Letters to the Editor

Letters: May/June 2024

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be emailed to yam@yale.edu or mailed to Letters Editor, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to or publish all mail received. Letters accepted for publication are subject to editing. Priority is given to letters of fewer than 300 words.

The arts at Yale

At the risk of seeming overly romantic and hyperbolic, I want to reflect my pleasure with the stellar March/April 2024 issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine. I particularly liked the articles relating to the visual arts and music. Discussed were John Gambell’s influence on Yale’s graphic identity, Mary Christ’s work recovering the histories of Yale’s scattered art treasures, and, in music, Yale’s uniquely significant relationship with Vladimir Horowitz and also its collection of historic violins. All this reminds me that those aspects of Yale’s vibrant humanities tradition still seem very much alive.

There is possibly no other academic institution where music is as pervasively woven with many threads into a campus environment, as it was joyfully so in my undergraduate days. As for the arts, who of us can forget the extraordinary range of courses we benefited from? Over four years, my small sophomore seminar with Vincent Scully was the most impactful course, especially in teaching us “how to look, see, and understand,” invaluable applicable lessons about recognizing interrelationships beyond architecture, painting, and sculpture. And one must also cite the positive impact of Yale’s magnificent museums with the special collections they contain and exhibit free to the public.

All these undergraduate music and arts exposures have given me a lifetime of pleasures, and as a proud alumnus I hope Yale will hold firm and continue to offer them as “Lux” in today’s increasingly technology-dominant world.
Robert S. Walker ’57
Newport, RI

Celebrating John Gambell

I got home from a two-month absence from New Haven to be greeted by the latest issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine. I was star-struck by the captivating picture of John Gambell (“Persuasive Art,” March/April) on the cover; even if no one knew of John, the picture was fantastic. But those of us who know, admire, and love John knew that the image captured him precisely. Then the article almost did justice to John’s remarkable contributions to our alma mater. Bravo to you for picking the right writer—and for sensing that John Gambell was precisely an “icon” of Yale that our graduates would want to know about.
Linda Koch Lorimer ’77JD
New Haven, CT

Ms. Lorimer is a former secretary and vice president of Yale.—Eds.

I loved the article about John Gambell. That said, it was not without some irony that I noted the Yale Alumni Magazine’s title artwork on the cover is, for some reason, not in the Yale New Roman font he commissioned for the university. I wonder why not? Surely a magazine which gets delivered six times a year to a wide audience of alumni and spouses should have that Yale “brand,” at least as much as any sign on campus would!
G. Trevor Vietor ’77
Winter Park, FL

I found the cover photo of John Gambell to be spectacularly well composed. As I spent a few moments admiring it I found myself chuckling that the pencil does not have a point. Oops.
Steven Lazarus
Wallingford, CT

To Mr. Vietor’s question, the Yale Alumni Magazine underwent a redesign by Pentagram in 2003, before Matthew Carter’s Yale font was introduced, and we’ve stuck with the typefaces and logo they specified ever since. And as for the pencil, it was a prop handed to John by the photographer while he graciously sat for a portrait in our library. We too admired the photo, but we never noticed that the pencil was unsharpened.—Eds.

Thank you for soliciting feedback on the John Gambell cover feature. While Gambell’s accomplishments and contributions are outstanding, I do question the cover design that introduces the article and, especially, the conjunction of the image and phrase (“The art of making Yale look like Yale”) with which it is framed. While I do not think the semiotics of this were intentional on the part of the magazine, they are, nevertheless, unfortunate.

The photograph of Gambell suggests a genial, older, white man, dressed professionally, yet traditionally. The outfit, combined with the glasses, reads “privileged” and “preppy.” The fact that this image is captioned with language that suggests that this is the way that Yale “looks” or that it should be “made” (from “making”) via some “art” to “look” is, however, very problematic. The days of Yale’s being a bastion of white men of privilege should be behind us, and to intimate anything other than that Yale actively welcomes those from all backgrounds, including women and students of color, sends very much the wrong message.
J. Ellen Gainor ’83MFAD
Ithaca, NY

Horowitz’s private concert

Daniel DiMaio’s warm and illuminating reminiscence of Vladimir Horowitz’s recital for Silliman students (“Private Audience,” March/April) was a delight to read. I came across what I believe was a microscopic error in transcription—“base octaves” should probably be “bass octaves”—but in the context of learning about this intriguing moment of music history it barely registered. Indeed, it struck me as an unintended analogue for DiMaio’s description of Horowitz’s playing, in which an equally minuscule slip in no way detracted from the overpowering experience of hearing him close-up.

