Cora Lee Gibbs, arts educator and wife of former Amherst College president Julian Gibbs interviewed by Joel Upton, former professor of art and history of art.
[0:00] Upton: My name is Joel Upton. Um, I'm an art historian. And I'm a professor in the Department of Art and History of Art here at Amherst College. And today I have the great pleasure and good fortune of being in the President's House with Cora Lee Gibbs, the wife of the 15th President of Amherst College, Julian Gibbs. Um, a most wonderful man and a most wonderful woman. We are picking up a conversation that Cora Lee and I began a couple of years ago. Um, we had come from this house up to Johnson Chapel to discuss--
[0:39] Gibbs: Up to the middle of the campus.
[0:41] Upton: To the middle of the campus where we talked about all manner of things. And then we left off that conversation and now are picking it up again. So I'm happy to be here with Cora Lee Gibbs, um, and to talk again about our reminiscences of Amherst College and Amherst life.
[1:00] Gibbs: Well that was 4 or 5 years ago, at least. And of course, by the time when I left this house was 26 years ago. So memories are there, maybe a little fuzzy. But there are many good, very good memories of the 4 years we had here at Amherst College.
[1:21] Upton: Well, Cora Lee, I'm, I’m hoping that we can come back to those 4 wonderful years. Um, I'm wondering if you could say just a few things to us about what you've been doing since you left here. I know that, uh, the central role of art in your life and it would be interesting to know some of the things you have done.
[1:41] Gibbs: Well, okay. Starting with the time that I left here, I stayed 1 year in Amherst after Julian died.
[1:50] Upton: Up in Echo Hill.
[1:51] Gibbs: Yes, up in Echo Hill, and I was working with the 5 College’s, uh, organization specifically trying to get the 5 College museums to work closely together. Jill Conway from Smith had asked me to do this for them. It was an interesting year. And then I decided it was time to go back and start my own life again. And the big problem, of course, was that I was about to turn 60, and it's not that easy to find a job when you're about to-- to-- about to turn 60. But I did land a job as director of the Newport Art Museum and Art Association at a time which was a very strange time for them.
[2:37] It had been an art association since 1912, and had just decided by the board of trustees that it was going to be an art museum. And I was there in the transition time with the job of making the museum, now, a credible institution. So I had 9 very interesting years at the Newport Art Museum and Art Association [crosstalk] in Newport.
[3:05] Upton: I have to ask, I have to ask you quickly, I hope you spend some time talking about works of art in front of works of art.
[3:12] Gibbs: Before I was here at Amherst with Julian, I had spent 10 years as Curator of Education at the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design. And what I did there was talk about works of art, and teach people how to talk about works of art. And I did that for 10 years. Therefore, when I went to Newport, it was obvious that I would continue to talk about the works of art. And the exciting part was that once we began calling ourselves a museum, we began to bring works of art into the collection, concentrating on what we call the rich artistic heritage of the Newport area.
[3:55] The artist who would drift down to the coast there can sit that whole group of post-luminist artists--
[4:04] Upton: Was the museum then purchasing works of art or were they being [crosstalk] given--
[4:07] Gibbs: The [laughs] museum has never been able to purchase works of art. I just spent two days at a museum retreat-- I'm still on their board, and we are happily accepting works of art as gifts. And the collection has now grown to well over 2000 works. So it-- it has grown.
[4:31] Upton: Do you have a favorite object that came-- has come to you in the last [crosstalk] few years that--
[4:37] Gibbs: Well, w- the w- uh, probably, I s-still say Fitz Hugh Lane, although I’m supposed to say Fitz Henry Lane now. But we have a wonderful view by Fitz Henry Lane of yacht racing out of New Bedford, a variety of watercolors and oils by William Trost Richards, who is a major American painting of the latter part of the 19th century.
[5:03] Upton: In addition to working in that Museum, I believe you continued to take groups on tours, am I right about that?
[5:10] Gibbs: Yes, I started doing tours while I was here at Amherst. Julian and I went on a tour, starting in Portugal and moving up the coast to Paris. I didn't do very much talking there. I talked about Santiago de Compostela, which has always been one of my favorite places to end up in and to save my soul. But, um, that was my first trip with the Amherst College. I had done several trips with the Rhode Island School of Design.
[5:47] But after Julian died, I worked very closely with Charlotte Turgeon. And Charlotte Turgeon had had a series of trips and she and I started out with the Amherst community and doing a tour which we call “France with a Paintbrush and a Pastry Brush.” She was a superb cook. We would go into restaurants and people would say, “Madame Turgeon, quel plaisir de vous voir.”
And I would then talk about the art. And we would go back and forth and we worked out a nice system of tours throughout France. And then I translated these for the, for the, uh, Newport Art Museum, did trips to Portugal, Italy, Sicily. Sicily was my favorite. I think. Uh--
[6:36] Upton: Were these all tours with Amherst [crosstalk] people, or--?
[6:38] Gibbs: No, I did a few for Amherst, but after that I did them for the Art Museum. It was, it would be a fundraiser for the Art Museum. As you did that. So I liked to do that, it got to the point where when I was doing tours in southern France with Charlotte, we'd go by church and they would push my head down so I wouldn't notice the church. Because I tended to take people into church and as Joel knows, one of my interests always has been iconography and the symbolism of the church.
[7:09] Upton: Um, for art of all kinds, architecture, painting, prints everything, and I know few people who are able to articulate as vividly as you what it is that you are moved by in works of art. And I can tell quickly the story and we might move back toward your time here. I was over in the Mead art building, preparing a class and Cora Lee Gibbs arrived in the hallway, if you remember, with an arm full of photographs, um, that you were using to put together a talk of some kind. And before, uh, too many seconds you and I were sitting on the floor in the hall with these photographs spread out all over. And all the students who were arriving had to find their way around us, because what you were talking about was more interesting than anything else. And I remember vividly, [crosstalk] how you--
[8:00] Gibbs: Well, I also remember turning to you with a big question I had. Uh, when we were here, Julian had to do a lot of trips around the country to fundraise for the-- with the alumni, and I would go along and what would happen at that point, he would be in meeting with uh, an alumnus or two, and I would then get to visit the various and sundry museums. I went to the Cleveland Museum, and saw a painting I'd ever seen before. I had great questions about the iconography. And I brought that-- do you remember which painting it was?
[8:36] Upton: I don't remember, but I do remember your asking me the question. And I remember with the same embarrassment that I feel now that I don't think I had a--
[8:44] Gibbs: Zurbarán!
[8:45] Upton: Zurbarán, but I did not have the immediate answer. And the reason why that was so fascinating was it was not an obvious question. It was a subtle question.
[8:53] Gibbs: It was a, it was an interesting question. Just very quickly, I went into this gallery, it was a huge Zurbarán. Zurbarán was a 17th century Spanish painter. And I thought, “oh, there's an Annunciation with an angel on the left, and the virgin on the right.” And then I began looking very, very closely. And it was not the an-- the angel on the left, it was Christ as a child. And on the right was the virgin holding-- creating a, uh, shroud for the Christ. And there was-- Joel and I began to look at the tape-- at the photograph more carefully, and we found all sorts of iconographic details. And he kept pointing out to me the pears were like the apples from the Garden of Eden because the virgin with the new, the new Mary, etc.
[9:47] Upton: And there's that that was a particularly moving picture, and I'm not surprised that Zurbarán would do it. Do you still talk about it?
[9:53] Gibbs: Yes, I do. I do a lot-- I do a whole series of talks now, mostly for the churches on the Annunciation. Because there are so many images-- and many of them are very familiar to Joel because they are in his field of interest, 15th century Flanders etc. But um, I-- I find it a fascinating thing to talk about. And what I'm doing with the audience is trying to get them to read the paintings and to see what is in a painting. And to know that that little thing that is hanging around on the corner has significance--
[10:32] Upton: What looks so unimportant. So [crosstalk] inconspicuous--
[10:34] Gibbs: Is very important, yes.
[10:35] Upton: In the case of that Zurbarán, I remember the theme now. It was a wonderful situation of where the mother with the child is, is preparing something and as you say it was, it turns out to be the shroud. A very poignant subject matter. There are many pictures as you know, of Mary reading. To the baby, teaching him to read, And at one point, there's one beautiful limestone sculpture in Paris where both Mary and the baby turn away from the book, because they suddenly realize they have been reading about what will happen to that boy. And it’s a haunting lamentation without any actual lamentation.
