Compiled by Abby Weingarten
Professor Emerita Cris Hassold, who taught at New College for 50 years before retiring in 2016, passed away peacefully on July 15 in Sarasota at age 89. Her former students, who had become her family, saw to her care and comfort for months.
While she was rehabilitating at Heartland Health Care & Rehabilitation Center (after suffering from a stroke in April), scores of New College alumni—from Hassold’s art history, gender studies and humanities classes throughout the years —sent her flower arrangements, sympathy cards and mystery novels. Forty contributors raised $1,195 in a GoFundMe initiative called “Weekly Flowers for Cris,” at a time when pandemic-related restrictions would not allow for in-person visitations.
“These arrangements have been giving her joy and serve as a reminder that there are many of us out here who love her and are thinking of her,” wrote alumnus Ryan Francis White ’02, who organized the effort.
Hassold, who did not have children, became a maternal figure for alumni like White. Steve Prenner ’85 would visit Hassold at the rehabilitation center, standing outside her window and talking to her on the phone. In mid-July, White shared the news of Hassold’s passing with the campus community.
“Cris arrived at Hospice this morning, received a nice bath and laid down for a nap, and peacefully passed away,” White said. “The nurse at Hospice said that, quite often, patients arrive and get to their comfortable room and feel relaxed and decide it’s time to let go.”
Hassold wished to be cremated and have her ashes scattered in the Gulf of Mexico. In January 2016, her students (Jessen Kelly ’93 and Nicole Archer ’94) organized a full-day symposium for her retirement on the New College campus, which was attended by more than 50 alumni, faculty and friends. Hassold felt that the symposium was a sufficient memorial. Alumni are also currently writing Hassold’s obituary and organizing a Zoom meeting to share their memories and condolences.
Hassold held a Ph.D. from Florida State University, began working at New College in 1965, and was the Florida editor of ART PAPERS magazine. She taught numerous courses/surveys at New College, such as Nineteenth-Century Painting and Major Artists of the Baroque, Film Noir and Masculinity, and Women Artists Through the Ages. To learn more about her work at New College, visit page 21 of the Spring 2016 issue of Nimbus (for an article entitled “The Art of Teaching: Cris Hassold Prepares to End a Long Career at New College”).
“Cris Hassold was both a strong scholar and a wonderful teacher. I’ve never met anybody quite like her,” said New College President Donal O’Shea. “I was never lucky enough to have her as a teacher but she must have been an absolutely gifted mentor.”
She was. And no one knows more about that than her students:
“When I was a 1973 first-year, I chose classes based upon the sole criteria of whether the professor was on fire with passion for their subject. It was Cris Hassold for Introduction to Art History. She so engaged me that I spent hours in the library, poring over art history books. I never took another art history class as I organized myself into an AOC of Urban Studies. But whenever I enter an art museum or gallery, Cris walks with me. My library at home is full of art history books. One class and a lifetime of passion.” –Mary Ruiz, ’73, vice chair of the New College Board of Trustees and CEO of Ruiz Strategic Advisors
“I took a number of classes with Cris during my studies. I remember taking Nineteenth-Century Painting in my first semester and, after a few classes, I knew I wanted to focus my studies on art history. Cris had such an ability to animate works of art, and it was exciting to learn to see in new ways. Her courses covered a range of topics but, whether it was film noir, feminist theory or Baroque painting, Cris taught with unique enthusiasm, erudition and wit. I was particularly impacted by her classes on gender studies and issues of gender and representation. Cris had a clear commitment to and regard for students’ ideas; she took obvious joy in facilitating and witnessing their intellectual engagement with complex, challenging material. She was such an encouraging presence for me and many other students, and I am very grateful for that.” –Jessen Kelly, ’93, associate professor of art history at the University of Utah
“No single human being has affected my life to the degree that Cris has. She turned me on to art history and feminism, and she was instrumental in making the gender studies program happen at New College. I’d never met a woman like her who lived independently and made no apologies for it (you don’t meet many people from her generation like that). She understood that she was a complicated and difficult woman. She also fought for equity at New College. When she found out that she wasn’t being paid the same as her male colleagues, she took them to task for it. She took her students on as her progeny and her children, and she helped singlehandedly produce so many female Ph.D.s. She went to the mat for all of us and inspired us to think for ourselves.” –Nicole Archer, Ph.D., ’94, assistant professor of visual culture at Montclair State University, and editor-in-chief of Art Journal Open
“I was absolutely spellbound hearing Cris introduce her classes in my first week of school, and I signed up for her Modernism and Madness seminar that afternoon (after breathlessly asking her to be my adviser). Every class was a frontier. The relentless care (and criticism!) that she heaped on me during my years at New College gave me a sense of what it meant to attend to images, to lose yourself in looking at a picture and then knit your speculations together into a proper analysis with research. Her classes, especially An/Other Story: Art of Women Through the Ages, were amazing springboards for self-directed learning. I’m still amazed at the things Cris demanded of her students. If you took one of her seminars, you were guaranteed to be assigned at least one 90-minute lecture on your own research (and I still draw inspiration from her assignments in my own teaching). She was fearless, tactless and terrifying.” –Katie Anania, Ph.D., ’99, assistant professor of art history at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
“Cris’ no-nonsense style was right up my alley. She was irreverent, sassy, high-maintenance and had an enormously kind heart dedicated to making good scholars. She was not only my mentor but my dear friend for 20 years. I’m so very grateful for what she taught me about how to be dedicated not only to my work but also to my students. Visits to Sarasota will never be the same without Cris. I will think of her when I visit a museum and head immediately to the gift store first to peruse the postcards and books—to know what important artists are in the collection and not to be missed (she INSISTED that this was the only way to retain enough energy to see what needed seeing in a large museum). But I’ll also remember her when I eat a perfectly ripe melon or smell paprikash, for we shared many meals once we escaped the cluttered darkness of Old Caples on Sunday afternoons. I will cherish the memory of her raspy voice telling me to keep writing and that it’s not only OK but respectable to say ‘I don’t know’ if I truly don’t know.” –Katie Helms, ’99, design manager for Perennial Medicine
