George Faison Interview
This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing George Faison. He used to teach at Hotchkiss School and he also taught at Taconic learning Center. Today’s date is Nov. 19th, 2021. This is file #43, cycle 4.
JM:What is your name?
GF:My name is George Faison
JM:Your birth date?
GF:Feb. 16, 1940
JM:Your birth place?
GF:North Adams, Mass.
JM:When did you come to Hotchkiss?
JM:Would you tell me about your teaching career before you came to Hotchkiss?
GF:I taught for 20 years in Concord, Mass. as a middle school teacher. I taught multiple numbers of children. There was a population bubble at the time in the 1970s in particular. I had in 1972 I believe it was 153 kids. As an English teacher it was exhausting.
JM:You did something creative with that.
GF:I laid before my classes the dictum “Here are 4 or 5 writing assignments between now and a date in the future. You have to write all of those, but I will correct 2 of them. You do not know which ones that I am going to correct so you have to do them all.” That was the only way I could assign writing and expect them to do it.
JM:That was clever. Then you in 1984 you went to the Fay School.
GF:I did. That was in Southboro, Mass. It is a junior prep school like Indian Mountain around here. I was Department Chair there as I was for a while in Concord. I was drawn to Hotchkiss. I wanted to teach high school I had done middle school literature and composition for 22 years and it was time for a change.
JM:How did you get in touch with Hotchkiss?
GF:My father knew Bob Hawkins who was a legendary member of The Hotchkiss School. (See his interview) They get into a conversation and bob said that he was retiring soon and” why don’t I meet your son?” I met Bob and that was the beginning of a nice relationship and the beginning of my association with the school.
JM:You came in 1986 and you retired when?2.
GF:2014 28 years later
JM:When you came who was the head master?
JM:You have worked for several other headmasters.
GF:Arthur White and then O’Dene, then I believe Rusty Chandler came in for a year (See his interview) while the search committee selected the next Headmaster who was Skip Mattoon, who stayed for a number of years 7 or 9 years. He gave way to Malcolm McKenzie who gave way to the current Dean of Faculty Hicks. He left for California and now we have Craig Bradley who was supposed to be a temporary Head, but he has been there now 4 or 5 years. This is his 5th year. He is not temporary at all.
JM:Your teaching style was slightly less rigorous then Bob Hawkins.
GF:Well I am not sure that it was less rigorous, it was more forgiving. That I think is the word. Bob was well some people called it a rite of passage to get a D from him. He would give to kids who supposedly knew a comma from a semi colon. If the semi colon was warranted and if wasn’t there, that was very bad news.
JM:I can understand that: it was important. You had a favorite course that you taught.
GF:Well I have 2 favorite courses. One was Shakespeare and the Bible which was a course I had inherited from a retired teacher. I changed it to some degree because I included an emphasis on the history of art, particularly when we were talking about difficult matters. How to look at a work of art? How to see it rather than just look at it? What is the vocabulary that one might use to describe and analyze a work of art?
JM;Oh I wish I had had your course.
GF:Does that vocabulary carry over from books to art. Of course there is and of course there are some differences in order to look at a work of art in order to tell what you see. How do you go to a museum, do you just walk or do you, as I try to do, when I go to a great big retrospective for an artist and there are 150 things to see, Now I know perfectly well I can’t do justice to 150, so I pick out as I walk through about5 or 6 things that I really want to look at comfortably.
JM:What was the second course that you enjoyed?
GF:American Studies which I taught in conjunction with a member of the History Department, or a number of them. Two of them were memorable. One was with Julia Trethaway. Julia was a wonderful teacher. She died way, way too young. Then her husband Tom took over. I had a wonderful relationship
with both of them. It was a memorable course for me and I hope for them, and obviously I hope for the students.
JM:That sounds wonderful. You also worked with George Anastasio (See his interview) in the Drama Club.
GF:Drama Department I was recruited probably the year after I came to direct a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta which I duly did. They invited me back to do several other things. The next year I think it was “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail.” It was about Henry David Thoreau because he wouldn’t pay his poll tax. By then I was dragooned to do another musical “Fiddler on the Roof”. AT that point I said, “You know I really don’t want to do any more musicals.” It took way, way too much time. You had to be director of acting: you had to give time to chorus: you had to give time to soloists. There were scheduling problems the like of which I did not want to contemplate. So I asked to do plays rather than musicals.
JM:It is prohibitive and is a huge amount of time for you as well as the students. They would have less time for either sports or academics.
GF:I was an associate member of the Drama Department and I had English classes to deal with.
JM:What did you coach?
GF:I coached JV soccer.
JM:Girls or boys?
GF:Boys, but my chief coaching job was as I call it Varsity Drama because I did direct about 2 dozen main stage plays in the course of my time at Hotchkiss.
JM:Did you have dorm duty?
GF:I did for a while in old Bissell Hall (no longer extant Ed.) all four stories of it. When I came to Hotchkiss, since I was 46 years old, they decided that at some point they thought there were younger people who could deal better with the dorm better than I could. I said, “Sure I think they can do it a lot better than I. I was pleased. Then we went to Van Santvoord and had a lovely apartment there with no dorm duty.