[11:18] Gibbs: And the more you go on the 15th, 16th century, [laughs] the more complicated the ideas get.
[11:23] Upton: But I think that's what fascinated you, that there wa-- it wasn't simply a labeling of the picture. It was layers, layers of meaning.
[11:31] Gibbs: Wh- i-it goes way back, my interest in this is I grew up in Europe, and I've taken people to Chartres Cathedral and read the doors to them. And it is-- what I like to do is read the door.
[11:46] Upton: You are living example, I think, of, of what used to be called Lectio Divina, where you would read the divine literature in a meditative way, uh, using words in Bibles, etc. But you, you take that reading to the sculpture itself, and literally read the stories on the doors at Chartres.
[12:07] Gibbs: Yes. And, and people are fascinated with it. Now, a lot of this comes from what happened when we left Amherst in 1947. Julian came back after the war, as you know.
[12:21] Upton: He was Class of ‘46.
[12:22] Gibbs: He was Class of ‘46. We lived down in the GI Village where the social dorms are now in gray tar paper shacks.
[12:31] Upton: On the eastern side of the campus.
[12:33] Gibbs: Yes.
[12:34] Upton: Down, near the railroad.
[12:36] Gibbs: That's right. That's exactly right. And when we left here, uh, Julian went to Princeton to get his PhD. And my great idea was I would finish my Master's which I'd started that year at Smith. But of course, Princeton would not even look at me as a potential student. I happened to be female. So, I did not go, but I worked for three years there in Research Department of the library which is called the Index of Christian art.
[13:06] Upton: Very famous, very famous--
[13:08] Gibbs: And we were in-- this was pre-computer, and we documented everything we read with little dots and this, and then the person in charge of it would then translate it to a system that scholars could use.
[13:22] Upton: I must say, Cora Lee, you bring that-- you say that it reminds me at Bryn Mawr where I did my graduate work. Nobody had finished preparing a seminar presentation on any worthwhile subject until you had gone to the Princeton early Christian index, and worked through what you had been preparing until you were aware--
[13:43] Gibbs: It was early Christian because you couldn't-- if it was past 1400 then you didn't look at it.
[13:47] Upton: But at Bryn Mawr, they were looking for pre-1400 sources for everything. And the best presentations went all the way back through that, establishing the visual recension for anything-- that was quite remarkable. So now I didn't know, I didn't realize that I was the beneficiary of your work.
[14:07] Gibbs: Well.
[14:08] Upton: Back then.
[14:09] Gibbs: It was really pretty picky work. But [laughs] it was, it was fun. But ever since that I have been interested in the--
[14:15] Upton: In the iconography. Princeton was one of the centers of real iconographic [crosstalk] analysis--
[14:21] Gibbs: Now you probably knew the works of Rensselaer Lee.
[14:25] Upton: Yes, absolutely. Rensselaer Lee and Erwin Panofsky, all there--
[14:28] Gibbs: Rensselaer Lee was the person with whom I wrote my senior thesis at Smith on a chasuble in the Metropolitan Museum that had the whole sequence of the Annunciation.
[14:41] Upton: So you became interested in, in iconography right from the beginning?
[14:45] Gibbs: Yes. Yes.
[14:47] Upton: It's the learned side of art history.
[14:49] Gibbs: Oh, oh of course.
[14:50] Upton: Yes. That's what we like to think-- it's the textual sources. I wanted to tell you a quick story of just to see if you would enjoy it. Erwin Panofsky was once in--
[14:58] Gibbs: I knew-- I had met him. Of course, at the Index of Christian Art.
[15:01] Upton: Well then, you will appreciate this story. There was a graduate student who went to a small personal seminar with 3 or 4 faculty in at NYU. And Erwin Panofsky apparently had an apartment in New York-- or was borr-- I think it was his apartment. And the story goes, and you will appreciate this, uh, several very learned professors were talking about a particular image in the Renaissance. And they began to discuss what the literary sources of this image might be. And they were stumped by it.
[15:33] And Erwin-- they all turned to Erwin Panofsky and he said he thought he could tell them, but that he needed to go back to his study in the back part of the apartment to check a few references, and then he would come back and explain what he thought the literary recension up to the 16th century was. Came back in about half an hour, and for almost 45 minutes went through Greek and Latin texts from pre-Christian era, all the way through, setting up the entire recension.
[16:04] After having done that, and everybody was astounded, the graduate student walked back and along the hallway toward the back part of the apartment where Erwin Panofsky’s study was, and he thought he would just look at the study to see what a m-- place was like that a man like that worked in. So he walked back there, opened the door to the study and discovered that it was an empty room. This was Erwin Panofsky’s total recall. And he hadn't wanted to-- he wanted to be humble about his knowledge. A very powerful, powerful thing. So as-- again, I say that’s why icographers think of themselves as--
[16:44] Gibbs: Very much-- Katzenellenbogen.
[16:46] Upton: Adolf Katzenellenbogen also who, who, who unraveled Chartres Cathedral.
[16:50] Gibbs: Yes.
[16: 51] Upton: Who understood that, that iconography as nobody.
[16:53] Gibbs: Yes, yes.
[16:54] Upton: Yeah, that's wonderful.
[16:55] Gibbs: No, but Chartres Cathedral is still a favorite place of mine.
[17:00] Upton: Well, I'm now understanding more about your own involvement with i- i- in iconography because you were working with the original 12 disciples of iconography when you were--
[17:08] Gibbs: Oh yes
[17:08] Upton: --with those people at Princeton. Yes that's-- can you tell us more about your life here? Um, as a young girl? In-- in a--
[17:16] Gibbs: Oh as a young girl, you mean way back?
[17:18] Upton: Way back when you first met Julian.
[17:21] Gibbs: Well, I went to Smith. And freshman here at Smith, I came over to Amherst, I think once, the Alpha Delta House. Had a date with the brother of one of the seniors in my house. Ted Cross, who ended up being a trustee. And who when, uh, when Julian was named president, he greeted me in saying we would-- what, what would he have thought of 20, 20, so 25 years ago, [crosstalk] whatever it was--
[17:53] Upton: That’s wonderful.
[17:55] Gibbs: --but that was my first experience here at Amherst. Now, when I met Julian was the very first week of my sophomore year. I was--
[18:06] Upton: Were you both the same class?
[18:08] Gibbs: Yes. I was in Lawrence House, which was my dormitory. And a group of 4 or 5 Amherst men came over to meet up with the dates they’d had the year before-- this was September. Well, one of them was Julian. And the girl, the woman that he was looking for was not there.
[18:33] Upton: Good fortune.
[18:33] Gibbs: And happened to be sitting in the front hall--
[18:35] Upton: Good fortune.
[18:36] Gibbs: So I was the pickup. The front hall. And we went out with the others and we went down to Rahar’s. It was a dive.
[18:44] Upton: Oh! [Crosstalk] I’m glad to learn this.
[18:46] Gibbs: Where you had, where you had, you got, you, where you drank beer and sat at the table that everybody had scratched their name into forever and ever.
[18:54] Upton: Gone now, unfortunately.
[18:56] Gibbs: I assume so.
[18:57] Upton: I'm afraid [crosstalk] it is.
[18:57] Gibbs: It was there. It was still there when we were back here.
[19:00] Upton: Really? Did you, did you go back for old times sake? To Rahar’s?
[19:03] Gibbs: Yes. I did once. I'm sure I did.
[19:06] Upton: I'm glad to hear that
[19:07] Gibbs: Because of course, I've been back to Smith for reunions. But, so, that was the year, that was ‘47, ‘48 and Amherst was a very changed place that year. Uh, the fraternities were mostly closed. Um, everybody was either in-- Chi Phi is that the, the fraternity, that’s right, right down here?
[19:33] Upton: Opposite the Music Building. No, the one just across-- [cross talk] I know which one, just next to the--
[19:37] Gibbs: Well there’s Chi Psi.
[19:38] Upton: Chi Psi, next to the President’s House.
[19:39] Gibbs: Chi Psi. And then there's another one right down here, which is Chi Phi or something. There were just a few fraternities open and the only people on campus were 4-F’s or pre-meds, which Julian was. And the, the meteorology school was here.
[20:00] Upton: Wow.
[20:00] Gibbs: And uh-- so it was a very different place. But that-- a couple of times I rode my bicycle over here.
[20:06] Upton: From Smith?