As I recall, Horowitz gave a concert at Woolsey Hall my junior year (1966–67), and the delicacy and brilliance of his pianism was on full display then. But I would have traded that public concert readily for the chance to hear him with just a few others in an intimate setting as DiMaio did—an ideal twentieth-century evocation of a nineteenth-century musical salon.
Paul Machlin ’68
Waterville, ME

I am writing to comment on Dan DiMaio’s article on the unforgettable private concert we as students experienced at Vladimir Horowitz’s home in New York. Being a pianist, this was the most incredible musical experience I had ever had. Unimaginable.

The excitement in walking down the hallway in his home—filled with the smell of incense and suspense—was intense. We sat ourselves down on the famous black couch next to the piano and waited until Horowitz came into the room to greet us—as charming and wonderful as ever.

He chatted, and then, on the command from his wife, Wanda Toscanini, he started playing: Clementi, Schumann, and the most incredible rendition of Vers la flamme by Scriabin that I have ever heard. The piano burned!

For me to be with this genius was life-changing. What an experience!

I am forever grateful to Dr. DiMaio for writing about our evening with one of the greatest pianists of his generation. We will never forget this occasion.
Antoinette van Zabner ’74MusM, ’75MMA
Vienna, Austria

We were a motley crew when we showed up on that May morning to travel to New York City to meet Vladimir Horowitz. Danny scrutinized us as we mounted the bus. I wore a shirtwaist dress I had sewn from upholstery fabric that I cut so that the back threads were on the outside. I had grown in college, so it was the only dress I had that still fit. I tamed my long wavy hair by tying it back with a silk ribbon in a soft bow.

We had to sidle around a garbage can sitting behind the bus driver. In the early morning someone had cut three- and four-foot stems from a mature hydrangea bush in the courtyard and stuffed them into the can with some water, as a gift for the Horowitzes.

I sat at the back of the bus, so I followed everyone else into the building. I was surprised when I entered the foyer and someone told me to present the flowers to Mrs. Horowitz. They were dropped into my arms, aphids and all. As I reflect on that moment, I see in my mind’s eye that the hydrangeas must have looked lovely against the color of my dress. I am grateful that there was no time to think up a speech. I am sure I walked into the room and promptly blushed, adding rose pink to my cheeks to further complement the flowers. Everyone silenced and made way for me as I dutifully approached the formidable Mrs. Horowitz.

I curtsied and stammered something grateful and sincere. Mrs. Horowitz looked appalled by the dripping armful. She signaled to one of the attendants to put the flowers in a sink in another room, so she never touched them. I was left standing there in my wet dress. Mr. Horowitz seemed to feel my awkwardness and gallantly stepped up. He took my hand in his long, elegant fingers and quietly led me into the living room, where the huge piano filled the space next to windows overlooking all of Central Park.

Mr. Horowitz led me to an ottoman in the crook of the piano and deposited me gently on it as if I were a robin’s egg. He stared at me all afternoon as he sat at the piano. I could not see his hands, yet I assure you he never looked at them. He was so much a part of the instrument that the music seemed to come through him and out of the piano without any interface. I was so close I could feel the waves of sound with my whole body.

After graduating from Yale College, I entered the Yale architecture school, where I took a class in horticulture. I learned that the Silliman courtyard was designed in about 1940 by Beatrix Farrand, a landscape architect known for the Dumbarton Oaks gardens and as the first woman president of the American Society of Landscape Architects, following the Olmsted brothers. I also learned that she worked at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station up on Prospect Street beyond the Divinity School. She collected cuttings of forsythias and hydrangeas, then meticulously crossed and hybridized them. Her glorious mop-headed hydrangeas were the most beautiful hydrangeas in the entire world.

