Charles Chu, master artist and Connecticut College emeritus professor, dies at 90
October 31, 2008
Charles Chi-Jung Chu, master painter, calligrapher, scholar and emeritus professor of Chinese at Connecticut College, died yesterday, October 30, 2008. He was 90.
"Connecticut College has lost a true icon," Connecticut College President Leo I. Higdon Jr. said. "Charles Chu embodied so much that is positive about Connecticut College - academic excellence, personal relationships that helped guide students´ intellectual and co-curricular development and an appreciation for and involvement in the city of New London."
Chu, a professor at Connecticut College for 19 years before his retirement in 1984, was hired by Connecticut College President Charles Shain to introduce Mandarin Chinese to the college in 1965. Subsequently, Connecticut College became one of the first undergraduate liberal arts colleges in the nation to offer majors in Chinese language and literature. In 1996, Chu was awarded the Connecticut College Medal, the highest honor the College can confer, for his "exhilarating and lasting effect" on life at Connecticut College.
"To study with Charles was to be exposed to lively doses of Chinese culture and sensibility, an experience similar in some ways to looking at a Chinese painting," Brian Rogers, former college librarian, wrote in a 2002 article for the college´s alumni magazine.
Chu was born in a small farming village in Hebei Province, China, in 1918. Nicknamed "little frog," by his mother for his active nature, Chu completed high school in Beijing and went on to study at the National Central University in China. In 1945, he came to the United States to pursue graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley and later at Harvard University. Chu then taught at Yale University for 15 years before establishing and directing the Chinese program at Connecticut College.
A skilled painter and calligrapher, Chu is well known for his sweeping watercolors, detailed exhibitions and popular public demonstrations of calligraphy and brush painting. Chu´s whimsical depiction of the Connecticut College campus and famous drawing of the college´s mascot, the camel, have sold hundreds of copies over the years.
Following Chu´s retirement from teaching, he teamed up with Hughes "Toby" Griffis to compile a special collection of East Asian art for Connecticut College. As founding curator of the collection, Chu traveled to China, New York City and other locations to purchase significant paintings of landscapes, birds, flowers and animals.
In 2001, Connecticut College dedicated the Charles Chu Asian Art Reading Room on the main floor of the Shain Library. The room, easily one of the most beautiful locations on campus, became the permanent exhibition area for what is now known as the Chu-Griffis collection.
In the years following his retirement, Chu retained a very close relationship with the college. He could often be found in the center of a crowd at any number of college events, and many of his former students and colleagues kept in close touch with the influential professor.
Nancy Farwell, a 1973 graduate of Connecticut College, decided to attend Connecticut College after meeting with Chu her senior year of high school, and Chu remained a mentor and friend throughout her adult life. Farwell, who gave her daughter the middle name "Chu," said in 2006, "Professor Chu is a phenomenal teacher. In addition to having great command of the material, he compels students to engage with him, using Chinese."
Chu is survived by his wife, Bettie, four children and 11 grandchildren. Calling hours are this Sunday, Nov. 2, at Neilan Funeral Home, 12 Ocean Avenue, New London, from 2 to 5 p.m.