In Brief

Sugaring Time Again; Former President Writes Autobiography; Alum Signs with Baseball Team; News from the Nursing and Business Administration Departments and more.

Making Their Mark

Learn about how our community members engage in writing, presentations and exhibitions.

Past as Prologue

Explore Haystack, a portal to the history of Colby-Sawyer College.

Colby-Sawyer Courier

Keep up with campus news from students' perspectives through the Colby-Sawyer Courier.


This new literary magazine features creative writing in many genres by current students and alumni, faculty and staff, and a few friends and partners.


Find out what Colby-Sawyer alumni have been up to since graduation.

Currents: tribute to an artist, teacher

A Farewell Conversation with Artist and Professor John Bott

An artist doesn't stop being an artist and a teacher doesn't stop being a teacher just because of a retirement party, but careers do come to a close. After 30 years at Colby-Sawyer, Professor John Bott is planning to leave the classroom behind at the end of this college year.

In tribute, the Department of Fine and Performing Arts hosted a retrospective of paintings, drawings, print and sculpture by Professor Bott. At the opening reception, crowds filled the Marian Graves Mugar Art Gallery to view the work of the man who has taught and created at Colby-Sawyer since 1977.

Born in West Virginia and adopted as a child, John doesn't know if there are other artists in his family, but he started painting at age 13 with the support of an uncle who bought him art supplies. He also credits his school's art program for early cultivation of his talent. John received his M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and has exhibited works throughout the eastern United States and the Midwest, as well as in Germany and Japan. He says he knows where almost every one of his large pieces is, and that includes significant collections and institutions across the world.

“I've almost always painted pretty paintings,” says John, “and I got a lot of criticism for painting pretty because it's not deep, there's no tragedy. At some point I decided that because everyone else thought it was the wrong thing to do, it must be the right thing to do—I like them pretty and I'm going to do them pretty. This is a different time. When I started really getting into painting in the 1960s, in grad school, everybody did one painting after another that was almost just like the other, and you got criticized if you broke that style. Something happened in the '80s and people decided it was all right to do any kind of style you wanted. It was pluralism. There's no one big school of art now like there was in the '50s and '60s. There's no pop art to strive to be a part of. It's a world that's exploding in no one right way, and I just go along with the flow.”

While there may no longer be one school of art to study or with which to conform, John has a definition of art readily available—in short, art is a mirror.

“The most important thing there is culture,” he says. “We're held together by culture, by that set of beliefs that people believe in and act on. Culture's supported by mythology, and it doesn't make any difference if the myth is right or wrong as long as people buy into it. Art is a part of that mythic structure that tells people what the culture does and doesn't believe in. That's Art, with a capital A, and it includes poetry and novels and movies and everything.

“Artists are not people who deliberately understand all of these things and make up marvelous symbols to put out for everyone to see. The real talent of art is being able to pick up on the spirit of the age, an awareness of what's happening, before most people do. That funnels into the art and then the culture changes or is made stronger. I don't think many artists really change the culture like Jackson Pollock and the others that you can name, but most kind of support the culture. Art's a reflection of the time in which it's made, but it's scary if you're making art and you think it might be important. It's much more fun to make it and just have it be enjoyable.”

Though culture-changing artists may be the rare titans of art history books and museums, John is generous with his view of who can help support and subtly shape the culture at large. He thinks it's everyone.

“I think we all have the capability of being artists, but not visual artists necessarily,” he says. “We have to look at our own nature, what it is that we're drawn to do and find the art in that. If you're a writer it's because you can do it. You didn't want to be a writer initially because you wanted to write the Great American Novel. No, it was because in the third grade you started getting compliments about how well you could write. I know by the fifth grade I was the class artist because I could do it, and that's how you get your reputation. Some people are football players and some people are artists. Everybody has some kind of talent.”

Back in 1977, John was attracted to Colby-Sawyer because of the significant and traditional presence the Art Department had within the small college.

“Colby-Sawyer had, and has, one of the very best art departments in New England,” John says. “Part of the philosophy is that you don't have to have a nuclear reactor to have a good art department, all you need is five teachers. The great programs have all been small. Art departments have a habit of getting too big—you have weaving and this and that, and, next thing you know, it's a big crafts play-school instead of a serious, hardcore, classical art department, which is what we've had. It's been a tradition of art here at this college since it was founded to have serious stuff, and lots of people have come here to study art.”

Colby-Sawyer's appreciation for the arts offered a space where John could pass on his own love for creating, and many of his students have gone on to graduate school and success in the art world.

“If a student comes into my class, they want to paint,” John says. “No one gets stuck in there who doesn't want to do that. What I have to do in the beginning is help them figure out how to do what they already want to do. I don't think you can look at a student's work and tell them it's good when it's not because they're smart enough to figure that out. But they're not really smart enough as a general rule to figure out what they're doing well, so you point that out to them.

“I'd like to say that right now we have some of the nicest students; the baby boomers have done a wonderful job raising these kids. They seem to be getting younger every year; it's difficult to look at them and think of them as being college students, but it's still fun to see someone go from a freshman to a senior with a whole different bearing about them.”

It's the students that John will miss next year when he no longer has a class roster and grade book to consider. From his 16 acres on top of a mountain in Unity, complete with trout pond in the front yard, John will continue painting and sending works to galleries, but the vitality of campus life won't be there.

“I'm going to miss the company of people in those magical college years. It's a great time for kids and they're fun to be around; they keep you young. For the last three years, I've been working fairly hard not to get too attached to new ones, since I'm leaving, but I do have a couple and I'm going to miss them. And I'm going to miss conversations with all the faculty who know things I don't know—if you pump them just right they'll talk about marvelous things.

“This has been a wonderful place to work and live. My hope for the place is that it continues in the direction it's headed. We've gotten academically better, and I hope the young faculty they bring in all believe they can do it here, that they don't have to be at an Ivy League school to be a good teacher. Colby- Sawyer has been a great place to have my career—I'm happy and proud of what I did while I was here.”

-Kate Seamans