had had a lot of studio training at Harvard and I could have brushed it up again. But Henry Scott was primarily studio. He was an artist himself, and he was out of a job; he’d just been let go by Pittsburgh. Because of the Depression, they had to cut down and he was low man on the totem pole. I’d known him since college days. He could fill in both history and studio and that seemed an ideal arrangement. And Henry just stayed on when I came back.
HWH: I hadn’t realized that.
HWH: Well, for so many years you were a one or one-and-one-half or two or two-and-a-half-man department. Did you realize that now there are six full-time members of the department, four visiting, and that they offer twenty-eight separate courses, some of them repeated?
MORGAN: I didn’t realize there were twenty-eight, no.
HWH: I was amazed when I saw that.
MORGAN: Well you see, Bud, it comes and it goes. For example, before the War, art was very popular on campus and after the War everybody was pragmatic and the courses dwindled way, way, way down-- same material, same personnel, same everything, except that the general undergraduate interest was way down. Now, it’s way up. And with the coming of co-education it’s probably going to stay up.
HWH: There’s been such a struggle as you well know for studio space on the campus now.
MORGAN: I see that some of it was occupied yesterday.
HWH: I saw that, too. I think you may know, too, that they call the snackbar down at Fayerweather, “Sweeney’s.”
MORGAN: Oh no, really.
HWH: It was his work that was injured during the construction.
Can you recall what area your work or experience you found most helpful to extend your abilities as a teacher? (That’s a broad question.)
MORGAN: I should say it was! Well, I don’t know, Bud. I do know that I was influenced, to some extent, by what students wanted. For example, it had never occurred to me to give them a course in American art until I found the students were saying, “Well what is this about American art? There IS American art. Why don’t you ever bring in anything on that?” And I didn’t know anything about it. Harvard had never mentioned it, as such.
HWH: So you had to teach yourself.
MORGAN: Well, yes, and being lazy by nature, I figured the only way I could ever get myself to do it would be to announce a course. So I HAD to do something about it. And the first year I was about two jumps ahead of the students, but that’s where I got interested in American art. It was entirely because of the students wanting to know about it, and I figured, well, if that’s what they want, might as well bone up on it. It doesn’t matter a bit what part of art you study just as long as you get acquainted with some of it, and if that is something they want, fine.
HWH: And, just by chance, I think you’d agree that the American Collection is probably the strongest part of Amherst’s art resources.
MORGAN: Well that was partly by design, as I put out in the book.
HWH: And the Pratts did not hurt in that direction.
MORGAN: No. They had already given. We knew that Herbert Pratt was going to leave us most of his collection and there was a vacuum in the valley as far as American art went. Smith was not interested, neither was Springfield, Worcester was a long way off, and we had the nucleus there. There ought to be some place where the student could explore art in depth, and so, why not?
HWH: I had wondered in my question a moment ago whether your work over in the Agora in Athens where your association with the American School of Classical Studies had some influence on extending your abilities as an authority in the field, because you certainly did become one.
MORGAN: In what field?
HWR: In Greek
HWH: In classical art and archeology.
MORGAN: Well, up to a point, but I persuaded very few people to my opinions about Greek sculpture which is my chief interest. I’ve got a few converts.
HWH: You what?
MORGAN: I have a few converts.
HWH: Coming back from Athens to this country for a moment, Charlie, and the construction of Mead. That must have been both a lot of fun and fairly difficult working with James Kellum Smith and apparently Stanley King was very cooperative and supportive in this. Now they say Mead is too small and they want space elsewhere and that’s reflected in part by the enrollment in Fine Arts. My recollection was that Mead seemed so enormous when it opened.
MORGAN: Well there wasn’t much in it-- relatively speaking. I have a feeling about the size of Mead and one of them is that we’ve got to keep the operation in scale with the College and that means it shouldn’t be too big. The College shouldn’t be supporting something on the vast scale that, say the Metropolitan, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, or anything like that. It should be small and it should be directed toward the student, not the general public. That makes for a very difficult situation, because we’ve got some important pieces that the general public ought to know about. But they are available to interested scholars easy as can be. If we were to enlarge the exhibition space, a lot of it would be static. The staff is small, we couldn’t change it all the time. The students wouldn’t look at stuff after the first few weeks. We know that. From our own experience at home or any other place. You’ve got to change it to catch their interest and you can’t change it in a big place with a small staff. And you shouldn’t have a big staff in a small institution. So there you are. And you shouldn’t have a collection that is so big, so many objects in it, that you can’t use them. With a small staff and a constantly changing policy, you’re going to get to the point where you’ve got so many things there’s a lot you don’t ever use-- and that’s not right. You’re sitting on something, you’re denying it to other people, and on the other hand it’s just plain dead storage again. We shouldn’t go in for that kind of an operation. So the collection should be kept small and the exhibition space should be kept within the scope of the area that a small staff can handle.
HWH: You pay tribute to Peg Toole in your book.
MORGAN: Oh well!
HWH: All the work she did as curator.
MORGAN: She was the department, the one continuant.
HWH: How did you happen to attract her? I know she came over here, I think when I was a student-- it must have been in the early ‘thirties.
MORGAN: Yes, it was ‘31. I had this part-time Smithie, whose name I don’t remember, who was doing some cataloging with slides, but obviously there was too much stuff for the Smithie to handle and I think the next year I offered a second course so there was more work to be done-- slides had to be gotten, photographs had to be gotten-- and just at that time Peg had just graduated from Smith, I think. She came over to Bob Fletcher who was Librarian looking for a job. Bob didn’t have a job but he knew I was looking for somebody, so we were introduced. And that was it.
HWH: Did she have a background in fine arts?
MORGAN: She’d had art over at Smith. Oh yes, she had a good background in it. I don’t think it was her major but she had a good deal. And all through the years she kept polishing up on this as Curator. I knew nothing about silver when we had the Pratt silver come in. It was she who went over and boned up on hallmarks and that kind of thing-- just to find out what we had. I didn’t, but she did. She got the books and she went to work and she discovered something that I suspect that the Pratt heirs had overlooked-- our first piece of Paul Revere. It was a little bit of a cheese scoop about this big and the “PR” is very, very small but she found it. Also in the Pratt miniatures she identified a James Peale and another one, Charles Wilson Peale, I think, that had not been identified before. So she just made herself an expert in all these different fields and as time went on she got acquainted with the big names in silver, for example, and miniatures and furniture. We got Hipkis down from Boston to go over the Pratt furniture and the Turner furniture and she was the one who did that. I didn’t know anything about the decorative arts, never had any background in it. For one thing, I didn’t have much time to bone up on it and, further, I wasn’t particularly interested in it. I liked the things all right, but I didn’t know anything about it.