[20:07] Gibbs: From Smith.
[20:08] Upton: How large was the College then? Do you-- I mean, did you? I don't, I don't mean exact numbers--
[20:13] Gibbs: No, it was around 7 or 800 hundred.
[20:15] Upton: 7 or 800 hundred.
[20:16] Gibbs: I think.
[20:16] Upton: Yeah. Was it-- it felt like a small college.
[20:18] Gibbs: Yes, it did. And Smith felt like a bigger place. But--
[20:21] Upton: Did they have 2000, 25--
[20:23] Gibbs: We had 2000. W-- we continue to be 2000.
[20:26] Upton: Did you come frequently from Smith during those early years?
[20:29] Gibbs: Not too frequently, until it became more frequent.
[20:32] Upton: Until it became more frequent.
[20:34] Gibbs: Yes. [Laughs]
[20:35] Upton: Ah, you couldn't take classes here then?
[20:37] Gibbs: No. No, there was no exchange of classes.
[20:39] Upton: That's unfortunate. I must, I-I in many ways my life was in-- was informed by the fact that all of my classes had students from Mount Holyoke and Smith and UMass--
[20:51] Gibbs: Especially in art history.
[20:53] Upton: Especially in art history. Um, it was a great pleasure to have the, the women in the class.
[20:58] Gibbs: It helps.
[20:59] Upton: It-it helped amazingly. It made believers of the men.
[21:03] Gibbs: Well, good.
[21:04] Upton: Uh, and that’s so--
[21:06] Gibbs: So, we-- campus was reasonably active, but it was all on a very small scale.
[21:15] Upton: But it was just reconstructing itself in some sense after the war wasn't-- I forget, [crosstalk] when the new curriculum--
[21:19] Gibbs: No, no, this was before the war.
[21:21] Upton: So this was before the war.
[21:23] Gibbs: Yes. And then uh--
[21:24] Upton: I see.
[21:25] Gibbs: So many of Julian's classmates were-- went off to Williams and other colleges with V12. Which was the Navy training to get you into the, the officers training. But, uh, Julian first signed up for that, and they found he was colorblind, so he couldn't get it--
[21:46] Upton: Is this-- this is another nice thing to know, that Cora Lee Gibbs, the master of art--
[21:52] Gibbs: Married a--
[21:52] Upton: --married a color blind man, but I know that it didn't diminish his passion for art.
[21:58] Gibbs: No, it was interesting. Oh, I remember the year that we were-- that Julian was on sabbatical in England in 1975. And I used to go up to London, he-- we were in Colchester, the University of Essex. And, uh, I would go up and look at museums, and then he would come up in the evening, we'd go to concerts or something once a week.
[22:24] And at one point on the train between Colchester and London, he handed me a slip of paper with, uh, about 10 or 20 names of artists on it. And his analytical mind was very clear about this fact, he said, “here are my favorite artists. What do they have in common?” And I was supposed to tell him what he had-- it went everything from Chardin to Uccello-- Uccello was one of his favorites-- to Manet. I can't remember all of them but I know that Chardin, Manet, and Uccello were, were three of--
[22:58] Upton: As you tell that story, you helped me understand why I so admired and, and liked Julian, because he asked me, one time, and he asked it more than once. The identical question--
[23:11] Gibbs: Really?
[23:11] Upton: He gave me a series of names and wanted me to tell him what it was that they had in common. And what I appreciated about that was, and I appreciate it more and more as I go through this, what he was interested in, was not celebrity names. He was interested in the art that lay behind the name.
[23:29] Gibbs: And what did they-- w-why did they relate to each other?
[23:32] Upton: Yes. And so he was after the deeper latent importance of those things, as opposed to simply, “tell me one interesting fact about Bruegel.” Um, I--
[23:41] Gibbs: Bruegel was one of his--
[23:42] Upton: I have no doubt about it-- he said to me more than once talked to me about Peter Bruegel.
[23:47] Gibbs: [Laughs]
[23:48] Upton: Um, he cared deeply about those things, and--
[23:50] Gibbs: Well, I think frankly, the-- what he learned from me in art history, just because I dragged him to so many museums, helped him when he got here. Because he already was very familiar with music. He had grown up with music as a young kid and knew his three-- Beethoven, Bach and Brahms-- [crosstalk]
[24:15] Upton: Brandenburg concertos. [Stuttering] was one of his favorites.
[24:19] Gibbs: Yes. And, and, and, at his funeral, they played Beethoven-- Beethoven quartets.
[24:28] Upton: I think so.
[24:29] Gibbs: Yeah.
[24:30] Upton: And then “once more with feeling.” I remember Dick Fink talking about--
[24:34] Gibbs: Okay.
[24:35] Upton: --the text and it said-- written on it once more with feeling. It was quite a beautiful, beautiful moment. But Julian's intensity in, in art, I think, um, um, w-was important to the college and that, and that he drew on you, I have no doubt whatsoever. He, uh, is responsible in a way for a place in Fayer-- he's first of all responsible for the ultimate renovation of Fayerweather--
[25:00] Gibbs: Oh that's such a great building.
[25:01] Upton: There can be no doubt in anybody's mind, it was Julian who said this is the direction. He visualized that for us. But there's a thing called the Rosen Art Study upstairs in the attic now--
[25:12] Gibbs: Oh-- I've been up to the attic.
[25:13] Upton: It's a beautiful room, maybe the-- one of the most beautiful rooms [crosstalk] on this campus.
[25:16] Gibbs: You took me up there a few years ago.
[25:18] Upton: Well I--
[25:19] Gibbs: Oh! When, when we did this thing. This thing--
[25:21] Upton: Did what we were doing now. Several years ago, we talked about that. But I re-- never will forget the day, going into the attic with Julian. And it was a dangerous place then because the floorboards were broken; uh, it was unfinished, hadn't been used in 25 or 30 years. And Julian walked into the south end of the attic, and looked at this and said, “this is magnificent. It should be restored. Let's do it.”
[25:49] Gibbs: And when you took me up there, it was a fantastic space.
[25:53] Upton: Yes. And it's there now and, and, um, the Rosen family has dedicated it and it is now known as the Rosen Art Study.
[26:00] Gibbs: Oh good.
[26:01] Upton: Uh, I think that's wonderful. I still in my own heart remember it as Julian Gibbs’s Art Study--
[26:05] Gibbs: Okay, good.
[26:06] Upton: --because that's fair enough. I can be a romantic in that regard.
[26:08] Gibbs: Okay.
[26:10] Upton: Um, while we're speaking about that, can, can you talk more about what your life as the wife of the president at Amherst College was like, what- you came from RISD and Julian came from Brown, so you both had very busy lives. You, you set those lives on hold to come back, and as it were, serve Amherst, at least that [inaudible].
[26:32] Gibbs: Especially with Julian, who, who gave up so much of his scientific work, which meant so much to him. But, you probably know that he kept his finger in the scientific research.
[26:45] Upton: I remembered, vividly, being in the library one day and there were 4 or 5 people scrambling around checking, um, various sources, and Julian had come to the library and asked them to locate a scientific text, uh, in any language anywhere in the world on such and such a subject, and he didn't tell them that his hope was that they couldn't find anything, because he had--
[27:13] Gibbs: He had the answer
[27:14] Upton: --the answer. And he wanted to be certain that, that he was clear about that. And that had not-- he didn't need to cite another source. And apparently the library did all they could do to check and came back to him downfaced and said, “we're very sorry, sir, but we can't find anything.” And he said, “that's just perfect.” And I can remember him smiling and walking out.
[27:35] Gibbs: Well, he kept Wednesday mornings free. And when he came up from Brown, he had an institute of health, um, grant, which they continued for him here at Amherst, and he brought two postdoctoral fellows with him.
[27:57] Upton: I remember those.
[27:58] Gibbs: One, lived down to the Helen Hunt Jackson House. He s-- talks to me, he's Chinese. He talks to me, always on the Chinese New Year. I had dinner with him in Washington just this past fall. And he calls up and says, “we're still doing work on Julian's project.”
[28:20] Upton: Isn't that wonderful.
[28:21] Gibbs: “We’re still following things.”
[28:22] Upton: As an alumnus of the College, uh, busy with his own important career, was still nevertheless willing to come back and give back to the College--
[28:33] Gibbs: He wouldn't have gone anyplace else.
[28:35] Upton: Yeah, I had that sense.