JM:I can appreciate that. Over your career at Hotchkiss I am sure that there were some changes. Could you give me a couple of examples?
GF:I would say that the student body became far more diversified, ethnically, racially, places of foreign extraction: decidedly more varied. From my point of view it greatly improved the community. I liked Hotchkiss very much. The architecture, we had some architectural changes: two that come to mind- one that I love and one that I don’t like. The one that I love is the music building with a terrific
concert hall. I was on the Building Committee. We agreed that what we did not want was yet another brick building. It has a lot of glass in the music building. People were worried that the sound would be too raucous because of all the glass.
JM:No because there are ways to create the acoustics.
GF:The glass was not a wall of glass, it was zigzagged. That broke it up. It is a beautiful place.
JM:Which one did you dislike?
GF:I did not like the front building with great big monumental gables.
JM: It is intimidating.
GF: Yeah and it says, “We do really important things here.”
JM:It is a little pretentious.
GF:Yeah It is monumentally so.
JM:You came after the girls entered Hotchkiss.
GF:Yes they came in 1974.
JM:How about the standards like dress code, grading that sort of thing? Did they change?
GF:Sure the boys always coat and tie when I came. The girls were suitably dressed. Gradually as we got closer to 2000, things began to ease up. Then it was “come presentable”, causality or something like that. The boys have been getting rid of the tie, maybe the jacket was retained until the fleece took over. Girls did their own thing much earlier than the boys did.
JM:I have heard that from Indian Mountain. Not Salisbury School as they are all boys. Is there anything else that you would like to add about Hotchkiss before we move on?
GF:For me it was a change from teaching middle school to high school which was wonderful because I could teach things that I could not before but would have loved to teach as part of my intellectual background. I felt that I could contribute to kids’ education which I couldn’t do when I was teaching middle school.
JM:You could expand a lot more than with the junior high school.
GF:At Hotchkiss teaching approximately 50 kids meant that I could catch the ones who might fall through the cracks. I could spend time with them, whereas if you are teaching 150kids you can’t do it. Intellectually, emotionally, physically it is difficult to do that. I love the experience of working with people in the theater who made my, well it wasn’t just mine but our dual conceptions of how a play
could be represented and working with that person; whereas when I directed plays at school, it was all me. I had to direct, set construction, somehow costumes got made, way, way too much.
JM:That is more than one person should do.
GF:So that was wonderful. I enjoyed the departmental aspect of it, not that there were not times when we disagreed. It was hard work. I was co-chair for 6 or 7 years with Patricia Jones. That was a wonderful association. It was a lot of responsibility, particularly when it comes to departmental evaluations.
JM:Oh I remember those.
GF:Those are tough. You visit classes- sometimes you got lucky and people were having a really good day and sometimes you didn’t. So you had to go back to be fair.
JM:I am going to skip ahead to Berkshire Hills Music and Dance. Began c 1971 Ed. (See Jo Loi’s Interview)
GF:I hardly remember it. Al Sly was in it, Dorothy Massey of Sharon was in it, John Estabrook was in it. Those are the three names that I remember.
JM:What was the purpose?
GF:To bring “cultura” to the town in visible ways. The town really did not have much at that point.
JM:I have been here long enough that I go back to that.
GF:Over the years so many other institutions and organizations came in. They were not necessarily in Salisbury but near enough.
JM:Yes it expanded. You now have the Salisbury Forum, Baroque Music at St. John’s, and before that was the Chamber Music concerts that my husband was involved in. Taconic Learning Center so it has expanded.
GF:At the same time there were other locations Gt. Barrington suddenly became the center, Gt. Barrington is a small town which gradually became the place where many people came in the summer because of the proximity of Tanglewood.
JM:It has always been a resort area. Do you remember when you were on it? Would it have been in the late 1980s into the 1990s?
GF:Yea it was in the late 1980s into the early 1990s. I can’t remember when it disbanded. Oh I think Anne Bowen was on it.
JM:I think she was.
GF:But we brought in some good people. We brought MOMIX the dance group
JM:and Philobilous I remember that one. Taconic Learning Center who got you involved with that?
GF:I believe it was Caroline Burchfield. (See her interview) At that time prior to the pandemic, classes were specifically requested by Caroline for Noble Horizons. But also from Taconic Learning Center for the classes were held there. Maybe that will happen again.
JM:I hope so.
GF:Some of my courses were art, the history of art. I don’t think I even want to try to do that through Zoom. You need the big screen, and people talking back and forth, and seeing the people in front of you.
JM:You need the interaction.
GF: That is discouraging. I’d like to teach an art course in some of my favorite American Art. Not necessarily only the quote, unquote greatest, but the one that I like.
JM:If you have to construct a course, you want construct it as something that you are passionate about.
JM:How many years did you teach?
GF:Probably 3 or 4. It was not long. I would like to get back to it with the American Art course but only when they can use the big screen.
JM:I’ll make you a promise. If you start teaching without the Zoom the American Art course, I will be in your class.
JM:I want to learn. As a teacher for the Taconic Learning Center, you were not paid?
GF:If it was under the auspices of Noble Horizons, I was. If it was TLC, I was not.