HWH: We probably should have given her an honorary degree, a master’s or something.
MORGAN: Right. I think we should have. I think we should have.
HWH: You solicited quite a few people to contribute to the Amherst collection-- both pieces, I believe, also some money to buy pieces. Did you enjoy that part of the work?
MORGAN: I guess I did, Bud. I don’t know, people are always so eager to be helpful, I can’t tell you why. But Ed Whitney  for example, asked me down to Montclair to spend a weekend and he had this great big rug that’s up in the Rotherwas room now. And he wanted to give it to the College. He had a vast collection of silver which he’d given to Montclair. But I had a very pleasant time with him. I’d met him before because he was a Deke and he’d given a clock to the Deke house and whatnot, but it was through that, that, let’s see, first of all the Amherst pictures, the father and mother of Lord Jeffery came on the market. We didn’t have any money to buy them, but I thought of Ed and knew his interest in wood, so he and I split the difference and I paid for the pictures and he paid for the frames. After that, when I had a chance to get two Rembrandt Peales, I thought of Ed again and he was all for it. He was so all for it that I put the deal through and got a Raphael Peale thrown in too and he was delighted at that. But it was like that. It was some sort of a contact and I had no hesitation about saying, “If you want to contribute, here’s an opportunity,” and people came on through. I remember one time I went down to Florida on my own, I was going down to see Seth Wakeman, who was at that time a widower down on the Keys and I wanted to get some sunlight and warmth in the winter, and I went down to spend a week with him, I guess, and on my way through Miami I thought I’d just stop by and see some people who’d been awfully helpful to the College in the past, just to say hello. I’d made up my mind I was not going to put the bead on anybody, but I just wanted to pay my respects. I had lunch with Arthur Vining Davis. I didn’t bring up the College, I didn’t do anything, and after lunch was over A.V. said, “Well what did you come down here for?” And let’s see, I went to see Marion Robinson (1915) on the same thing and she just couldn’t believe that I wasn’t after something. And who was that other fellow who was a Deke-- a strange bird-- anyhow I went to see him-- he was also in Coral Gables.
HWH: Dan Caudle?
MORGAN: Dan Caudle (‘36), yes. And he said, “Well can’t I do something for you?” And then I said, “Well actually, you can.” That was when we were trying to get the Chapin portrait of Frost and the price was huge, Chapin’s price-- but Dan thought we certainly had to have it, so he came through for part of it, anyway. I’ve forgotten where the other part came from.
HWH: Well I notice another Deke that’s been helpful is Charles K. Arter (‘98 and ‘36)
MORGAN: That was his father’s collection.
HWH: Yes. Charlie, Jr. was my class and added to it. I believe his brother...
MORGAN: He and his brother. After the old man died-- they were residuary legatees, I guess-- and I think Charlie decided that neither he nor his brother wanted the things. I’d seen the things and I knew there was a lot the College could use. Charlie wanted to get rid of them, get them off, I think, the top of the estate-- or maybe it was left that way, or maybe it was a tax deduction or something. So he and I went out there and picked out things that I wanted and I took some things I didn’t particularly want. I’ve done that before, with Miss Bliss, because I was doing them a favor of finding a place for these things. At the same time, of course, they were accepted with no restrictions, so the things that we couldn’t use have ultimately gone back into the market and we’ve been able to get some money and get things that we wanted.
HWH: Do you recall any one or two or three individuals that surprised you in what they offered, what they had, or what they offered? Something out of the blue?
MORGAN: Oh heavens, yes! That’s always happening. What was the name of that New Jersey couple that I’d never heard of, that gave us a half a dozen pictures? It’s in the book. That was a surprise. Well as recently as within the last year, the Birchfield watercolor-- I didn’t know there was a Birchfield watercolor around and some alumnus came through with it. I knew nothing about the Armses until they got interested in the College through Charlie Cole and began giving us things. It’s been pretty much a happenstance.
HWH: Well this took you all over the country, too.
MORGAN: Oh, it was wonderful fun, yes.
HWH: Well I remember you used to go off on Alumni trips, too, and make your calls along the way.
MORGAN: Yes, yes. That’s where I met the Beechers, on an Alumni trip. I’d never heard of Judge Beecher.
Miss Bliss was the perfect case in point there. She had no connection with the College at all, but Jim Smith knew her, and he heard she was giving her things away, so he suggested to her that she might include Amherst and that’s how we got acquainted.
HWH: And how did you come to know Mrs. Davies?
MORGAN: That was through Clare Francis [‘10] You see she had this set of furniture. She’d closed down one of her New York apartments She had this marvelous set of furniture that she wanted to have in a public institution. She couldn’t use it herself. She wanted it to be in Washington and she offered it to the National Gallery. Well, the National Gallery wasn’t going in for decorative arts at the time, so she thought of the Folger. Somehow, Louis XV and Shakespeare didn’t seem to have much in common and Louis Wright didn’t think much of the idea, so she went to her business partner, Clare Francis. Mead was brand new at the time and Francis had heard about it, so he told her about it and she got very enthusiastic about the idea of changing exhibitions so that people didn’t get tired of it. She thought that was a good idea and so she asked me down for tea. I went down and had tea in not the house she built and died in, but the one before that with this nine hole golf course built right around it. I had a delightful afternoon and she showed me her Russian collection-- she was married to Joe Davies, then-- and she liked the idea so she not only sent us that, but she sent us a number of other things afterwards. She kept us in mind.
HWH: Was Mrs. Merriweather Post through Clare Francis, too?
MORGAN; Oh, that’s the one I’m talking about. She was then, Mrs. Joe Davies.
HWH: That’s right, that’s right.
MORGAN: One and the same person.
HWH: I didn’t connect the two and I should have.
Did you ever have any thought or desire to enter the art field in other than the teaching end, the academic end-- say museum or institutional?
MORGAN: No. One of the curious things, Bud, is that when I was in College, even when I was doing part-time teaching, I always said I’d never be a teacher. And Paul Sachs tried awfully hard to get me interested in museum work. I never even took his museum course. I said the LAST thing in the world would be to be a museum director. That is all administration. You’ve got a little budget and the minute it comes in it’s already spent, and the rest of the time, for twelve months of the year, all you do is administrative. I thought, that’s not for me. So I never had any formal museum training and I never trained to be a teacher either, because those two things I KNEW I wasn’t going to do.
HWH: Over the years you’ve had several students who went on to museum administration.
