John Baker Cutler


Died June 18, 2005

College: Pierson

For years after we graduated, I often encountered an object that brought John Cutler, my Pierson College classmate, to mind. It was an Italian desk, inlaid with woods of various tones. Its slanted front opened down to reveal intricate drawers and cubbyholes for letters. Highly polished, it had an appealing delicacy. It was in my parent’s home, but it had once belonged to John.

I first saw the desk in John’s ground-floor rooms in Pierson. Perhaps because I was used to the battered tables and sofas with which most of us furnished our quarters, I thought it was the most beautiful piece of furniture I had ever seen. John dismissed it, said that it wasn’t antique, that on a lark he had picked it up that summer in Italy. Still. I was greatly impressed by it, by his rooms, by John himself. Slim, often elegantly dressed, he seemed already the embodiment of an art historian, which he was studying to become.

When time came to leave Yale, I offered to purchase the desk from John. He agreed readily and gave me a good price. I sent it to my parents. Thrilled, they put it in their living room. And there, whenever I saw it, I imagined John in his new life, soberly lecturing about a painting or piece of furniture, passing on the knowledge he had gained at Yale to the next generation.

That may have taken place for a while, perhaps a long while—I don’t know—but when I finally ran into him again, many years later, he was in very different surroundings. He was at a beach resort on Long Island. He was disco dancing in a crowd at a pavilion. He had grown a formidable moustache. He owned a condo nearby. He was having a good time.

by Leonard Todd