JM:So you actually have done both through Noble as well as TLC. Now you have mentioned a number of times about art history in your teaching at Hotchkiss and with TLC and Noble. You had a very interesting experience when you were a child. I would like you to tell me about that if you would not mind?
GF:First thing you have to know is my father was, I guess I can use the word “legendary” art professor at Williams College, head of the department, and head of the college museum, not the Clarke, although he was instrumental in getting the Clarke to come to Williamstown.
JM:You are talking about the Francine and Sterling Clarke Museum in Williamstown, Mass.
GF:Briefly I’ll tell you a funny story. Mr. Clarke was interested in putting his collection somewhere out of range of nuclear warfare: therefore New York City was out. He tried a number of locations, and finally decided that Williamstown was a suitable location. He called the college one day and got his call shifted to the Treasury Department and wanted to talk to somebody who knew about art because he was thinking of putting the museum in Williamstown. So the call was transferred to the Art Department. The Treasury guy got on first and said< There’s this guy on the phone who wants to talk about putting a lot of art in the museum here in Williamstown nearby. Father and his predecessor, Carl Weston, said, “Oh dear, is this was going to be a whole museum of Grandma Moses or what? So what kind of art does this guywant to do? What shows? “Well’, said the treasury guy, “apparently there are a lot of ‘Reenoyers’ (Renoirs Ed.) in the collection.” So then they had a good laugh about that. In any case the Clarke actually of course came to Williamstown.
JM;It is a wonderful collection. I go there when I can.
GF:It is even nicer now with the new addition. It is beautiful architecture. One of the ones I love is the picture called “The Warrior” by Fragonard which has his arm outstretched and it is painted with the wind blowing across the sleeve. (17th century man with lace ruff around his neck, a slashed sleeve and lace cuff: the outer layer is yellowish brown with white under layer showing through by Jean Honore Fragonard 1732-1806 French painter Ed.)
JM:Getting back to your dad
GF:In 1945 my father was a member of the Monument Men entrusted with locating and eventually returning art object which the Nazis had looted. In 1945 just after the discovery of art stored in the Salzburg, Austria, area specifically Altaussee, he was given the job of interviewing, or even interrogating a lot of very nasty people. Of course he was uniformed and he had a side arm which he couldn’t possibly have hit the broad side of a barn. He had very thick glasses. I asked him, “Pop, what would have happened if you had had to draw that pistol?” “I probably would have shot myself.” Anyway the job of returning the art was both wonderful and tragic because so many of the people who were the previous owners were no longer living in Europe or dead, particularly if they happened to be Jewish.
Then in 1950 the whole family went to Munich to live where my father was the head of the Collecting Point there. There were three collecting points in Germany at the time: one in Frankfort, one in Wiesbaden, and one in Munich. Pop was the head of the Munich one. One day he invited my older brother and me to come to his office sort of like “Kid’s day at Dad’s office”. His office was in the Konigsplatz catty corner across the platz from where Hitler had held forth. My father’s office was stacked, lined up against the walls with great art. On the walls were as I remember, 3 pictures: one by Watteau, one by Rembrandt, and one by Rubens. He assured us that they were not his paintings. He hoped to give them back to the owners. It was quite a remarkable thing to see. We traveled all through Bavaria. One of my father’s loves in art was Baroque architecture so we saw every Baroque church, or
that is the way I remember it and sometimes 2 or 3 times. Occasionally we would get to go to a castle. The one that most of course attracted my brother and me was Neuschwanstein which really is the model for Disneyland. It is not great architecture, but kind of fun. That was a storage point that the Nazis had used during the war.
An interesting story, it really wasn’t my father but a colleague of his was driving up the winding road at nightfall for an evening meeting of G men. He saw off in the woods a group of people conversing. They looked suspicious to him. He did not know what they were doing so he drew his gun and he walked towards them. He looked and the closer he got he noticed no movement and he didn’t hear anything as he thought he had before. It turned out that these were the “Burghers of Calais” made by Rodin. The four figures of the burghers weighed dozens of tons. Presumably the Nazis had only got them part way up the incline. It was too heavy. Here is Rodin in the woods. The whole experience was wonderful for me because it was where I was introduced to opera, to great art, and architecture and so many more things.
JM:What a wonderful opportunity for you and particularly as a young boy to have that exposure during your formative years.
GF:I lived with a German family for about three months in a country village halfway between Munich and Salzburg in Bavaria.
JM:Do you still speak German?
GF: I was not instructed in the language, the vocabulary has slipped.
JM:You and your wife have a project.
GF:We are writing a work of fiction a prep school fiction. I went to a prep school, and taught in a junior prep school the Fay School. I taught at Hotchkiss for 28 years. My elder son went to Middlesex School. My younger son went to Hotchkiss. My wife was a librarian at Salisbury School in Salisbury and Suffield Academy in Suffield, Ct. In other words our experiences with prep schools are extensive. So we are writing a joint book which has been largely fun for us. We didn’t get into to arguments about it. Heaven knows whether it will ever be published, but in our old age it keeps us connected.
JM:Wonderful! Thank you so much. This has been a marvelous opportunity.