Photo of C.K. Chatterton in his Vassar studio.

"I stayed
at Vassar
I just fell
in love with
the place."

C.K. Chatterton
in his Vassar studio, c. 1940

In January, 1915, Chatterton married Margaret Antionette Meakim and he and his bride moved into a house of their own in Newburgh, New York. He had been supporting himself for several years by teaching art in a near-by private school. Soon after his marriage he took a new position as Superintendent of Art Education in the Newburgh Public Schools, but the work was so grueling that it quickly wore him out. His schedule of running from school to school and painting in between and during off hours was impossible to keep and he began to look for a job that would give him more time to concentrate on his painting.

In the fall of 1915 he heard that Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York might be willing to hire a painter to be its artist-in-residence and to teach courses in applied art. Chatterton sought the advice of his old teacher, Robert Henri, regarding the position. Henri said, "I don't know much about Vassar, but I think it's a pretty good place, and if you do decide to go up there, I'd stay just about a year, possibly two."

Chatterton was interviewed by Professor Oliver Tonks, the chairman of the Vassar Department of Art. Both Henri and George Bellows had written enthusiastic letters of recommendation. Tonks was planning a series of art exhibitions for the Vassar gallery and was so impressed by Chatterton's friendships with many of the leading New York painters that he hired him.

When Chatterton went to Vassar none of the major colleges were offering anything but the most rudimentary training in drawing from plaster or still life. Chatterton introduced drawing from the nude, a concept that was so revolutionary (especially for a women's college) that the administration insisted that his classes be strictly monitored. He fought and won the battle to grant academic credit for his classes in spite of the objections by some of the faculty who complained, "We might as well give credit for a course in plumbing."

Chatterton's Department of Applied Art offered the kind of instruction found in the major art schools. His department soon became a model for programs that were subsequently developed in other colleges and universities. And the early insistence that his drawing classes be monitored was soon dropped.

In 1948, 33 years after he started at Vassar, "Chatty," as he was affectionately known among the students, retired from the Vassar faculty having taught some 3000 students, many of whom became successful artists, critics, curators, and historians.

Chatterton laughed when he recalled Henri's advice about his stay at Vassar and about the reaction of his horrified friends who were sure Vassar would be professionally fatal. Chattertton said, "Most of my friends thought, 'That's the end of Chatterton as a painter,' but a few years later many of them were searching for similar positions. I stayed at Vassar for 33 years because I just fell in love with the place."

To see a short YouTube video of Chatterton teaching a class, click here.

To see a photograph of Chatterton teaching a life drawing class at Vassar, click here.