You had to be with Chris Horton to appreciate his imposing presence. That includes Chris in person, Chris the artist and Chris the teacher. Skip Fitchen’s “In Memory” piece is a fine way to start:
“Having spent three years ‘rooming within two feet of each other,’ as our fellow roommate Dave Stephens put it, we got to know each other well. First of all, Chris was a big, strong guy at 6-foot, 2inches, over 200 pounds and a first-rate athlete. His specialty was putting the shot, the object of which is to muscle a 16-pound ball of iron farther than anyone else.
“One day, I watched as he curled his fingers around the shot, cupping it gently in the crook of his neck, like a concertmaster cradling a Strad. Then, he spun full tilt and launched the shot explosively, at the same time letting out an almost bestial roar. What stuck with me over the years was how powerful he was, how disciplined, how intense and how determined to put forth his very best – in which respects he never changed.”
Chris was also a gentle soul, a person of warm feelings toward his fellow man, especially the small individual. You felt it in his politics and in his personal dealings with friends and strangers.
Chris, continued Skip, consistently championed the new-and-different, the out-of-the-ordinary, “introducing Dave and me to the music of Shostakovich and Stravinsky, who could have been from another planet. Through him, too, we made the acquaintance of the Freudian psychologist Wilhelm Reich – and the possible efficacy of Reich's “Orgone Box” in enhancing and husbanding our abundant youthful supply of ‘stored energy,’ now called testosterone.”
“It was typical of Chris then, and throughout his life, to test the edges, to ‘get people going,’ by espousing the unusual, even proposing the outrageous, in order, for example, to push his students into examining and challenging the status quo. It became a hallmark of his teaching style; it marked his conversation with family and close friends as well.”
|Chris indexing his favorite metaphor|
At Chris’s memorial service, friend, fellow art school professor and collaborator Peter MacLean spoke of Chris’s many attributes.
“Smart, curious, philosophical, rigorous, and talented; the kind of person that has a profound effect on everyone he meets.
“He took a broad approach to his teaching, crossing departments and disciplines. He saw the value in interdisciplinary study and in the exploration of ideas in the larger world. Art was not an end in itself, but rather a way to find meaning on a personal and a cultural level.
“He was incredibly versatile in all aspects of his life. He worked with an amazing range of materials and projects: painting, sculpture, drawing, systems-generated works, environmental installations, collage, political explorations, memorial competitions, and stone variations – in stone, and about stones, too. He was a man much greater than the sum of his parts.”
Chris's wife, Sherry, spends time now on local history projects. One involves interviewing longtime residents of Farmington, Conn., about their memories of growing up there. “I am the editor/compiler of these documents. Fifteen or so are now on the Farmington Library shelves, with more to come. The other project is chairing a study committee to develop a historic district for the vil-lage of Unionville, where I live in the west end of Farmington. Once a week I teach a class for Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford. In and around that I take an exercise and yoga class, and do outdoorsy things (walk, hike, bike, kayak, ski, etc.).
Chris and Sherry’s older son, Josh, lives in Hyde Park, N.Y., with wife Allison, 10-year-old stepson, Ethan, and 2-year-old Lucas Christopher. Josh is a technical writer for IBM. Their younger son, Toby, is a landscape architect in Philadelphia. He and Lori just had their first child, Lynedon Valley. Toby is curating a large, retrospective show of his father’s work at Amherst for our 50th.
In his junior and senior years, Chris lived on the second floor of Psi U. Skip recalls that, after they moved in, Chris carved on the lintel of the fireplace the word “Averaducci” – a way, perhaps, of making this part of the house their home. Skip notes that “Averaducci” isn't a real word but was Louis Armstrong's version of “Arrivederci” as belted out in the movie “High Society,” a favorite of theirs. “It means goodbye, of course, but only until we meet again.”
In 2004, Chris waged a fierce struggle with leukemia (AML) over more than eight, excruciating months. He was valiant to the very end, his dying synonymous with his middle name, Noble. After his death, dozens and dozens of friends, including many students, sent to a special website their feelings of loss and their fond memories. That site is worth visiting: http://www.christopherhorton.org.
Christopher Noble Horton died Jan. 1, 2005, in Farmington, Conn. “Averaducci, Horts.”
|Sherry and Chris with sons Josh (l.) and Toby (r.)|