MORGAN: Well, Jim Brown. Let’s see, Jim is one.
HWH: Someone out in Kansas City whose name escapes me.
MORGAN: It escapes me, too. Larry Sickman is the director out there. I guess he’s just retired now. There was someone out there with an Amherst connection-- what was his name?
HWH: I can dig that out. It won’t matter. But you had several students, too, who made a career out of...
MORGAN: Well, Walter Spink, for example.
HWH: At Michigan, isn’t he?
MORGAN: Yes, I think so. He’s the only summa cum laude I ever had. And, following Harvard’s pattern, I made it essential that anybody who was going to major in Fine Arts must have, if he was interested in art history must have a studio course or vice versa-- anybody who was going to major with the emphasis on studio, must have a history course, too. Well that nearly floored Walter, because Walter couldn’t draw, he couldn’t write, he couldn’t draw, he couldn’t use his hands at all, and he said, “Look, can’t you waive it in my case? I’ve got straight A all the way through college, but if I take studio, I won’t be able to pass it. I can’t, you know me, you can’t read my writing.” I said, “I’m sorry Walter, I can’t make an exception here. I hate to lose you, but...” So he took it and Charlie Rogers was then doing elementary studio and Charlie was awfully good and he marked not according to performance but according to effort, so that he gave Walter a B. The only B that Walter had in his academic record. Let’s see, I’ve had two archeologists, though. I’m very proud of that. There’s Joe Carter down at Texas.
HWH: Joe who?
MORGAN: Carter. And there’s Ross Holloway at Brown.
HWH: Ross got an honorary degree a couple of years ago.
MORGAN: That’s right. And Ross is rather a pompous, dull fellow, relatively speaking, but he’s a bundle of energy and he’s way up in the profession. Joe is younger but Joe’s doing beautifully. He’s been digging around Tarrento in Southern Italy and he’s a real expert in that field. Gerdts, for example, Bill Gerdts ‘49 I don’t think Bill ever had a formal course, but he did a lot of work with me as far as the collection went, when we were over in Morgan. Bill’s doing great guns now as an expert in art.
HWH: Well there’s an established artist, I think his name is Cornell...
MORGAN: Tom Cornell? Yes.
HWH: ...who, I think, went to Bowdoin.
MORGAN: Bowdoin. The last time I saw him he was at Bowdoin. Yes. I liked his painting. I think he’s gone into sculpture now pretty much.
HWH: How would you go about trying to find a new faculty member for the Department? I’d think that would be a little difficult. In art more than in let’s say...
MORGAN: I don’t know what the racket is now. Now you have to advertise there is a job, then you have to go to the College Art Association and interview heaven knows how many people, but I think more generally, you find people by the grapevine. At least I did. I had an awful time finding people right after the war. There again, there hadn’t been as much training as before the war. Is it all right if I speak my mind about a couple of the people we’ve had? To let go?
HWH: Certainly, certainly.
MORGAN: Well, Henry Scott came to take over for me in ‘35-- he’s an old friend from college and if I may be entirely frank, Henry is dull as dishwater as an historian. He’s good, he knows his stuff but as a projectionist, he’s not very good. I was caught up in this bind because I found this was true, but I could hardly move in that case because of personal relations. But Stanley, during the War, made up his mind that he wasn’t going to reappoint Henry. This was a very difficult thing to do, you see, because Henry had been in the Navy and you had jobs for servicemen. They found their jobs back afterwards. But I had hardly gotten out of the Air Force when Stanley called me in (this was his last year) and he said, “I must tell you I am not going to reappoint Henry.” In some ways I was relieved that Stanley had taken the decision away from me. “Well,” he said, “Do you want me to tell Henry, or do you want to do it yourself?” And I said, “I’d better do it.” So I did.
HWH: A tough session.
MORGAN: It was a difficult one. Then I had to find a replacement right away. I went straight to Harvard, that was my closest connection. And they gave me Judkins. Some people liked Judkins very much and some people didn’t. I found him a very difficult person to work with and I found that half the students didn’t like him. They resented him. And so I let him go and I had to find somebody to replace him. By that time, Charlie Sawyer, who had been director of the Worcester Museum and was an old friend of mine, was in charge at Yale. He strongly recommended Bill Darr. Bill was an interesting case because Bill was not an art historian, he was studio. He was pretty good in studio, but he somehow just never grew up. Charlie [Cole] was President at the time and Charlie was interested in Bill. Both Bill and his wife were very attractive individuals; you probably remember them.
HWH: Yes, I remember them well.
MORGAN: But Bill just didn’t grow. Charlie and I every year would review the case of Bill Darr and we kept saying, he’s got to grow up, he’s bound to, and this went on for nine years and it got kind of difficult to let Bill go and Bill was not anxious to go, either. But that worked itself out. Then I found myself in the spot of finding somebody else and that’s when I sat down and I wrote to the heads of a dozen different institutions, people that I knew, and said, “Is there anybody that you’d recommend?” I wanted to get a broader thing than going to one individual like Charlie Sawyer and picking up his recommendation. And that’s how I got Frank, because he was at Williams and they had three young full professors and Frank and there was no future for Frank at Williams. That’s why the head of the department at... Goodness, this is the trouble with being 76, Bud!
HWH: You mean at Williams?
MORGAN: Yes. Lane Faisan. Lane wrote and said I wouldn’t normally do this, but he said, “He’s an awfully good man and he’s got no future here, not for twenty or thirty years because none of us is going to pull out of here and make a spot for him.” Well, that’s how I got Frank. Now Frank has had much better luck than I had. I mean when he comes up, in one year, with two dandy young art historians. They really are tops. I don’t know how he did it.
HWH: In a way it would be a little easier because the Department has grown so, Frank has to find people for specific courses and specific areas.
MORGAN: Well, but to get the right people. You can find people qualified but to get people who can project is difficult. But Frank has.
HWH: As I said earlier there are now six full-time and four visiting.
MORGAN: Yes. Well, it was through Frank that I got hold of Dick Schmalz. Again, I was writing various people for suggestions, and Frank said, when you are addressing Bowdoin, address it to Dick Schmalz and Dick applied.
[END OF SIDE I, TAPE I. BEGINNING SIDE II, TAPE I]
HWH: This is Side 2 of the first tape of the interview with Professor Charles H. Morgan.
We had just talked a moment ago of the problems of finding new members of the faculty. Perhaps we could shift from there to your activity in Greece. You were Director of the American School of Classical Studies there for a period, I know, and you’ve been a Trustee or a member of the Board for many years. You probably still are, aren’t you?
