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Honoring an Artist: Harriet Shorr ’60

A highly influential artist and professor who directed Swarthmore’s Studio Arts Program from 1963 to 1974, Harriet Shorr ’60 died April 9, 2016.

“She was a passionate advocate for studio art at Swarthmore in a period when the arts were not well-integrated into the curriculum— there were no arts majors, and students were limited in the number of creative credits they could take,” says Constance Hungerford, Mari S. Michener Professor of Art History. “Yet she made the studio program a vital experience, bringing to campus artists she had met at Yale. I once met someone who had buried transistor radios all along Magill Walk, programmed to burst into music to the surprise of everyone walking by. She turned the arts program from a hobby activity to a challenging and significant undertaking.”

After graduating from Swarthmore, Shorr earned a BFA from Yale and returned to the College to teach art—as well as create it. Her paintings frequently centered around colorful, large-scale depictions of nature and still life, and were praised for her technically accomplished and emotionally rich aesthetic. She shared her vision in her book The Artist’s Eye: A Perceptual Way of Painting, which critics called “a delight to both the mind and the eye.”

A professor emerita of art and design at Purchase College, Shorr was also an accomplished writer and poet who published and illustrated the collection Poems with Pictures. She is survived by husband Jim Long ’71, daughters Ruth Baguskas ’89 and Sasha Baguskas, three grandchildren, and a brother. Her obituary is available at


Karen Schifano ’76 wrote the following tribute: 

Harriet Shorr was one of the two and a half professors in the studio art department at Swarthmore when I arrived in 1972. At the time, in what seems to have been a short-sighted policy, students were only allowed to receive credit for four classes in studio art—as if it were not quite a serious enough pursuit. Although I studied art history toward a B.A., I spent many happy hours in the studio art building taking classes with Harriet, and eventually a terrific art history seminar that she initiated on Jackson Pollock. She seemed to run the entire department as if it were truly an important and necessary place, despite the lack of respect it was given by the College. And the students were excited to be part of it.

Harriet treated us as equals and made us feel as if our opinions and ideas were worthwhile and important. She taught me the basics of painting and drawing (I am an art restorer and artist for 40 years now), and mainly, how to see and think about the visual world. She was intellectually curious, totally focused on how one lives a creative life, and generous in sharing her own experiences with us. I remember taking the train to her opening in New York, and kept in touch with her for years after I graduated, attending other openings, a book signing of her terrific monograph, and a readings of her writing, another of her talents.

Harriet Shorr was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. I learned how to think and write critically, and to appreciate art as a serious endeavor that uses all parts of oneself in the process of creation. She helped me to gain confidence in my own vision and abilities, and for that, I will always be grateful!


For the 1964 volume Swarthmore Remembered, Harriet Shorr wrote the following, entitled “Time enough for facts”:

Although I now walk through Parrish every day, drive past Crum meadow, drink coffee in The Fountain, visit in living rooms where my seminars took place, the Swarthmore I remember is not here. It exists, real and intact, only in memory. Its essence is not locked in the magnolia trees or the columns of Parrish. I know then that Swarthmore was not a place. It was a web of experiences shared: conversations that do not resound again, arguments that do not leave a tract in Commons, papers which are only typewritten words when taken years later from their black binders. Swarthmore was thoughts and words, exchanged for a little while with people who discovered at the same moment the excitement of ideas. Swarthmore was the seriousness which never seemed absurd, the intensity which never diminished, the questioning which never seemed fruitless, the discussions which were continued without thought for time or place: discussions held on the railroad trestle, interrupted only by the thunderous passage of the train, excited discussions in dormitory rooms, interrupted by phone calls, and then continued on the floor near the telephone; discussions held in the corner of the Somerville dance floor, to the accompaniment of blaring music.

Swarthmore was being very young. It was thinking one and one’s friends wise, witty, charming, brilliant, and promising. It was believing one and one’s friends the sole possessors of special truths, truths which could not properly be explained to those who had not come upon them together. These truths were like dramatic personages, elegantly and perfectly accoutered. They came upon the scene of class or seminar with great éclat while the students who had brought them forth sat and admired their beauty. They seem smaller now, less glamorous, and more fallible, but the excitement of their discovery remains.

Ideas were not part of the “real world,” a world which existed somewhere beyond the railroad tracks and the Crum meadow. The real world was actuality, facts. Time enough for facts, we knew. Ideas were fabulous and Swarthmore was their kingdom. Time enough to learn that actuality is precious, for it is the root of that intangible and indestructible reality—an idea.