[28:36] Gibss: No, he was devoted. His, his father had gone here. Class of 1902.
[28:42] Upton: Is that right? So he had it-- he had a real family sense of what the character of this place was.
[28:48] Gibbs: I think so. Yeah.
[28:48] Upton: And wanted to maintain that. He told me once in his office, I was arguing about Fayerweather, I was impatient about Fayerweather, and I asked to have a meeting with him, and I said that we needed to move more quickly. And uh, I'll tell you another story about that. But he looked at me and said, “you know, you are a bit of a pain in the neck.”
[29:08] Gibbs: [Laughs]
[29:09] Upton: He might not have said it exactly like that.
[29:11] Gibbs: [Laughs]
[29:12] Upton: Uh, and then he laughed and said, “you should never forget, that's exactly what you're paid to be.”
[29:18] Gibbs: Good.
[29:18] Upton: “Don't ever stop.” And that was a, was a man that you could, you could admire. He once, because I sent him in a box, a piece of the cornice, the egg and dart motif from the cornice had fallen off in the spring thaw and freeze, and had fallen directly in front of the door. And I had been to see Julian a week or so earlier saying “please, let's hurry.” And so I put it in a box, and I mailed it to him and said, “if you don't hurry up, this is what is going to happen. It might have killed me today.” And that's all I said. That afternoon, I got a box back from the President's Office and I opened it, and it had a yellow hardhat in it, with my name on it--
[30:03] Gibbs: [Laughs] Oh, good.
[30:03] Upton: And it said--
[30:04] Gibbs: [crosstalk] Oh I didn’t know that.
[30:05] Upton: “--don't let it be said that the President doesn't do all he can for his faculty.” And that was the end of the story. Although his-- he was the one who said, I think made it clear, “this building must be preserved and dedicated to the study of art.”
[30:19] Gibbs: Of course, he had studied physics--
[30:22] Upton: In that building.
[30:23] Gibbs: In that building. I remember the summer of 1946, we had just been married. I had just graduated from Smith. We were living down in the shacks and, uh, that's where we went for, he went for his Phys-- Physics class, although--
[30:40] Upton: And chemistry too. Chemistry was in Fairweather also--
[30:42] Gibbs: No, chemistry was in the chemistry building, which was the one right on Route 9.
[30:48] Upton: On Route 9.
[30:49] Gibbs: Yeah.
[30:49] Upton: Moore.
[30:50] Gibbs: Moore. [Crosstalk] Yeah.
[30:51] Upton: Moore, yeah. But at one point chemistry was taught in Fayerweather--
[30:55] Gibbs: Oh, it would have been, yes.
[30:56] Upton: Because--
[30:56] Gibbs: Before Moore.
[30:57] Upton: You know how I know? If you go from Bob Sweeny’s Studio into what is currently the printmaking studio, um, you can see marks across the maple wood floor where somebody spilled acid as they were walking from one side of the lab to the other. Now there's a wall in between, but it goes right from one room to the next. So it-- that-- once upon a time was, was chemistry. Uh, what you mentioned the shacks, uh, that, that's the area where the students lived on the far eastern side of the campus. But were they really shacks?
[31:35] Gibbs: No, they, they--
[31:35] Upton: Were they--
[31:36] Gibbs: They were two story buildings that would-- that had [muttering] 1, 2, 3-- 6 apartments in them. And they were covered with tar paper--
[31:46] Upton: Wow.
[31:47] Gibbs: --at that point. Later on, when I came, we came back for things, they were I think, some sort of siding was put on them. But that first year that-- we were brand new, the first year of the summer of ‘47. We were married on a Saturday in July. Julian could not get out of his athletic commitment, so we were back Monday.
[31:10] Upton: What was the athletic commitment?
[31:11] Gibbs: He had to-- even though he'd been in the Navy for 4 years, Dean-- who was dean? Whoever the dean was would not give him a reprieve for his Monday afternoon.
[32:25] Upton: No. Really?
[32:26] Gibbs: So we came back and--
[32:27] Upton: He interrupted the marriage [crosstalk] festival.
[32:31] Gibbs: Yeah we-- no we were married on Saturday. We had a two day honey-- honeymoon. He came back and hit a home run.
[32:40] Upton: Well, that's wonderful. But- a-a-and now I can understand why [laughs].
[32:43] Gibbs: [Laughs]
[32:45] Upton: The coach wouldn't have understood, it makes sense now. Where did you eat in those days? Did they have-- they-- did they--
[32:51] Gibbs: Oh, we had our little kitchen.
[32:52] Upton: You didn't have-- there was no Valentine or anything like that?
[32:54] Gibbs: Oh, yes. Valentine was there.
[32:56] Upton: So, but you had your own kitchens in these apartments?
[32:58] Gibbs: Kind o-- well, you know, there was a coal stove. We were supposed to cook on the coal stove. But we all had hot plates. And I had never cooked in my life.
[33:09] Upton: And so you learned right there.
[33:11] Gibbs: I learned right there. Yes. We had a pressure cooker. I remember trying to cook chicken in the pressure cooker, things of that type, but I learned quickly.
[33:20] Upton: Do you remember any of the names of the super famous professors who were there then?
[33:25] Gibbs: Oh, sure.
[33:26] Upton: Who, who would-- who would you remember?
[33:28] Gibbs: David Grahame.
[33:29] Upton: David Grahame, what did he teach?
[33:30] Gibbs: He was the physical chemist and Julian always felt that he was probably the most renowned physical chemist in the country after Willard Gibbs, who was at Yale and was the best known. And, uh, he was here for many years. He died not too long after we were here. But he was Julian's mentor and really directed him toward the work he later did-- Oscar Schotté.
[34:03] Upton: Osc--, I know, I knew Oscar Schotté for the first couple of years [crosstalk] I was here.
[34:06] Gibbs: And he was here when we came back.
[34:08] Upton: Yes.
[34:09] Gibbs: And--
[34:10] Upton: He was in biology.
[34:11] Gibbs: Yes. I met him when I was a sophomore at Smith. Julian brought me over to meet his professor because at that point, he was a pre-med, and so he had-- was working with Oscar Schotté. It was Grahame who sort of switched him from pre-med to, to, uh, physical chemistry. But I went and had tea with Oscar Schotté, and later on we would have drinks with Oscar Schotté who would sit in front of the gathered guests with a beaker, stirring Manhattans. We all--
[34:47] Upton: That’s the Old Amherst.
[34:48] Gibbs: The Old Amherst.
[34:49] Upton: But there was a very wonderful sense of collaboration and camaraderie between the faculty and the students.
[34:56] Gibbs: I think so, yes. It was especially after the war when we-- they were all older people. And, uh-- but I met Schotté before the war. I met him when Julian was a sophomore. And--
[35:09] Upton: So Julian finished two years and then went off--
[35:11] Gibbs: Two and a half years.
[35:12] Upton: Two and a half years, then went off in the Navy, for 4 years, then came back.
[35:16] Gibbs: Yes.
[35:16] Upton: And, and completed
[35:17] Gibbs: And c-- so we had a year and a half here.
[35:19] Upton: I see.
[35:21] Gibbs: And so he graduated in ‘47. Oscar Schotté insisted that he had known my mother in Geneva. He was a, he was, uh, I-- I lived in Geneva for-- till I was 14. And uh, Oscar got his, uh, degree at the University of Geneva. And apparently he did some courses at the International School where we all went. And he used to tell me oh, yes, he knew my mother.
[35:48] Upton: How did you find yourself in, in, in Geneva? I had heard this but I-- and I guess I had forgotten that part of your story.
[35:56] Gibbs: I was born in Prague.
[35:58] Upton: Václav Havel’s beautiful city. Yes. Frederick the Second--
[36:02] Gibbs: And I grew up with etchings of Prague all over the house in Geneva. Um, my parents went to Prague, my father went to Prague right after the war. He had served with the YMCA for many years and he established with a-- in Prague, in Czechoslovakia, throughout Czechoslovakia, YMCAs. And worked very closely with Venice and, ah, Zurich on this project.
[36:32] Right after the war there was, there was quite a emphasis on establishing YMCAs in all the new countries that were formed after World War I. In 1920-- I was born in 1924. In 1927, uh, he was named-- my father was named general secretary of the worlds committee of YMCAs with headquarters in Geneva, where all the International Red Cross the international this and the inter-- international Quakers, the international Y And the League of Nations, of course. Société des Nations.
