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Homecoming

John Norton

I have been lucky. The Selective Service allowed me to gratefully study landscape architecture and urban design at Harvard’s GSD for three years during a time of war, after which I worked continuously on all sorts of public and private projects at design firms in Boston, the Bay Area, and ultimately in NYC throughout my twenties. Long hours, low pay during a time of recession and through all of that I kept inevitably being lured back to the world of drawing and painting, a first love. As Thoreau said, “The theme that seeks me, not I it.” The Art Students League in New York, a brief rental in SoHo, travels in Latin America, later on a program at Haystack School on the coast of Maine and a surprisingly easy coming-to-my-senses course correction and a move to New Mexico, of all places, in 1977. The rent in Albuquerque was cheap, the light and air pure, and I happily joined a vibrant and growing arts community as a full time artist.

The Norton Family

I also was very fortunate there to meet the amazing Fran Austin one fortuitous night. The love of my life, we were soon joined by two wonderful sons, Jesse (’82) and Will (’84), and also the obvious realization that every artist needs a second job. We made the decision to return east where I happened upon an independent secondary school teaching position in art and design at BB&N School in Cambridge, MA. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made, mostly because the school and the job gave back to me as much as I gave to it. Again, lucky.

It’s funny how things turned out. Though I had struggled in high school, I somehow was a natural at education and adolescence the second time around and found myself happily settling into the Boston area and exhibiting my art here and on the coast of Maine when I could. Since retiring as a teacher (also happily) in 2016, I am now a full time practicing and exhibiting painter again with a studio in the Allston district of Boston. (If you want to know more about any of that, go to my johncnortonart.com website.)

Despite the state of politics today, I feel very lucky to still be spinning around here on the blue and green planet. I try to take nothing for granted. Family and friends, books and films, travel, a limited amount of volunteering, probably too much Boston sports-watching, combined with the usual home and garden maintenance all keep me going. And I vote, too!

But, as Paul Harvey would say, here’s the REST of the story….

LFC? When I arrived in Illinois from the East Coast in the fall of 1965 as “Chip,” Lake Forest was not my first choice of colleges. I had my doubts (and perhaps the college should have had doubts about me). I was very young, inexperienced in many things, and had a long ways to go as far as the books thing went (nobody talked about ADHD in those days).

Importantly, we studied only three subjects at a time and how nice that the trimester system seemed to work for me – as long as I worked! Despite those advantages, freshman year was pretty much a blur of distractions and only a stint at summer school saved my hide. Thankfully, I had some truly stimulating classes and teachers along the way to inspire me (a sincere thank you to professors Sproat, Zilversmit, Hansen, both Moodys and, of course, Schultz).

The college as community stretched me in many ways as well: playing freshman basketball on a raised court in the drafty old field house; learning to think on my feet in engaging classroom debates; listening to visiting speakers and performers, being exposed to world cinema in the college’s wonderful foreign film series; contributing to running a student newspaper for a couple of years; researching my senior history thesis at the Chicago Public Library; not to mention dancing the night away in a certain Athenian fraternity basement on South Campus.

All that - AND a meal plan! Most of all, l had many great friends that still give me warm memories of LFC.

So, I feel that I owe the college a lot. It taught me that there are many chapters to a life, and that one of the most important ones, in my case, was the Intro. Learning critical thinking, discovering something important about who you are and how to be yourself around people who may be different than you comes slowly. College can make a difference in that. Though LFC was not my first choice in September ’65, by June 1969 I was so thankful that it had been the best choice. And didn’t the Stones remind us that, “You don’t always get what you want; but in the end you get what you need”?