HWH: How did you get associated with that?
MORGAN: It’s an interesting thing, and I’m sure it would be duplicated in any number of other cases, but it’s a question of one person, an older person getting interested in a younger one. I went over as a student because I wanted to do it desperately. After I got my Ph.D., and I’d just gotten married, I thought it would be fun to go over and spend a year there and really get acquainted with the place. I was dying to dig; I was just perishing to dig. And when I got over there I had my Ph.D., which most students don’t when they go there.
Well, first of all, Carpenter asked me to fill in because he had to find someone in a hurry. His stand-in, his seat-warmer, had taken another job in Egypt for a year and he had to find somebody to fill in for him for a year. In the meantime we’d gotten acquainted with a Miss Capps, whose father was running the school as Chairman of the managing committee. Edward Capps was the great chairman of all time. We got to know his daughter very well and I dare say in her correspondence with her father she spoke favorably of us, so that almost immediately Capps-- I’ve forgotten how it all began, but I got acquainted with Edward Capps.
It was Capps who suggested that I go over as a visiting professor in 1933 for a year. And while I was over there I did a lot more digging and Capps apparently for some reason wanted to change directors a year later, so I’d hardly gotten back from that year than he asked me up to Chebeague, where he had a summer place, to spend the weekend and suggested that I go over as Director in another year for three years. He worked it out this way. He was retiring from Princeton; he wanted to go over for a year anyways and so that first year, ‘35-’36, I went over as Assistant Director and he was Director. I did most of the work, it was a good breaking-in period because Capps was getting on in years, and then the next two years I stayed on as Director. And had a wonderful time! But the war was coming, my term of three years-- I’d promised Stanley when he let me go that I wouldn’t stay more than three years. Actually I might have been tempted to break the promise except that the war was coming, I had two and seven eighths children along the line, and what to do in Europe. I was very glad to get back. Then after the War, Edward Capps died during the war-- no, he didn’t but he was an ill man-- and the Chairmanship had gone to Louis Lord. I’d known Louis for a long time. He was annual professor when I was visiting professor and I think he was actually on the staff when I was there as a student-- I’m sure he was. But I’d known him a long time and he apparently took a shine to me, because he used to discuss all kinds of-- I was a member of the managing committee but that was all-- he used to discuss all kinds of complicated things that were going on with me. Frequently I’d disagree with him violently, but I always told him exactly what I thought. In ‘48 he wanted to turn the chairmanship over to somebody; he wanted me to do it. I didn’t think very much of it at the time, but he persuaded me and various other factors came in that really squeezed me into taking the vice-chairmanship for two years with no promissory note. But two years later I became chairman, in 1950. The problem, the big problem there, was that Louis, whom I was very fond of, had a way of, I don’t know, getting divisiveness into the managing committee. There were this group and that group, everybody fighting against each other, and we had the problem of the Agora-- we’d run out of money for it. Rockefeller had told Shear “no,no,no” before the war, and were we going to close up the agora, or were we going to find a lot of money for it, and if so, how much, and where was it going to come from-- all of that. So I inherited this divisiveness in the managing committee and two of the more prominent members of the managing committee hated my guts personally. One of them was David Robinson, who was a brilliant man but one of the most incredible characters I’ve ever known. He used to blackmail cheerfully, admittedly, and because I stood up to him he didn’t like me at all and he was a very powerful member of the committee.
HWH: Was he a New York businessman?
MORGAN: No, he was a professor of classics at Johns Hopkins. Another one with whom my relationships were all sort of etsy—ketsy, as they say in Greek, was William Bell Dinsmore, the great gun at Columbia. Then there was the remains of the old Capps-Hill faction still in there, but that is an old, old story, it went back to the ‘twenties and there’s no point in bringing that in here. It’s been written up elsewhere. But there were about four or five different factions there and to get anything going, trying to get people to get together again!...
Then we did have this incubus of the agora: what on earth to do with this thing which had run out of money. I figured if we can settle the problem of the agora, if I can get everybody happy on that, then maybe we can get the committee together again.
So the first thing I did was to go over to Greece that summer. I spent about three weeks and I got the Director, Homer Thompson, whom I’m sure you’ve met, I got Homer and his staff to work out exactly how long it would take to finish up what we’d already begun; how much it would take to build the Stoa of Attalos, which was then suggested as the museum; exactly what kind of money we were trying to look for; and exactly what the program would be year-by-year and how long it would take. Then I just upped the figures by fifty percent and tried to figure out how on earth we were going to find the money. The first big chance, of course, was to get John D. Rockefeller interested again. And that’s where I went to Ray Fosdick. I’d known Ray for a good many years through Stanley King to begin with and then, I’ve forgotten-- well, the Rockefeller Foundation had already promised us $200,000 towards a museum. So I used to see Ray every year or two and ask him to renew it, because we still didn’t know what we were going to do for a museum. I’ve forgotten how I got to know Ray so well, but Ray said, “You’ve got one chance, and this derives from a standard joke in the Rockefeller family that stems out of John D. Sr.’s first donation.” John D. Sr. didn’t give away an awful lot, but when he started in his first donation was to a colored church in the south. They wanted a little church and Mr. Rockefeller thought, “Well, all right. You can have your church. How much do you need?” And they told him, so he gave them the money. Well, of course, they had the money in hand and it came so easily they promptly decided they’d asked for too little and they started out and planned and started to build a much bigger church. Having got it half way up, they went back to Mr. Rockefeller and said, “We didn’t ask you for enough.” Mr. Rockefeller said, “I gave you what you asked for.” They said, “You wouldn’t like to see a building half up with your name on it.” And he said, “I don’t care. It’s your responsibility. You asked for so and such and I gave it to you and the answer is no.”
Time after time, this happened again and again. People have got bigger ideas, having gotten the money, and it’s a standard joke in the Rockefeller family that just once you say you give it, someone asks and the wish is fulfilled, you never add anything more to it. So this is what happened to Shear before the war.
Shear was then the director of the excavations. Mr. Rockefeller said, “I’d like to finish this up. I’ve been paying year by year, but I’d like to see an end to it. Now, how much do you need to finish it up?” And Shear loved to talk off the cuff, he was always sure of himself, he said we need, I think it was $400,000, so Mr. Rockefeller turned over $400,000. Then Shear went home and he did a little calculating and he discovered that he hadn’t asked for nearly enough, so he went back to Mr. Rockefeller and said, “I made a mistake.” And Mr. Rockefeller said, “You did, indeed, and the answer is no, no, no.” I’ve seen the letter.