[37:13] Upton: So you went to school--
[37:15] Gibbs: I went there when I was 3. And was there till I was almost 15.
[37:21] Upton: Was it an international school?
[37:22] Gibbs: International school? Yes.
[37:25] Upton: Was that a good experience? [Crosstalk] Did you like it?
[37:26] Gibbs: It was a wonderful experience.
[37:28] Upton: I think that probably set the large parameters of your artistic sensibilities. Right then and as a kid in Europe.
[37:35] Gibbs: Well, my favorite, uh favorite-- my closest friend and I would get on our bikes and ride down to the museum. And, you know, we were very comfortable. We were bilingual. We went to a bilingual school.
[37:50] Upton: I think having the-- ah, one of the joys of being in Europe is that the, the, um, relationship of daily life and the art museums and art and all of that is of a piece. And you grow up aware of that.
[38:04] Gibbs: Yes. And my grandmother was an artist. She had-- I-- she graduated from Cooper Union in 1875 which was quite early for a woman.
[38:19] Upton: It certainly was.
[38:20] Gibbs: And her diploma is handwritten in it’s, it's a formal diploma and it had added with the highest degree. She never-- she was professional for a while but-- all her life she painted and she would come and stay with us in, in Geneva.
[38:44] Upton: So your, your artistic genealogy goes way back--
[38:47] Gibbs: Goes back.
[38:48] Upton: --goes way back and it's very serious. What-- if you had to just for the fun of it, in this conversation, if you had to pick an artist that has moved you as much as anyone, knowing obviously that that's an impossible question here--
[39:03] Gibbs: Piero della Francesca.
[39:04] Upton: Piero della Francesca. Hm. Why?
[39:08] Gibbs: Why? Because I remember him from my, uh, studies at Smith, way back. And then I remember his shapes, the wonderful three dimensional oval shapes of the head, the egg and all of--
[39:24] Upton: You’re thinking of the Brera Altarpiece in Milan. Yes.
[39:28] Gibbs: And then we-- [muttering] hold on, I’m thinking, oh, where they, where the Frescoes are-- quickly.
[39:36] Upton: Arezzo.
[39:37] Gibbs: Arezzo, okay. When I went to Arezzo with a group the first time, we wanted to see the Annunciation, the whole story of the True Cross. And, uh, we couldn't see it because they were all being con-- reconstructed. Went back a year later and they let us in behind the curtains. Behind the-- so we got right up on the pedestal.
[40:04] Upton: Who was the “we” then?
[40:05] Gibbs: The--
[40:05] Upton: Who went back?
[40:06] Gibbs: This was a group that I was taking from, from, I think it was Charlotte's group.
[40:11] Upton: That's amazing.
[40:12] Gibbs: And we got in there.
[40:13] Upton: Yes.
[40:14] Gibbs: And I got to practically touch the pieces, but I have-- specially the Annunciation.
[40:21] Upton: So if you, if you were to wake up in the morning and have an image in your mind, it might be that Brera Altarpiece in Milan.
[40:27] Gibbs: It might be, but more likely the Annunciation.
[40:30] Upton: The Annunciation.
[40:31] Gibbs: Especially since I've been doing so much work on annunciations. It fits in so fantastically well, opposed to the Flemish ones. Pure form, pure symbolism.
[40:43] Upton: Fra Angelico’s Annunciation, um in, in, in--
[40:48] Gibbs: That’s what I start my lecture with.
[40:49] Upton: Really?
[40:49] Gibbs: [inaudible] I always start with the Fra Angelico from th-- from the Florence.
[40:55] Upton: Yes.
[40:56] Gibbs: And I--
[40:57] Upton: San Marco [crosstalk] in the Convent of San Marco.
[40:58] Gibbs: Yeah, I start with that one because that’s sort of the icon of Annunciation.
[41:03] Upton: That's-- for me always, I've always thought of that as, as the irreducible relation between the angel and Mary.
[41:11] Gibbs: Without all the extra brouhaha--
[41:12] Upton: With nothing. Nothing else needed. It's kind of a meditative piece. It's my, I think it's my favorite of all that I know of. Do you think often of Piero della Francesca, is, is that--
[41:24] Gibbs: No, not often.
[41:25] Upton: But, but, that--
[41:26] Gibbs: Because I’m, I’m down in Newport and I have to think about [inaudible].
[41:29] Upton: [inaudible], all right.
[41:30] Gibbs: And, and also--
[41:31] Upton: You're in here living with American painters, but your spirit is with the Italian Renaissance.
[41:36] Gibbs: And, and, and for example, this year I, I did my Annunciation lecture in two parts for the Trinity Episcopal Church, which is a wonderful church.
[41:45] Upton: I was gonna ask how the people in the church respond, are they--
[41:49] Gibbs: They're interested, they're really interested. But, um, the reason I got involved with that church is because the rector then was an Amherst graduate, Lorne Coyle, and I told him very frankly, the reason I'm going to come to this church is because of the architecture. It was built in 1728 and, uh, I do tour, I still do tours there.
[42:14] Upton: I’m not surprised at all.
[42:16] Gibbs: And it has a wonderful interior space with, you know, I can sit there and not listen to the sermon and look at the architecture.
[42:25] Upton: You're one of the few people I know, that never goes into a space and just takes it for granted. You are always, as you said before about Chartres, reading the space thinking about the space.
[42:37] Gibbs: Well, of course, there in the church like, like a trinity, there's nothing to “read.” It's just a field of space and understand the space
[42:45] Upton: It’s a beautiful place.
[42:46] Gibbs: Yes.
[42:47] Upton: Um, and do you find that the people who attend your lectures on the Annunciation are pleased to realize that if you've seen one Annunciation you have not seen them all.
[42:56] Gibbs: That's right.
[42:57] Upton: That they are different.
[42:57] Gibbs: Yes, yes, “I've never noticed that before.”
[43:00] Upton: Yeah, that's wonderful. That's wonderful.
[43:02] Gibbs: So I still do some of that, in my-- and one of the problems I have, I'm trying to sell my condo right now and move into a retirement space or something. But I have a closet full of slides. And now a lot of them are not art historic slides but slides of places I've been and I'm trying bit by bit to figure out what to do with them.
[43:27] Upton: Can you, um, have you thought of having them digitized?
[43:30] Gibbs: Yes, but I don't-- I've got to go through them first to see which ones I want to digitize.
[44:34] Upton: Go through and have-- because you can, um, maybe you bring them to us here. And I know where to take them in Northampton and they will come back to you on a perfect disc. And then, and then you have them forever and anybody else can have them and you can send them to anybody--
[44:48] Gibbs: Well I've got to get them in order. Set.
[44:51] Upton: Well I want you to do that because I have um, um, um, an interest in this. Um, wouldn’t that be in-- I’d be [stuttering]-- I'm convinced that there are images there, that would be of great value to us in teaching these things. You have seen things and been to places and I find more and more and more of them, the, um-- the more often that you can give a site, a location, a spatial context, and then talk about a given painting or sculpture, but put it back into its overall situation and you must have many, many--
[44:27] Gibbs: Well again with this whole Annunciation bit, which has nothing to do with Amherst College, but which is because I'm talking to Joel. Um, the whole difference between the western Annunciation with a virgin is the contemplative virgin and the eastern Annunciation where she is the doing virgin, spinning in Russia, in, uh, uh, Sicily.
[44:54] Upton: That's a wonderful distinction.
[44:55] Gibbs: And, and, I-- and people never have noticed that and it's very clear. It's absolutely clear.
[45:01] Upton: Well, it's one of the things that you really taught me. And I think it's one of the things that you always get across that something that was invisible to you, once somebody sees it [crosstalk] and points it out--
[45:10] Gibbs: Oh, then you can see it.
[45:12] Upton: You see it everywhere. Uh, as, as though it had been obvious all along, but it had not been obvious.
[45:17] Gibbs: Okay, we've gotten off track.
[45:19] Upton: Let's get back to what I want most to hear about. I want to hear--
[45:23] Gibbs: Is the College when we were here?
[45:25] Upton: No-- y-yes, the College, what kind of place was it that you remember? I say that, it's been 26 years. Uh, all things change. It is not for the-- for better or worse. That's not the point. But they're just different. And it would be a shame to lose, um, a first person account of why those 4 years when you and Julian were here were so special.