“In Cris’ mini class at New College, she scared me! She would try to weed out the slackers and she was kind of intimidating, and I remember feeling driven to prove her wrong. She was the smartest person I’d ever met. She also had a green thumb and had grown all these exotic plants all over her property, and it got to a point where it really swallowed up her house, so I’d chip away at it from time to time and clean out her gutters, and we became friends. I didn’t have a close relationship with my mom so Cris was, in a major way, that figure for me for the last 14 years. She played that role as someone who cared about me, someone who I could tell anything to. She had no kids and all her family is gone, and her students were her kids. She had so many of us who feel exactly how I do. And it wasn’t like she was the nicest person either; she was sassy and intimidating. She was true to herself and maybe that’s why we were so drawn to her, because she was just so honest and authentic.” –Ryan Francis White, ’02, filmmaker
“When Cris got sick during the pandemic, I did not get to visit with her much. Twice, I saw her through the window at the rehab facility while talking on the phone. The second time, it was pouring rain out and she thought I was crazy to be standing there, talking to her in the rain. The only time I saw her in person was during the brief time where things were opening up in Florida before cases started spiking again. I was only allowed an hour visit but stretched it out longer as we kept chatting. While I was at New College, I’d come over to Cris’ house to help with yard work and other chores. I installed cedar lining in her closet and built her some bookcases. One of the things that made Cris so adored by so many of her students was that she would prompt each student to discover what was meaningful to them. She was proud of her students who went on to become professors but was equally fond of her students who pursued whatever path that led them to a satisfying life.” –Steve Prenner, ’85, woodworker
“An old-fashioned word comes to me when I think about Cris: plucky. She was plucky in the best Georgia O’Keeffe sense. I took one course from Cris and she broadened my horizons immensely. She brought loads of enthusiasm to art, taught me about art history, and helped me to gain some understanding of it. I love art and art museums now. What a wonderful gift she gave me. Another alum said that Cris helped to produce many female Ph.D.s. That was definitely true for me. When I was at New College, there were relatively few female faculty members, and she was a strong role model. It was an honor to have learned from her—both about art and about being a female in academia and the world.” –Freddie Clary ‘70, market research consultant
“The conversations Cris and I had in her office, surrounded by her ever-mounting piles of books and slides, are conversations I’ll never forget. At a time when much of my life was crumbling around me and getting through college seemed impossible, I found safety, encouragement and strength in her presence. I was endlessly fascinated with the life she led. Cris was the first person who taught me that I was worthy of any life I wanted. She helped me see the “bright and beautiful young woman” that I was, because you knew that if Cris was telling you something, it wasn’t out of any sense of obligation or for the sake of pleasantries. If you got positive feedback from her, you could take it to the bank. She was also a force to be reckoned with—tough, brilliant, unapologetic, self-assured and well ahead of her time.” —Elsie Morales, ‘03, director of strategy and growth, Invisible Hand
“Cris called me about two years ago to tell me how much she appreciated what I had done for her in New York (things I didn’t even remember). The conversation changed to how great she was as a teacher and mentor. She encouraged students and made art history a study of both art and history. She was a great influence on me.” –Bradley Rawling, ’73, retired
“Cris was my first adviser when I transferred to New College and I will forever be grateful for her mentorship and support. Cris encouraged my curiosity and interests and gave me the confidence and visual skills necessary to study art history. Her courses were unlike any other that I’ve taken and I will always fondly associate Old Caples with her.” –Joey Vincennie, ’14, library and archives assistant, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
“Cris understood the power of the slide lecture. The lights go down, the slides come up, the drama begins (she said it just like that). The performative and emotional aspect of intellectual work is just as important as the rational part; that lesson stays with me. She liked to remind me that she had a connection to the giants of German art history. Cris’ father, a college professor, offered refuge to academics fleeing the Nazis during the 1930s by inviting them to teach at the University of Louisville (two I recall were Richard Krautheimer, the architectural historian, and Justus Bier, a Tilman Riemenschneider specialist). Bier was a doctoral student of Heinrich Wölfflin. Cris studied with Bier at Louisville and she admired him immensely. One question she came back to, as I remember, is how can language be used to explain and theorize visual form. In a modified form, her grounding in the German critical tradition fed seamlessly into her lectures on gender, film and feminism. Traditional art history fed her radical thinking. She was sui generis. We will not see her like again.” —James Glisson, Ph.D., ’97, curator of contemporary art, Santa Barbara Museum of Art
“Cris was deeply loved and respected by so many of her students. I have such fond memories of her classes in Old Caples; the beautiful, endless mountains of books in her office; and the occasional coffee dates we shared (she was always the one to drive, even into her mid-80s). She was brazen, bold and unafraid to speak her mind. Her sense of fashion and style was impeccable (I find myself imitating it frequently). When I was her student, I often thought, “I want to be her one day.” She was passionate about her scholarship and she treated her students with such kindness and empathy. My decision to pursue a graduate degree, and my goal to teach in this field were hugely inspired by Cris and everything she stood for as a scholar and teacher. We will all miss her but her legacy lives on.” —Elisabeth Genter, ’12, Ph.D. student Visual and Cultural Studies, University of Rochester
(Note: This story is intended to be an ongoing, interactive opportunity for the campus community to reflect. If you have anything you’d like to share about Professor Hassold, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to include your thoughts.)
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.