So this was on the record and this was ten years later now, we were coming back and looking for some more. But Ray said, “In your situation, now, you have a bare chance.” He said, “For one thing, your board of trustees is completely changed, almost entirely, it’s a new board. And for another, Mr. Rockefeller at the moment happens to be a widower and his closest associate, real intimate, is his brother-in-law, Winthrop Aldrich. If you can persuade Winthrop Aldrich that this is a good idea, it’s possible that Winthrop Aldrich can persuade Mr. Rockefeller to get re-interested.”
Well it so happened that Winthrop Aldrich and the President of the Board, Ward Canaday, were old, old friends, so I got Ward to see Aldrich and I guess Aldrich did the selling for us because Mr. Rockefeller came up with a matching offer. By that time we figured we were going to need $2,000,000. Mr. Rockefeller said, “O.K. I’ll give you $500,000 and that’s it. Or I will give you $100,000 now and when you’ve matched that I’ll go on matching you dollar for dollar until the total of $2,000,000 is reached.” Well, of course when you start with nothing, $500,000 looks like an awful lot of money, but we decided to take the gamble and we did and we got the money in about three years, I think.
HWH: Really? Lots of gifts, or several big ones?
MORGAN: There were lots of big ones. Not lots of big ones, but several big ones-- $l00,000 here and a couple of two hundred thousand there. And then lots of small ones. But you’ve got to have a core of a few big ones to do it. Ward asked him; never gave us a penny, but he was very useful in digging it up.
Old A. V. Davis was the one who really kept the ball rolling. When we knew what we had to get (I’ve forgotten whether Mr. Rockefeller had made his offer or not), I kept waiting for the president of the board to move, and he didn’t. So I called him up one day and said, “Ward, when are you going to get started on this.” And he said, “That’s not my business, it’s yours. Get going!” Well I didn’t know how to get going and I didn’t know the trustees very well, but I did know A. V. Davis a little bit, and I also knew Louise Taft Semple, out in Cincinnati, a little bit. Her husband was a trustee.
So I made myself a little program, a little dog-leg circuit. I was going to fly down to Miami and see A. V. and on to Cincinnati to see Louise Semple and then home. And I didn’t know if I would make expenses out of it, but I thought I’d better try it. So I went down to Miami and old A.V. came into the office-- you know he was about this high with a billikin smile-- ”Young man, what can I do for you?” Then I said, “Mr. Davis I need your money and your advice.” And he got absolutely purple (I’ve told you this story-- well you want it for the record anyway) and his face got absolutely purple and I was terrified. He was in his eighties, you know, and he had this HUGE mahogany desk and his little fist came up and he began pounding it like this-- I thought he was going to get splinters out of it. I also thought he was going to have a heart attack and I was terrified. Finally he got so mad, “Young man if I give you one dollar, think how many dollars I will have to make to give you one dollar. Every dollar I make, the government takes 88%. Next year it’s going to be 92%. Think how many dollars I’m going to have to make before I can give you one. And where does it all go? Mink coats for the White House!”
Then all of a sudden-- it was just as though you’d punched a button-- his color came back to normal and a smile went back on again and he said, “Would $25,000 help you?” And I said, “It certainly would. We’ve got to get started.” “Well,” he said, “Now how can I help you more than my $25,000-- suppose I make that conditional that I don’t pay you that $25,000 until you’ve found enough to make it $100,000” (which is what we needed for the first year) “Would that help you?” I said-- and this is where God put His hand on my shoulder-- and I said, “Mr. Davis it will help a lot. Nobody’s going to let you off the hook.” And he smiled again, “Young man, come out and have lunch with me.” And before he was through I think he must have given us close to $200,000.
With that in my pocket, this promise you see of $25,000 to get the thing going, I flew on to Cincinnati and Mrs. Semple couldn’t have been nicer. She and her husband decided they’d match A.V.’s offer, so we had half of that first $100,000 right there. After that it wasn’t difficult to get the rest. And once you got the ball rolling, why it kept on rolling.
HWH: How long did it take to raise this money?
MORGAN: I think it was three years.
You see when this thing came up, I didn’t know anything about raising money. But during the war I’d run across somebody whose profession was fund-raising, so I asked him what the situation was, and he said, “Don’t touch us, you’ll lose your shirt.” He said, “If it was a church, or a college or something like that, we wouldn’t ask for a very big percentage. But remember you’ve got to pay that percentage; you’ve got to pay that percentage whether we make the money or not; you’ve got to pay it.”
HWH: He was associated with fundraising counsel?
MORGAN: Yes, he was a professional fundraiser, and he said, “But look at your situation. Now, for the church you’ve got a parish and there’s some rich people in the parish; for the college you’ve got your loyal alumni and that is a cinch as far as raising money goes. But look at your alumni-- they’re all teachers, they don’t have any money.” I know the Farm School had done this, too, and lost their shirt. He said, “Don’t touch us, but look at your Board of Trustees-- Arthur Vining Davis, John Nicholas Brown, you name it, it’s on your Board. That’s where you’re going to have to get the money.” And that’s where it came from, largely, either through the trustees directly-- but John Nicholas Brown never gave us a nickel either.
HWH: Is that so?
MORGAN: But it was through that contact, their own generosity and the people they knew-- foundations and friends and that kind of thing that it came in.
HWH: You said earlier, Charlie, that the project had been begun some years back but had run out of money. How long did this...
MORGAN: What happened was, the history of the Agora excavation is that in 1929 Edward Capps, of whom I’ve spoken earlier, Edward Capps got the Greek government to agree to let us excavate in the area of the Agora which was 365 houses and three or four churches and things like that on the chance that it was the Agora. We thought it was, but nobody could be absolutely sure and he got John D. Rockefeller to back it personally. Mr. Rockefeller did never ask, he said, how much do you want for this year’s work?, and they’d say, and so he’d give it to them. And this went on for years until about ‘38, I think. That’s when Mr. Rockefeller said, “Now I’d really like to see this finished up. Tell me how much you want to finish up the whole excavation.” That’s when Shear made his mistake.
But we were able to continue it after the war because we had all kinds of surplus excavation funds that we hadn’t been able to spend during the war, you see. We had a big endowment for excavation and during the War the money kept coming in but there was no chance of spending it, so we spent it on the Agora and kept that going until 1950 and by that time we’d run out of money.
There’s some other thread I missed there,-- Oh, the museum project was also an interesting one because Capps had got the Rockefeller Foundation to promise us $200,000 toward the museum on the site.
HWH: Do you mean the Stoa of Attalos?