Like so much of what makes Yale special, they were someone’s life work and we took them for granted. But Vladimir Horowitz appreciated them as only someone who devoted his life to creating ephemeral beauty could. Beatrix Farrand’s legacy lives on in the music of Vladimir Horowitz and in the shared memories of us Sillimanders.
Cynthia Mitchell Tauxe ’74, ’77MArch
Atlanta, GA

Yale’s scattered treasures

I applaud art collection registrar Mary Christ for uncovering and sharing stories of the stuff found on the walls of different, non-museum buildings on campus (“History Lessons,” March/April). I suspect her piece uncovers only a few of the treasures hidden in plain sight across the university.

For example: a 134-year-old gem can be found in Room 102 of Linsly-Chittenden Hall. As noted previously in your magazine, the opalescent glass window by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the principal lecture theater of the English department features a pantheon of angels (allegorical figures of Art, Science, Religion, and Music), all solemn, and all apparently thirsting for knowledge.

A father had donated this window to commemorate his beloved daughter, and he had chosen a biblical quote on the gift of education: “Through wisdom is a house builded, and by understanding it is established, and by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” A stained-glass expert who evaluated the window for Yale has called it one of the genre’s “very finest.”
Timo Platt ’77
Arroyo Seco, NM

Your article on Mary Christ immediately took me back to 1988, when, as a graduate student in French, I was hired by Patricia Willis, the relatively new curator of American Literature at the Beinecke, to help “sort out” a few cupboards and files she had not yet ventured into, and which seemed to contain materials not yet catalogued. Among other treasures, I came upon a piece of art by Jean Cocteau, as well as a letter dating from the early twentieth century (I can’t remember from whom to whom) that mentioned “that new author Leonard Woolf,” followed by the unforgettable line, “Oh, and I hear his wife writes, too.” Working for Pat was ever a treasure hunt and always a joy, and I cherish the memories.
Suzanne Toczysk ’94PhD
Mill Valley, CA

Making an entrance

Regarding your article about Weir Hall and the Art Gallery sculpture garden (“The Secret Garden,” March/April): Yale, for me, was very intense. There were three easy “getaways”—the Secret Garden, secret in my time and barely used; the Grove Street Cemetery; and the top of East Rock (well worth the effort to get there by three-speed English bicycle), then open year-round.

In the case of the Secret Garden, it was important to get there the right way for the maximum impact. In his lectures on architectural history, Vincent Scully had lauded the experience of going through a low, dark place which opened up into a glorious, big, spectacular space. The entrance to the Secret Garden from Chapel Street was one of those experiences, and I often took visitors there. Among the others: the portals that lead into the Yale Bowl, the tunnels from the dingy underneath of Fenway Park to the stands, and one of the ultimate: the winding canyon opening to Petra, in Jordan.

I had assumed the Secret Garden was just a chance “leftover” in the campus plans. Good to know it was on purpose, and that it’s still there!
Charles F. Tucker ’63, ’66JD
Swall Meadows, CA

On Jewish identity

In an otherwise nice piece profiling Yale’s new chaplain, Maytal Saltiel (“New Chaplain Says God Is Not Dead at Yale,” March/April), I am struck by the phrase “Saltiel, who identifies as Jewish.” This seems like odd phrasing to me, especially when it would be simpler to say, “Saltiel, who is Jewish.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard the phrase “identifies as Jewish” used to describe a religious leader of a community. The article doesn’t use it for other faiths. It implies that Jewishness is a choice, and I can’t quite wrap my head around this framing.

There is a dark history of Jews being forced to renounce their Jewishness, and I fear this language feeds into that notion. And in those societies that have defined who is a Jew without any element of choice, and then punished and discriminated against Jews, the idea of Jewishness being something that each person has full ability to reject, as implied by the word “identifies,” is a perversion of history.