[45:48] Gibbs: Well, they were special to me, because for once I felt I was contributing to his position. We worked together. My job was to keep him happy [laughs]. To travel with him. And also, we did a fair amount of bringing people into the house. I thought this was a beautiful house and very much part of the college constituency. And uh, we did quite a few series of students here. I think we tried to get many groups of students here for dinners.
[46:27] Upton: I remember vividly the sense that this was your house to be sure, but it was also the College’s house. And I remember on so many occasions after faculty meetings, Julian, uh, had-- was not finished talking.
[46:42] Gibbs: So you [inaudible]
[46:43] Upton: And he would say, “please, come over to THE house.” And 10, 15 faculty would come over.
[46:50] Gibbs: I think in the 4 years we were here. We got through all of the faculty in small dinners.
[46:55] Upton: I have no doubt, in, in, in--
[46:57] Gibbs: Thanks to Pat Mullins.
[46:59] Upton: Pat, wonderful Pat Mullins.
[47:00] Gibbs: She got-- kept track of everything.
[47:02] Upton: Now those were organized things. And I remember over and over and over being involved with those, but there were the impromptu ones where Julian just said, you know, “that was an interesting point so and so made, come on over.” And I will admit we had a bourbon and talked about those things. And it was a great, great pleasure.
[47:19] Gibbs: Well, I, I, I found it a pleasure. And I, I think I talked about this, uh, last time, I liked working with the students on, in the, the ILS courses.
[47:33] Upton: ILS courses, yes.
[47:35] Gibbs: The one, the--
[47:35] Upton: Introduction to Liberal Studies--
[47:37] Gibbs: Studies. Between the Classics Department and the Math Department where, uh, Rebecca Hague--
[47:45] Upton: Now she is Rebecca Sinos.
[47:47] Gibbs: Yes. She got me working on this. And we're trying to make the, the, the, uh, relationship between the geometry of the architecture and the classical architecture-- but I brought the students in here--
[48:03] Upton: Into the house?
[48:04] Gibbs: Oh, yes. And we looked at the Greek Revival end of the house. We discussed very clearly the Greek Revival motifs and how it was changed to Colonial Revival when they-- when President Gates redid this end of the house.
[48:23] Upton: Because you-- nobody lectures more beautifully on the evolving architecture on this campus than you did. I may have failed to say that we are currently in the President’s House, in the library. This was your home.
[48:36] Gibbs: This was our, our spot. But uh--
[48:40] Upton: In front of the fire? Did you have fires in here?
[48:43] Gibbs: Yes, I guess we did, sometimes.
[48:44] Upton: I-- I'm sure you did.
[48:45] Gibbs: I’m sure we did. And also the, in July when we, we moved in, not only did we have a-- we didn't have a fire in there, we had bats coming down.
[48:55] Upton: Really?
[48:56] Gibbs: The very first night we were here there was two bats who came swooping down and we chased them around with tennis rackets which is what you're supposed to do with bats.
[49:03] Upton: To, to shoo them out of the house?
[49:05] Gibbs: Yes. Because--
[49:06] Upton: Even though they're perfectly happy living there. Probably bats here now. I’m sure they--
[49:09] Gibbs: Oh I, I found some bats, I remember, upstairs, I was hanging clothes up once I put my hand on the hook and here was a bat in my hand.
[49:17] Upton: So you enjoyed, uh-- [crosstalk]
[49:19] Gibbs: I enjoyed the house
[49:20] Upton: You enjoyed living here you enjoyed the, the--
[49:21] Gibbs: I enjoyed the entertaining, I enjoyed fix-- we did quite a bit changing the colors of the house. Bringing in the pompeian red.
[49:33] Upton: I remember that pompeian red. Very, very good-- [crosstalk]
[49:35] Gibbs: Which really worked, I think.
[49:36] Upton: It was stunning [crosstalk].
[49:37] Gibbs: Yes it really worked [crosstalk].
[49:38] Upton: It was truly stunning-- I don't know what the color in there now is--
[49:40] Gibbs: Pale yellow.
[49:41] Upton: Pale yellow? No I think--
[49:42] Gibbs: Which it doesn’t, it-- I- excuse me but it's not right for this house.
[49:46] Upton: No, the pompeian red was exact.
[49:49] Gibbs: Yes, and we had, uh, we got rid of the tan rugs and talked Frank Trapp into letting us have three oriental rugs from the museum.
[49:58] Upton: Which I'm sure he was happy to do?
[50:00] Gibbs: Well--
[50:01] Upton: Was there some tension?
[50:02] Gibbs: There was some tension there, but got them. And, uh--
[50:07] Upton: But it was a, it was a fair, um, exchange because probably more people would have appreciated and enjoyed those rugs here.
[50:15] Gibbs: Oh, yes.
[50:16] Upton: Than in storage, in the museum.
[50:17] Gibbs: I think, I'm not sure. I don't think they have any of these three anymore. They’ve got different rugs now. This one was here. I remember this one, it was well worn then and it's well worn now.
[50:27] Upton: Well, they're supposed to be well worn.
[50:29] Gibbs: Oh, I know.
[50:29] Upton: Well, that, that, I think that's probably very good. Do you have other, other memories of those 4 years that were especially vivid, that, that you might recall for us?
[50:39] Gibbs: Very shortly after we moved in, Julian was sitting here in the living room and I happened to answer the doorbell.
[50:48] Upton: In the evening?
[50:50] Gibbs: In the evening, it was dark. Here was a chair on the front steps with a poor, naked freshman sitting there handing me a bottle of scotch.
[51:03] Upton: Offering you a bottle of scotch?
[51:05] Gibbs: Yes.
[51:06] Upton: From this throne?
[51:07] Gibbs: From this throne. He didn't have a stitch of clothing on. And uh, there was giggling from the bushes but you couldn't see anybody, but there was giggling on bushes. Uh, I said “Julian, I think [laughs] this was, this is for you.” He felt very strongly that this freshman, this freshman was-- it was an embarrassing situation for a freshman to be put in. And it, as I said, he was not amused.
[51:37] Upton: But I remember the event and I think it's related to your comment about Julian, giving you an-- series, a name, a series of artists and asking you for a principled notion that would link them. What I heard about that story was that the analytical Julian was clear again and one of the first questions to the boy had to do with how he got there. And it turned out that the person who had sponsored this freshman's appearance at the door, with the bottle, with the gift of alcohol, was set up by the one to whom it had been done [crosstalk] the year before, and so Julian--
[52:14] Gibbs: Had been done before. It was a tradition from one of the fraternities. With a moral heart is what he, he really said this cannot happen.
[52:22] Upton: And I think that was the time when serious--
[52:25] Gibbs: And that particular fraternity was on-- what do you call--
[52:28] Upton: Probation? [Crosstalk] Anyway.
[52:29] Gibbs: Probation for a while.
[52:32] Upton: Well, the whole question of fraternities is I'm sure complex and continues to be mixed. I understand there are many secret ones, but the general public life of the college is now much more I think, congenial and open. And it mixes with all kinds of students.
[52:49] Gibbs: But when the-- when Julian was in the hospital, realizing he was not going to make it, I think, he said to-- the doctor came out and said he was talking about the white paper, the white paper about the furniture-- fraternities, because it had been pulled together. He had met the night before with the fraternities about the fact that they had to go. But it was very much on his mind.
[53:18] Upton: Well, I think was on his mind. And I think, I think he embodied a sense of clarity. There were lots of people talking about it, who were confused. There always have been fraternities, there always will be fraternities. And I think he saw right through that, that if the result of fraternities is what happened to that boy, the answer is--
[53:36] Gibbs: That didn’t help.
[53:37] Upton: It didn't help at all. I think he was quite clear about that. And then it was a matter of administrative--
[53:42] Gibbs: Williams had already gone.
[53:44] Upton: Yes.
[53:45] Gibbs: So the-- there was this movement among colleges and universities to, uh--
[53:51] Upton: Well it was a good thing that there was someone here who saw it that clearly, and then they could move. I think the white paper was a complicated document hard to articulate why, exactly. And you don't want to be vindictive about it, but it did, it was beginning to counteract-- contradict education [crosstalk] in a serious way.
[54:09] Gibbs: Yes. Yes, it didn’t fit in with what this was about.
[54:12] Upton: Yes.
[54:14] Gibbs: Living in the house, when we first moved in, we had Mrs. Dempsey as a housekeeper, who had been here with the Plimptons and then with the Wards. And then she retired, and I told the college I wanted somebody who was flexible and unflappable. And Shirley Pogodinski moved in. And she became one of my closest friends.