MORGAN: Well, it wasn’t the Stoa then. It was just the idea of a museum on the site. We had thought of a modern museum tucked in some little place where it wouldn’t be conspicuous that we could use for storage and exhibition and what not. But every time we tried to find a spot for it, we found antiquities that couldn’t be covered up. We spent I don’t know how much money digging places for the museum site and just finding more that had to be preserved. So that’s when Mabel Lang, who’s now Chairman of the Management Committee, and was then working in the Agora, threw out at tea in the afternoon the idea of rebuilding the Stoa.
HWH: Well when you did get going on the Stoa, how long did that take?
MORGAN: It took three years.
HWH: You did all that in three years?
MORGAN: Well we cleared out the foundations, when we decided we were going to do it, we cleared out the foundations and excavated that very, very thoroughly. And we started rebuilding in ‘53 and dedicated it in ‘56.
HWH: I well remember the photograph of you with the King and Queen, I guess it...
MORGAN: That was...
HWH: the dedication of the Stoa.
MORGAN: Yes, the dedication-- the King and Queen, that’s another story on that one. Quite amusing because that was the year of the first Cypress controversy
HWH: First Cypress what?
MORGAN: Controversy. There they wanted to get the British out of Cypress and the British wouldn’t go and that butcher, what’s his name, that they had in charge who was hanging Cypriots out of hand all the time. The situation in Greece was extremely tense and the Greeks have a way of confusing us with the British, from time to time, because we speak English. Also, they always have a feeling that we ought to be backing them no matter who their opponents are, so that it was very difficult that summer of the dedication because we wanted to have the King and Queen, we wanted to have the Prime Minister, we wanted to have the Archbishop of Athens, but none of them could promise to be there, because it was just possible there might be some more executions in Cypress the day before and they couldn’t possibly identify themselves with this.
But it worked out. I spent six weeks there with the Director before the thing, trying to smooth things out, and ultimately the King came, and the Queen came, the Prime Minister came, the Archbishop did not. The Archbishop abstained because he said it would be impossible to bless (his church had a rule that you could not bless a building that had once been pagan), forgetting that the Parthenon had been the Church of the Virgin Mary and that the Theseum had been the Church of St. George the Lazy. That was his way of ducking out from under. So the building was not blessed. It should have been.
But at the last minute things swung our way so that all of Athens-- this was the big event of the summer-- and all of Athens was determined to show and we’d sent out hundreds of invitations. I think we had an invitation list of something like eight hundred people and twelve hundred came. It’s rather standard in Greece, you see, if you’re not invited to something, you call up and say, “I haven’t had my invitation.” And because this was the popular event in Athens, every apartment house bell-boy knew it and they also knew what the envelopes with the invitations were like, so they were just pinching them out of mail boxes and selling them. Then the people for whom they were intended would call up and say, “Well, we haven’t had our invitation.” And we’d have to send out another one. I think we had about twelve hundred people there.
HWH: Are you still active in the American School?
MORGAN: Not much. I go over to Greece every year and I always check in with the Director and I check in with the excavation at Corinth because that was my great love. I did work there for years.
HWH: I was going to ask you that next, how you came to be interested in Corinth.
MORGAN: Well, that’s been a school dig since 1896. This was in 1928-29, before the Agora started, you see, and I went down there and did my first digging there with Oscar Broneer in the spring of ‘29. When I went back in ‘33 I continued to dig down there in the spring, even though the Agora was underway. And then in ‘35 I was in charge of the excavation there and I made it a sort of a three-year program of clearing all of the ancient Agora area which hadn’t been done. We’d put in little pieces here and there. I wanted to get the whole thing cleared down to Roman level and see what the whole thing looked like. I resolutely said no, I will not go down through the Roman level and find the Greek underneath it. Let’s get the whole thing cleared to one period, take a good look at it, and then we can probe down below where we think it’s wise to do. But I did get it done by ‘38. You see, the last year I was there, I spent a good eight out of nine months down there digging; I dug practically around the clock trying to get this thing done. And it did get done. And that was when I wrote the book on the Byzantine pots. I wanted a project, something I could encompass in three years while I was still directing. You’re supposed to publish and I wanted to do something and here was this mass of Byzantine pottery at Corinth that we had saved. Most people would have thrown it away. We happened to have extra good stuff, and here was this whole mess that hadn’t been touched and nobody knew anything about it, there was nothing on it. People had written an occasional article about one type of thing, but it had never been studied as a whole and I figured that I could do that in three years, so I did. I finished up the writing when I got here, but all the basic work was done over there and a good deal of the text was done there, too. We all despised the stuff, we were all good pure classicists, and this coarse, old mediaeval stuff was no good. So this started out as a labor of duty and then it turned into a labor of love.
HWH: Did you dig any place else in Greece?
MORGAN: I dug on the North Slope with Oscar Broneer, he was digging on the North Slope. I found Mycenean houses up there-- the north slope of the Acropolis in Athens. And I dug for a month in the Agora, that was mostly Turkish cesspools.
HWH: It’s interesting to me that I think your first book was on the Byzantine pots and when was that, 1938?
MORGAN: That was actually published in ‘41 or ‘42. Yes. I got a copy of it in the Libyan desert.
HWH: I wondered how it came about that your next book didn’t come along until 1960, the book on Michelangelo.
MORGAN: Well I had an awful lot of articles in between, Bud. I’ve written on a lot of different things, different articles, and the Michelangelo book was not planned-- I hadn’t thought of doing it, but I was giving this one-hour course on “Mike,” had been giving it for two or three years, and I had given them J.A. Symonds’s biography, which is the best one that’s ever been written. It really is a great book, but it’s old fashioned and the students were always growling about this Victorian guff they had to wade through and everything else and so I said, “O.K., I’ll write a book that you can read.” And it took six months to do it, but you see, there was no research to do at all; it was a matter of interpretations, several interpretations there.
HWH: Well that was a very successful book, I know.
MORGAN: It did fine for the first month and then The Agony and the Ecstasy came along.
HWH: Oh that’s right.
MORGAN: ...and I went down like a dory. But it is still selling, Bud. I got in the mail the other day from my publisher four fifteen cent stamps-- my dividends for the last six months! [Laughter]
HWH: I told you that I was trying to get a copy of it for a friend, for Lucy Creamer, Bill Creamer’s wife, but...
MORGAN. I guess they stopped reprinting it.
HWH: It’s out of print. I inquired all over the area.