I strongly recommend that due consideration be given to the power of the words being used in the magazine, and that efforts be redoubled to not treat Jews any differently from members of other cultures and religions.
David Buchwald ’00
White Plains, NY

Picturing Hale

I enjoyed reading about the Nathan Hale sculpture (“The Man Who Made Hale,” March/April). In the early nineties, my wife (Adrianne Benton ’76) and I were in a Manhattan bookstore when I overheard someone mention Hale. It turned out to be an actor who was to play Hale in a television series. The actor, who shall remain nameless, was looking at a picture of the statue in a history book and said to his girlfriend, “I really look a lot like that guy.” I should have left well enough alone, but I told him that the statue was modeled after a contemporary Yale student and that no images of Hale existed. I agreed that he did resemble the statue, so there’s that.
Robert Furniss ’77
Wilmette, IL

The unnamed actor may have had a point. As our article pointed out—and contrary to the story often told by tour guides that a Yale student was used as a model for the statue—sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt modeled his likeness on that of a member of the Hale family.—Eds.

More on the ISM

Matthew Guerrieri’s article on fifty years of the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale (“Song and Praise,” January/February) was a fine summary, examination, and forecast. But the omission of John Cook’s directorship (1984–1992) and the work of his brilliant assistant Joanna Weber was a disappointment. The world-class symposia on sacred art and architecture that they organized were what drew me to Yale and to the ISM. John inaugurated the Religion and the Arts program, and his work and vision, together with Joanna’s, indicated a direction the Institute could have pursued to great benefit.

Joanna’s tireless effort to bring a copy of the entire M. A. Couturier archive to Yale will not be forgotten. Couturier’s insight into the integration of great sacred visual art and architecture transformed post–World War II church architecture and ornament. (“You have to trust in genius,” he said.) Rouault, Chagall, Matisse, Le Corbusier, and other great artists were part of this revival.

John went on to the Luce Foundation, and Joanna went on to become acting curator of European and contemporary art and assistant curator of African art at the Yale Art Gallery. They are missed, but their work is not forgotten. Long live the Institute of Sacred Music, worship, and the arts, and Happy 50th.
Sam Sigg ’03MAR
New Haven, CT

Another side?

I wonder what students must have thought upon hearing President Salovey’s Opening Assembly Address (“Slow Down and Fix Things,” November/December).

He made it quite clear what one is supposed to believe—the protesters against election fraud who got out of hand on January 6 were “insurrectionists,” there is a “climate emergency,” and “transgender rights” are a priority. Is there another side to any of these issues? President Salovey recognizes that there are those who hold “ideas we do not like.”

What to do? Perish the thought that those other folks might actually be correct. Your task is to “listen” to those contrary ideas without “denunciation” or “ostracism,” not, apparently, to ascertain the truth, but rather to “chang[e] other people’s minds” while “hold[ing] fast to your ideals.”

Welcome to Yale, where we know what’s right and will be genteel in trying to persuade the rest of the benighted folks out there. And here I thought the point of higher education was to seek the truth!
Walter Weber ’84JD
Alexandria, VA

A Vietnam vet remembered

The article commemorating Yale men who died in the Vietnam War (“The Stories Behind the Names,” November/December) mentions only briefly our friend Fran Boyer ’69. Fran came to Yale from the Haverford School in Pennsylvania, where he had grown up in Pottstown and Phoenixville, the son of a potato chip magnate. An economics major and member of Trumbull College, he lettered as a special team player on the legendary undefeated 1969 Ivy League champion football team, where he was jovially dubbed “Francois Boyer [boy–YAY], world’s greatest lover.”

After graduation, he was commissioned as an officer in the Marines and served in Vietnam as an infantry platoon commander, earning the Navy Achievement Medal for gallantry under fire. Not long after returning from his combat tour, while stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, he died in a tragic motorcycle accident on the cliffs at nearby Dana Point. Fran was the most authentically cheerful man we’ve ever known, and we have missed him all these years.
Paul Field ’69   Highlands, NC
Mick Kleber ’69   Asheville, NC


In an article about Yale’s contract with its graduate workers union (“With Little Fuss, Graduate Workers Get a Contract,” March/April), we reported erroneously that the new contract makes Yale’s graduate workers the highest-paid in the Ivy League. In fact, at least one other Ivy—Princeton—has a higher maximum stipend. Yale’s minimum stipend is now the highest in the Ivy League.

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