[54:40] Upton: And did she, uh, help care for the house and cook and what--
[54:44] Gibbs: She, she cooked and organized. There was a cleaning person who came in once a week. We didn't work with Valentine at that time. But--
[54:53] Upton: So the wonderful dinners and, and parties you had here she helped you with those?
[54:58] Gibbs: Yes. And there was student help.
[55:01] Upton: Was there any other staff? Or was that-- was there just--
[55:03] Gibbs: Well ch-- there was one cleaning person who came in whenever it was she was needed.
[55:10] Upton: Because then you know, Cora Lee, just sitting here right now it occurs to me that people just took for granted that you and Julian would be host and hostess to all manner of things. It never dawned on me that, “do they have help doing this?”
[55:25] Gibbs: Well, they did have help.
[55:26] Upton: Did you have a little help?
[55:27] Gibbs: It was very nice. Being able to sit down in the kitchen, we'd sit down in the, in the morning and plan what was going to be served for the Committee of Eight-- Six?
[55:37] Upton: Six, [crosstalk] Committee of six
[55:38] Gibbs: Six, Committee of six, for lunch.
[55:40] Upton: Now you, did-- you fed the Committee of Six lunch here?
[55:43] Gibbs: Sometimes.
[55:44] Upton: This is an important thing to know
[55:45] Gibbs: Either lunch or dinner.
[55:46] Upton: I don't know if they're doing that anymore. I don't know--
[55:49] Gibbs: Oh, they met here in the dining room.
[55:50] Upton: With you?
[55:51] Gibbs: No, no, not with me.
[55:52] Upton: But I mean it-- in, in--
[55:53] Gibbs: I served.
[55:54] Upton: When you were here--
[55:55] Gibbs: I waited on table.
[55:56] Upton: Well, that-- I must say that tradition of service was big at this college and you were part of that.
[56:01] Gibbs: Yes, I waited on table but I was-- as soon as discussion became important I was [crosstalk] out the room.
[56:07] Upton: The Committee of Six met in the President's House and, and ate?
[56:10] Gibbs: Yes.
[56:11] Upton: Well that's interesting. That's an interesting historical fact I didn't realize that
[56:14] Gibbs: I think so.
[56:15] Upton: And I don't believe it's the case now. I can imagine with your, with your, um, involvement in art that you might not have as full an understanding of the true complexity of Julian's work in chemistry.
[56:29] Gibbs: That’s right. I-- freshman year at Smith, I took a math course because I seriously thought I might major in math. At the end of that first year of math course, I decided I was not going to major in math. And I, unfortunately, had very little science. I'm trying to think what I did with my science requirement. Somehow I got around my science-- oh, I think I, I took a psychology course. That was the out to get-- the easy way out. And so when we were back here--
[57:03] Upton: As president?
[57:05] Gibbs: No, as an undergraduate--
[57:07] Upton: Okay.
[57:07] Gibbs: And we're living down as newly married couples, I was-- Julian had another year here, where he continued his ch-- physical chemistry with David Grahame. And I took courses at Smith got half my master's, and in the process, decided I really should take some chemistry. So I took-- I audited a chemistry course at Smith. And as I was mentioning, I learned some of the terminology, but mostly I knit three sweaters.
[57:44] Upton: So much for chemistry.
[57:45] Gibbs: So much for chemistry. And so I was always rather embarrassed that I simply couldn't tell people exactly what Julian was doing. I knew it was the phase transition, what happened between gases and water--
[58:00] Upton: And very cold--
[58:01] Gibbs: And water and solids--
[58:01] Upton: And very cold temperatures, wasn't he involved?
[58:03] Gibbs: Uh, uh, I'm not sure.
[58:05] Upton: I'm not sure either. I think I know as little about this as you. I think together, you and I might add up to something close to zero on real chemistry knowledge.
[58:12] Gibbs: [Laughs] Well, I, I certainly-- my daughter is the one who was the scientific one and she's now a physician. But--
[58:21] Upton: Julian, um, started thinking of being a doctor. That’s when you--
[58:24] Gibbs: He actually, when he left Amherst, he went, he was accepted at Columbia, and spent one week at Columbia. Mean tile- meantime, um, David Grahame had influenced enough, he knew he wanted to go into basic, very basics--
[58:44] Upton: He really was a research chemist.
[58:46] Gibbs: Yes, very basic-- he never went into labs. He did it all with a paper and pencil.
[58:52] Upton: Yeah. True theoretical--
[58:54] Gibbs: Yeah, completely theoretical. And so after his one week at Presbyterian Hospital, he enlisted in the Navy.
[59:04] Upton: And what did he do in the Navy? What was his job in the Navy?
[59:07] Gibbs: He was an electronics technician [inaudible] Because he was colorblind, he couldn't go to being officer, so he was--
[59:17] Upton: Is that true? An officer can't be colorblind?
[59:20] Gibbs: It, it was in those times.
[59:21] Upton: Isn't that the strangest thing?
[59:24] Gibbs: And he didn't-- you know, the spots and dots and the color blindness test?
[59:26] Upton: Yes. Yeah.
[59:28] Gibbs: And that's why he could never figure out why he liked particular artists and not artists because he was colorblind. I don't really think he really was, he just couldn't see those particular spots and dots.
[59:39] Upton: Isn’t that-- so there must have been some aspects of the painting that were invisible to him, literally invisible to him. I--
[59:45] Gibbs: I doubt it.
[59:46] Upton: I would love to go back and talk about those again and trace this out and see the one, the artists he liked.
[59:53] Gibbs: I can give you some but not all of them.
[59:55] Upton: And then and then measure them against the color blind test. Did he enjoy being President?
[1:00:02] Gibbs: He enjoyed parts of it. I think he, again, it was this feeling for Amherst College that he felt. He met a lot of people. We traveled, [crosstalk] all over the country--
[1:00:15] Upton: He liked talking to alumnae.
[1:00:17] Gibbs: Yes. And he talked-- he was not a great orator. He liked to talk with people. And he liked to talk with the alumni, I think. And of course, was all “alumni” and “alumnae.”
[1:00:32] Upton: Yes.
[1:00:33] Gibbs: Did I get it right?
[1:00:34] Upton: Y-y-uh, it was, it was alumni only then, only men.
[1:00:38] Gibbs: Only men. Yes.
[1:00:39] Upton: Uh, but you know, the um, one of the m-moments I remember of his presidency here where there was a, such a tremendous joy. And I won't know the name of the grandchild, but he came to a faculty meeting once--
[1:00:52] Gibbs: Becky.
[1:00:53] Upton: Was it Becky?
[1:00:54] Gibbs: Becky.
[1:00:55] Upton: And he put an-- picture of this precious new thing and there was a smile from one end--
[1:01:02] Gibbs: He-he’s the only grand-- that’s the only grandchild he ever knew.
[1:01:05] Upton: Well, he was the, he was the proudest guy in the world and the Red Room was illuminated by his joy that time, I remember that.
[1:01:13] Gibbs: Well she-- you’d be interested to know that she has now graduated from McGill, as an engineer, got her masters in engineering from UMass, is now the expert on composition of blase-- baseball bats.
[1:01:32] Upton: Really? Of wooden baseball bats or the metal baseball bats?
[1:01:36] Gibbs: Metal, metal and, and uh, different composite base. She's out with-- oh dear-- the company in St. Louis that makes baseball bats.
[1:01:46] Upton: Louisville Sluggers?
[1:01:48] Gibbs: No, no. But she gets sent to China 2 or 3 times a year. We had a big--
[1:01:55] Upton: Julian would get a kick out of this.
[1:01:56] Gibbs: Oh, she would because, she, she's, she was an athlete anyway. And so she's the per-- she gets sent to teams to demonstrate baseball bats, etc. So, my favorite story about that is I remember him cornering a young woman who was in the Psychology Department. You probably can tell me her name. She's still here.
[1:02:24] Upton: Lisa Raskin?
[1:02:24] Gibbs: No.
[1:02:27] Upton: Buffy Aries?
[1:02:29] Gibbs: No? Maybe.
[1:02:30] Upton: Not Rose Olver?
[1:02:32] Gibbs: Oh, no.
[1:02:32] Upton: But it may have been Buffy Aries.
