Immortal Longings

He was there to see the Graduate Institute enter the world, and in return, we were there last week to see off Mr. Elliott Zuckerman, tutor emeritus, musician, and poet, as he left it.

Zuckerman began teaching at St. John’s College in 1961, six years before the start of the Teachers Institute (the precursor to the Graduate Institute), and was one of the handful of tutors who inaugurated the program on the Santa Fe campus. He described the humble beginning as “bringing inner city school teachers to the high desert to read Aristotle.”

St. John's College, Santa Fe Instruction Committee, 1969-1973, St. John's College, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Zuckerman (fourth from left) was the Director of the Graduate Institute during its earliest years.

The first session proved so successful that plans to turn the one-summer certificate program into a four-summer Master’s program were green-lighted. The very next year the Teachers Institute was renamed the Graduate Institute, and Zuckerman was elected Director. His tenure kept the nascent program afloat, securing much-needed grants for students from the Hoffberger and Cafritz Foundations, “covering tuition and compensating for their summer salaries.”

More than his roles as educator and administrator, Elliott Zuckerman will primarily be remembered as an aesthete. Throughout his entire career at St. John’s, he gave well-attended lectures on the fine arts. His scholarship was respected as well in the opera world, especially in Wagnerian criticism, and he lectured internationally. His publications include numerous scholarly articles on aesthetics, three song-cycles, two collections of poetry, and one book, The First Hundred Years of Wagner’s Tristan. Even after his retirement in 1995, you could still count on Mr. Zuckerman to recite a poem or hold a piano recital for graduate students as part of the Wednesday Night Lecture Series.

St. John’s is also home to many of Zuckerman’s original paintings, colorful, patchwork landscapes and portraits. These works are a testament not only to yet another pursuit at which this talented man excelled but also to how much of him remains in our community. Fortunately, the store of mementos includes audio recordings of his lectures, as well as a thorough video interview, recorded by alumni Jeremy Sheeler and Maxwell Anthony (both AGI’18), which captures the dry wit for which Zuckerman was known and loved. Most important, however, are all the Johnnies who continue to live with their treasured memories of this mentor and artist.

It might be overly dramatic to quote Shakespeare on this occasion, but as it was Zuckerman’s favorite, I think he’d appreciate a eulogy à la Cleopatra: he lived life such as to make death proud to take him.

I know I speak for many when I say thank you, Mr. Zuckerman, for all of the inquiry and artistry you brought to generations of St. John’s students. Rest in peace.

Lake Through Trees I
Zuckerman, Elliott. Lake Through Trees I.

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