MORGAN: They usually let you know when they are remaindering or when it’s out of print. I guess they’ve just let it die on the vine. But that’s twenty years, pretty nearly twenty years ago. No, that was written in six months. And, as I say, there was no problem except that Tolnay-- I relied a lot on Tolnay, who’s the great authority on “Mike”-- but unfortunately, his last two volumes hadn’t come out, so I had to use my own wits on things like “The Last Judgment,” about which there was very little and Tolnay, when he published his book on “The Last Judgment,” says in the introduction that there are three interpretations that are entirely new, but they are already in my book. I’d come to them on my own, which I was rather pleased about.
MORGAN: I thought right after, I got so interested in working in the Renaissance then, that I thought it would be fun to do Cellini-- Cellini’s Autobiography. Everybody has to read it, but there’s too much of it, and there’s too much repetition and the translations are old-fashioned. Janet’s awfully good at Italian, so we had an idea that if I would cut the text, she would do a new translation: But there’s no point in translating the whole thing if most of it is going to be cut out, so we fiddled around with that for a while, but it never came to anything.
Then I picked up the paper and saw that Eugene Speicher, who was George Bellows’s closesest friend, had died. I’d been waiting for years for a book to come out on Bellows, so I could find out something about him. So I thought if the book on this subject is going to be written and take advantage of the survivors who knew Bellows, it better be done right away and I’d better do it. That’s how I got started on that for three years. And that’s where I had to do all the basic research because there wasn’t anything.
HWH: Didn’t the College receive his papers from his family?
HWH: Is that as a result of your interest in Bellows? Or is this vice versa?
MORGAN: No, no. You see, when I was working on it I immediately got acquainted with his daughters, and daughter Jean, the one who was an actress out in California, had all the letters and the little drawings and all the incunabula, what you call “papers,” and she sent them on here so I could use them. But as soon as I had gotten the thing done, I sent them back to Jean and that was a terrible nuisance, because as soon as the book came out, people were asking about this detail and that detail and the basic material was in California and so I’d have to write Jean and she’d have to dig it out when she could, and she was the mother of four children, and it wasn’t satisfactory. She was worried about the safe-keeping of the papers-- she’d had mice. And she’d also had a fire in the house. So I suggested that she give them to the College and we’d take care of them. I said, “Look,I’m bothering the hell out of you because the inquiries are all coming through here now. So if they were here, it would be simple.” And she thought it was a good idea until last year. And last year she got mad and demanded the papers back.
HWH: I didn’t know that. Was she mad at you?
MORGAN: She was mad at me. What happened was this, Bud. There is a print dealer with an operation outside of New York who is a good researcher. She’s a hard-boiled gal named Lauris Mason. She had done a number of catalogs on prints in the past and she wanted to do a catalog resonné of Bellows’s lithographs, which badly needed doing-- very badly needed doing. So I went to Gordon Allison, you know Gordon is an alumnus [’26] and he is also the Bellows outlet. Mrs. Mason, whom I’d known, asked me if I’d write an introduction to this and I said I’d be happy to, but I went down to see Gordon and Gordon was all against this book. He had a protege in mind at the Metropolitan.
HWH: You mean to do the book?
MORGAN: To do the book. But he had nothing to say about it. If Lauris Mason wanted to do it, it was all right and he couldn’t stop it. I said, “Well, if you feel that way, Gordon, I’m sorry, but having said I’d write the introduction, I’ve got to go ahead and I’ve got to do it.” So I did.
Mrs. Mason came on up here and worked on the papers and we ran across one little difficulty. I must say Jean had a right to feel cross about this, because when she and her sister gave the papers, they said that there should be no reproduction of any of the illustrated material without their permission. When the papers went to Frost, the authorities in Frost felt that things like sketches or little prints or anything like that were really artifacts and ought to go to Mead. So they went over to Mead, but Richard Phillips, who was in charge of the things at the time, forgot to tell Mead that there was this restriction. Naturally our Curator, when Lauris wanted to take pictures of some of these little prints, saw no reason why not. He probably should have checked back but he didn’t-- it’s one of those things that fall between two stools. So there were three pictures that were reproduced in there without any permission having been sought.
Jean had a technical point there of being cross and she could have sued us and we’d have paid fifty bucks or something like that-- maybe settled out of court, I don’t know what. But the thing that really got under her skin was that Mrs. Mason had very stupidly not consulted her on the lithography book, and so she’s not mentioned in the book and Jean’s a temperamental girl and she got mad about that. When she saw that these three things had been reproduced she began thundering, and she wrote and wrote and wrote and raised hell and called me more names than you can imagine, and finally last spring she demanded the stuff back. I kept in touch with Will Bridegam on this all the way through. Finally, when this last demand came through, Will said, “Well, we better see a lawyer.” So we got the College lawyer and the College lawyer’s opinion was very, very firm that the College, even if it wanted to, would not be allowed by law to return the stuff.
You see it was a very complicated thing anyhow, Bud, because sister Ann, in the meantime, had died and her husband had died, leaving three children, none of whom like their Aunt Jean, at all. The gift was made jointly; I think they claimed something like $10,000 for gift deduction purposes. The value of the collection is now something somewhere between seventy and eighty thousand dollars. Now, you can’t, you see, having claimed the gift deduction, they couldn’t possibly take the stuff back anyhow. And then how would you equate it with the present value? So it was an absolutely impossible situation.
Well, I haven’t heard a word from Jean since. I tried to mollify her. You know, everything along the line, and finally I got mad and I put it on the line. I haven’t heard from her since. This was six or eight months ago I guess.
HWH: Has she given it to some other institution?
MORGAN: No, no, they are our properties. They were given oh, ten years ago, maybe, I think. No, they’re ours and we can’t get rid of them. If we wanted to, we couldn’t. Well, that’s all right.
HWH: Oh, my. Charlie, on to something else. Do you think a student seriously interested in art should choose Amherst as against, let’s say, a University with a more detailed, more specific program in Fine Arts?
MORGAN: No, I don’t. I don’t think that’s a valid idea at all, because it seems to me that if the student is going to be a painter, for example, knows he is going to be a painter, he’d do much better to go right straight to the Art Students League or something like that and get a technical education. I think if he’s going to be a really good artist, he might just as well come here as any other place because we can give adequate instruction along the line in the practical end, but you also get some ideas that might be useful to him in painting. It’s all very well to be a good technician, which is what you can learn at the Art Students League or any of those other art schools, but unless you’ve got something to say, what’s the use of painting? So I believe that a liberal arts education is an awfully good thing for an artist who wants to be more than just a technician. But I don’t think it makes any difference where you go, provided you get a good liberal arts education.
HWH: So the idea really is to develop the mind, rather than hand and eye.
MORGAN: And there hasn’t been a great artist who hasn’t had a great mind, too. In my opinion.