[1:02:35] Gibbs: Who was up for tenure. And I remember Julian saying now, “Becky does this and this and this. Isn't she remarkable?” And whoever it was, will say, “yes, President Gibbs. Yes, President Gibbs.” She happened to get tenure.
[1:02:49] Upton: [Laughs] Yes. Good. To confirm his, to confirm the truth that he already knew. Yes, I now finally have one grandson so I, I have-- my sympathy is with Julian 100%.
[1:03:00] Gibbs: Well, Becky is the only one that he knew. She has a sister who graduated from NYU and is going to Brown next year as-- in public health. And a son who was-- and a grandson who is doing his junior year at the University of Cape Town.
[1:03:23] Upton: Well, and studying what? Just whatever--
[1:03:25] Gibbs: International relations, studying, surfing, and other such things.
[1:03:31] Upton: Okay, I understand that. How many grandchildren? Do you now have--
[1:03:35] Gibbs: Then John has a 16 year old boy who would love to come to Amherst, and a 14 year old girl.
[1:03:44] Upton: Well and she might like to come to Amherst, also.
[1:03:46] Gibbs: Yes. Miles can get in, I wonder about Ashley, but anyway, she's very pretty. And then Jim, who's the oldest son has an 8 year old.
[1:03:59] Upton: So this is quite a large family now, this is, this is wonderful. Do you have any memory of Julian's sense of the educational vibrancy of the college, did he talk much about that--
[1:04:12] Gibbs: Very much so. I, I think the relationship between the students and the faculty-- he also had a great idea of establishing here a place where graduate students could come and work here on graduate projects as postdoctoral fellows, with the idea that they would then interact with the students. He had the place all picked out on-- the house, on what is the-- Railroad Road? What is the--
[1:04:53] Upton: I think it is, I don’t-- down by the underpass?
[1:04:56] Gibbs: That's right. It was a place up on the hill, where a professor who I could visualize that I can think of--
[1:05:05] Upton: And he was going to set that up as a sort of graduate center?
[1:05:08] Gibbs: Yes. Well, the idea o-of the students, undergraduate students being able to interact, because in a university, such as Brown, there-- that was already established. I mean that the graduate students were there. And so the undergraduates were able to--
[1:05:26] Upton: I think it's one of the things I remember most about Julian and that was the intellectual enthusiasm that ranged all the way from his world class chemistry to the students. And it was all of a piece--
[1:05:38] Gibbs: And the sailing.
[1:05:39] Upton: I knew about the sailing. He told me one time that one of his great senses of accomplishment and competition was in the sailing, but that when he was here, he was finding a similar competition with the faculty.
[1:05:53] Gibbs: [Laughs]
[1:05:53] Upton: And that he loved that. But it didn't bother him. It-- he got a joy out of it. As he did in that sailing, I'd forget gotten how much--
[1:06:00] Gibbs: Well the sailing was very, it's quite exciting. Last year I went with John, whom you just saw, Amherst Class of ‘79, up to a dinner where half a dozen troph-- trophies were distributed.
[1:06:18] Upton: Yeah.
[1:06:19] Gibbs: And John got 4 or 5 of them. And on the big bowl, the biggest bowl which was called the wrap up clock-cup or something or other, here was “Floating Bear, Julian Gibbs.”
[1:06:34] Upton: Wonderful.
[1:06:36] Gibbs: And then again, ploat-- uh, Petrol, Julian Gibbs and then twice, Petrol, John Gibbs.
[1:06:44] Upton: Well, the, the, the Julian Gibbs family brings, uh, probably brings us full circle and I suppose I-- coming back to his sailing, his love of the ocean.
[1:06:54] Gibbs: He liked it because it was a way. And again, it was an intellectual approach. Because he planned that the races and he knew when to tack and not tack and things like that.
[1:07:09] Upton: Well, he was a, I thought he was a president who planned and knew when to do what and I, I for one admired him beyond words. Um, I've known many presidents here. Bill Ward was a very remarkable man. But Julian was the one that just seemed to love being faculty.
[1:07:30] Gibbs: Yes.
[1:07:30] Upton: No president that I've known used to-- I remember his administrative assistant, remember Jane Robinson.
[1:07:36] Gibbs: Oh, yes.
[1:07:37] Upton: Used to have to come into the, um, commons over in Merrill Science--
[1:07:42] Gibbs: And get him to go home?
[1:07:43] Upton: And get him to come to work! Because he would be there with 4 or 5 faculty--
[1:07:46] Gibbs: He thoroughly enjoyed that.
[1:07:48] Upton: And he would-- any conversation we were having, he would be-- he wasn't there leading it, he was part of it.
[1:07:54] Gibbs: He enjoyed that.
[1:07:56] Upton: Truly enjoyed it and--
[1:07:58] Gibbs: He certainly did.
[1:07:58] Upton: Jane Robinson would come and say, “Julian, we have to go, you actually have a meeting,” and he'd say, “just another minute.” And, and he loved stories he told more, uh, how may I describe it, somewhat bawdy stories from time to time--
[1:08:14] Gibbs: I think probably.
[1:08:16] Upton: With great gusto and then he would shift to very subtle, again this analytical mind that would bring us back around to--
[1:08:22] Gibbs: That was one of the, one of the things I missed the most was just suddenly a new scientific something. And I want to have him tell me about it, because I can't figure out what it is. And new things developing. Uh, you know, life would have been very different.
[1:08:41] Upton: Well, I have to tell you, maybe we-- this brings us to an end. I have to tell you that your husband was my model. But also I remember sitting in this room just after he died, with you. And as we were sitting here now. And it was a moment of the greatest loss that I can imagine, what he had still to give this college
[1:08:59] Gibbs: Indeed, he had a lot to give.
[1:09:00] Upton: Was truly and I remember you're saying he had so much to do. And I'm afraid that just has to remain a kind of beautiful memory.
[1:09:10] Gibbs: Yeah. Well, I'm glad you were here to support him.
[1:09:12] Upton: And I'm glad I knew you. Um, I think you have been, you have been one of the first ladies of the College who was absolutely at the center of things.
[1:09:23] Gibbs: Well, I enjoyed it. I, I, I, I found it a very rewarding experience. I really did. I had help.
[1:09:31] Upton: Well, may I thank you, speaking for everyone that knew you, I’m grateful.
[1:09:35] Gibbs: Well, it's it's odd to think back 26 years. It's a long time, but it's still, it's still vivid.
[1:09:41] Upton: I, t-to me, it could be yesterday. It really could be yesterday--
[1:09:45] Gibbs: Well, thank you, Joel.
[1:09:46] Upton: And you haven't changed at all! I have but you haven't.
[1:09:49] Gibbs: You haven't changed.
[1:09:51] Upton: No. No. still interested, you know why? It's because we're interested in art.
[1:09:54] Gibbs: Oh, that's why, of course.
[1:90:55] Upton: Anyone who is seriously interested in art remains the same.
[1:09:59] Gibbs: I try to paint but I, I still, a little bit--
[1:10:04] Upton: You paint with your words. When you characterize works of art, it as, You know, I always say to my class, “I am going to talk. And I want you to close your eyes. And if I can't make you see the painting, I've failed.” And it's a nice test. And I learned it, because I had a blind student in a class once.
[1:10:22] Gibbs: That's when I learned to do that. When I was working at RISD. I put together a program for blind students. And it's, it’s fascinating.
[1:10:34] Upton: I think, if you wanted to add a course somewhere it would be you need to learn to articulate vividly enough so that the image you're talking about becomes clear to a unsighted person.
[1:10:48] Gibbs: Well, we both talked for a long time.
[1:10:51] Upton: Thank you.
[1:10:52] Unknown speaker: You did great.
[1:10:54] Upton: Wonderful.
[1:10:54] Gibbs: I did okay?
[1:10:56] Upton: Wonderful.
Cora Lee Gibbs came to Amherst in 1979 when her husband Julian H. Gibbs (AC 1956) became president of Amherst College. She was a lecturer and public program developer at the Mead Art Museum and created the "Art for Lunch" program. Before this, she served as head of educational programs at the Rhode Island School of Design. After leaving Amherst, she was appointed director of the Newport Arrt Museum where she now serves as director emeritus. She holds a BA and MA in art history.
Joel Upton is emeritus professor of art and the history of art and has been at Amherst since 1972. He taught courses on the history of medieval and Renaissance art and architecture and complements and interweaves these with courses in Japanese pre-modern architecture.
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