HWH: Do you think a student could be led into a career in art at Amherst? Have you had such cases?
MORGAN: Oh I’m sure that there is. I’m sure of that. I’m trying to think of some specific case. It would be pretty hard to say when a student gets interested in painting or art history. There are some people such as myself in classical archeology. I don’t know when my interest in that began. I know a lot of students who have not gone into the field at all, who have written time and again-- been out of college twenty or thirty years-- just for no reason at all, send me a postcard from Rome saying I want to thank you for that course. They’ve been doctors or lawyers or whatnot in between, and that’s what the course was designed for: just to give a new field of interest to the liberal arts student.
HWH: Al Guest said, even last night, that all he knows about art he learned from you.
MORGAN: More shame to him for not following art on his own!
HWH: I could be wrong on this, but it seems to me that most known established artists are men. There are a handful of very successful women. Do you see any change in that in the future?
MORGAN: Well I haven’t as far as contemporary art is concerned.
HWH: It strikes me most women going into art end up in either the dabbling end as a hobby; or if they are more serious they end up in design or commercial art. I just wondered if there is something about the sexes that makes a difference in this.
MORGAN: I’ve never thought about it.
HWH: I’d be hard-pressed to name (I’m no authority) but I’d be hard-pressed to name as many as half a dozen successful women artists.
MORGAN: There have been a whole lot, but in their own time. But there are very few whose reputations have continued on beyond.
HWH: That just struck me as a peculiarity, because you don’t find it in...
MORGAN: I think you’d find it in musical composition, for example. Can you think of anything, any woman in there? I can’t think of a single name.
HWH: Oh, you’re right, but I think you’d find it also in drama. There are a few.
MORGAN: There are a few. Lillian Hellman comes to mind right away, but how good Lillian’s going to prove to be in the future, I don’t know.
HWR: Do you foresee a bright future for art at the College?
MORGAN: It depends entirely on what the trend happens to be, Bud.
HWH: With more women, I’d think there’d...
IcORGAN: Yes, undoubtedly there will be a continuum in there, but I think, again, you’re going to find it’s all a matter of what the fashion is, the undercurrent in the undergraduate body, what it’s like. I keep thinking of that after-the-war period where all of the humanities were unpopular, so to speak.
HWH: Do you have any memories of how the New Curriculum might have affected Fine Arts and Humanities in general? You mentioned earlier that the course in the humanities was really what put the three departments basically on a par with the other departments-- that is art, music, dramatic arts.
MORGAN: Well, that joint course which we gave was I think as good a course as ever has been given in the College. But it also was an impossible one to keep up with. One thing that tended to destroy it, made it extremely difficult, was that to do the job it really took a whole year and we were on a semester basis. And you cannot do the job properly without students learning something of the grammar to begin with, which is always the least interesting part, and that has to come first. But at the end of one semester, we’d lose fifty percent-- partly because of interest and partly because they only had one semester to give to that. And the cream came the second semester.
That was one of the problems in setting the course up. The other one was that you could not give that kind of joint course unless you had three people who really lived in each other’s heads all the time. Curt and Vee and I sweated out night after night after night trying to find a common language. What exactly does the word “line” mean? It means one thing in drama, one thing in music, one thing in art. You had to get your vocabulary straight among yourselves before you began giving it to the students. And until you get three people who are willing to do that, and have known each other long enough so that they can be really kind of interchangeable in the field, it will fall apart.
And of course everybody has a sabbatical and that means you’ve got to have a substitute come in for the department, and when that happens the substitute’s not interested, or if he is interested, he doesn’t know really what’s going on for the time he’s in and that breaks down some of the fiber of the course. So it’s an almost impossible thing to administer. But while it was perking I think it was an awful good course.
HWH: It seems to me you shared time with English in that first year course, one semester of English, another semester of Humanities.
MORGAN: That may have been a later system, but not in our time, no. Ours was a full year. It did break down. You could not elect the second section without having the first section because the second section would be meaningless if you didn’t have the vocabulary.
HWH: Do you think of that 1947 curriculum as a successful venture?
MORGAN: Oh I think very successful. But it was bound to fall apart. It was too rigidly set up. It was set up with the four-course system and that was too rigid. Then, of course, it became two courses and then you could have one-hour courses. And that’s how “Mike” got started. That started with Ted Koester wandering across the campus one morning and bumping into me and saying, “Charlie I want to give a one-hour course in marriage and the family but I don’t really want to suggest one, one-hour course. Could you work out a one-hour course for Fine Arts?” And I replied, “I don’t know why not.” You see the mathematics were getting difficult: you had four-hour courses, you had three-hour courses, you had two-hour courses, and as Scott Porter observed, the mathematics of planning a schedule for the year is going to be a serious one for all your students. Well it seemed to me that the one-hour course would fit in with the three-hour courses and it also gave the chance for someone who was a biology major with a very little time to shop around a chance to elect something in the arts. All right, if you’re going to give a one-hour course, what did you do? Well, one person; if you’re going to have one person who do you pick? Nothing could be simpler.
HWH: That’s interesting. I hadn’t known that. Do you have any reminiscences of people like Croc Thompson that it would be well to record?
MORGAN: I’ve got a lot but I’d really have to settle down and think that out. I think that’s the kind of thing that ought to be written up as a little memo. Of course, it was said of Croc’s courses that you didn’t learn much history but you learned a lot of Croc Thompson, which was just as good as learning a little history. He was a cheerful old gentleman, jovial, very fond of the table, very fond of cheating his doctor. He would give up his highball in the evening for twenty-four hours before he went to have his physical, for example. And he would also go on a very firm diet for a couple of days before he went to see his doctor. He had a wide range of interests, heaven knows, and he was very fond of young people, very sentimental about them.
HWH: Charlie, we’ve just about reached the end of this tape and it’s almost noon, and I certainly...
MORGAN: You’ve run out of questions?
HWH: Well there are more questions that I can think of but it would mean to start another tape and I think we’ve probably done enough right now. Maybe sometime I can come back. Perhaps on the basis of what we have on the tape some other questions will be suggested. But I thank you very much and I’ll get this to you as quickly as possible-- before you go on safari.
[END OF TAPE
Final typing completed: January 17, 1979]
The interviewer and interviewee place no restrictions -- other than standard literary credit -- on the use of this transcript.
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Oral history interview with Charles Morgan, 1978 December 7, in Amherst College Oral History Project Records, (Box 1, Folder 16), Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library <https://www.amherst.edu/library/archives/holdings/amherst-college-oral-history-project/charles-morgan>
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