Lauren Soth, age 87, died on May 24th in Madison, WI, from complications due to Parkinson’s disease. Lauren was a legendary Carleton Art History professor for 40 years, beginning in 1964 and retiring in 2004.
Lauren wrote articles and spoke widely on Vincent Van Gogh and architects Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, but teaching was his primary passion. He poured energy into every class he taught, every paper he graded, every encounter with students. He terrified some students with his gruff exterior (especially when waking them up during class in a darkened lecture hall), but often they came to respect his commitment to academic excellence and thoughtful expression of ideas. After they graduated, Lauren kept in touch, including with many who credited him for their continued work in the field and even more who formed a lifelong appreciation for art and architecture because of him. Lauren’s commitment to teaching included leading alumni tours and coaching his colleagues in teaching or architectural history.
Lauren and his wife, Nancy, lived close to campus and remained active in campus and community life after his retirement. This included Lauren being a key player in the formidable “Union Street Poker League” where his sharp mind and wit were greatly appreciated. The couple’s travels revolved around seeing art or visiting their beloved family. A more complete obituary is attached.
I did not know Lauren very well, but his wife Nancy helped edit my academic articles and I met him several times then at their house on Union. I remember discussing Terry Eagleton with him once and Lauren remarking that Eagleton's was not the way that he would approach the arts. I have sent my best wishes to Nancy and Lauren when they moved to Madison, and I am very sorry to hear of his passing. Nancy, I offer my deepest condolences to you and your family.
People who only saw Lauren from afar got a skewed impression of him. If you were closer to Lauren, you knew he could be very thoughtful and kind. And no one was more dedicated to art and teaching than Lauren.
I participated in a class with Lauren on the Hudson River school of painting. He showed slides of these paintings, and often accompanied the images with slides of the same location taken today. You could see the changes in the place from exactly the same spot in which the painter had stood. I asked the students If they had noticed those slides, and pointed out to them that in order to prepare for the class, Lauren had traveled to each location in order to take the recent photographs. That exemplifies his approach to teaching.
Every time Lauren and Nancy traveled my mailbox would fill with reviews, notices, and articles of exhibitions they had seen. And all of their travel was based on the opportunity to see art.
Lauren and Nancy entertained countless students at their home, and always had the pre-reunion night for department majors at their home.
Thank you, Fred. I know my dad had tremendous respect for you and your work. When I showed him the Facebook post about his nomination as most "transformative" prof of the '80s, we were both delighted to see you'd gotten the same honor for the '90s. My daughter happily has one of your prints from the old house in her bedroom.
Upon returning to Carleton as a faculty member I literally ran into Lauren at noon ball. Afterwards we had a conversation about his intro art history which I took as a student. I informed him about how one could doze in the lecture hall by simply sitting near the slide projectors. He gave me that Lauren smile and stated “I hope you didn’t do that”! Truthfully I didn’t! It was a great class taught by fantastic guy!
For many many (many) years I used to organize and then moderate a Carleton "quizbowl" exhibition event every year during Family Weekend, that featured the finals of the student campus tournament followed by a best two out of three games buzzer battle between a student team and a faculty/staff all star team. For most of those years the faculty/staff quiz team was anchored by Lauren Soth, and many of my best memories of Lauren concern the keenness and relish with which he competed--hard!--in that annual event. Lauren wanted to win! And he knew his stuff: he regularly showed himself to be a well-rounded fount of knowledge spanning all corners of the liberal arts (and a bit of pop culture too).
(Possibly crypic email username there. This was Eric Hillemann, Carleton archivist, and former coach of Carleton's academic quiz teams.)
Thank you, Eric Hilleman, for making mention of the Quiz Bowl. I know he loved it. After my brother Chris moved here to Madison and got an apartment next to my parents' assisted living facility, he went over every day to watch Jeopardy with them. I joined when I could, and was there on his last day and he was still able to answer questions.
I remember Lauren from my first days at Carleton. He was an icon, and someone with an amazing reputation. I got to know him a little better during some of the tenure appeals of the 1980s. I was always struck by his high standards, his integrity, and his willingness to put himself out there to make something right. He will very much be missed!
I'll always remember running into Lauren at a local garage sale...
we each arrived on our (very) old bicycles and soon gravitated
to the same table of vintage shirts. We had our hands on the same
shirt at the same time - the fight was on - but my grab was quicker!
Was so glad to have known Lauren in Boliou and around the neighborhood.
And a huge bonus was getting to know Nancy.
Miss you in Northfield, Nancy...
Vintage shirts! I never thought of his wardrobe in those terms exactly. Thank you for that memory.
Lauren had an office at Goodsell basement after he retired. I had an office at Goodsell basement for a few years and that's how I got to know Lauren. Although our interactions never went beyond greeting each other, he had a kindness that made it always a delight seeing him at Goodsell.
Lauren opened my eyes to the world of art.
I very much enjoyed the art history class I took from Lauren...what was it then, Art History 12?...he was an engaging lecturer. And I very much appreciated this: I was back on campus to speak to a small group several years later, and it was at an odd time, I think on a Sunday evening...he went out of his way to stop by and say hi. That touched me. I'm so sorry he's gone.
J.G., I was thinking of you when I wrote about non-majors appreciating the survey course over time!
It didn't get much more non-major than me, Andy. :)
I feared and respected Lauren as his art history student, but like many, I, too, came to know his softer side. He was incredibly caring, and I was especially touched when, upon his retirement, he sent me part of his art history library. It was a welcome surprise to receive this package of classic books on renaissance art, sent halfway across the country, and it was a real testament to his commitment to his former students.
I so enjoyed talking with Lauren and Nancy at many Carleton events. Particularly the Community Holiday Party. Lauren came along and enjoyed the party. Nancy was always dressed very festively and made the rounds to talk with everyone. Lauren appeared to have a tough exterior, but he was really a sweetheart once you got to know him. My deepest sympathy at your loss, Nancy and family.
I saw Lauren at a CAA reception the year I had a one-year teaching position. It was not a good fit, and I was having a rough time. I can’t remember his exact words, but the gist was, “Don’t let anyone try to make you be someone you are not.” I felt seen, supported. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
I worked closely with Lauren on those slides! His fantastic collection of now digital images is located at https://contentdm.carleton.edu/digital/collection/LSAS (also in Jstor and the Digital Public Library of America). Lauren's meticulous work on these images (as Fred Hagstrom mentioned) is still vital. Wei-Hsin Fu and her students have recently added geotags and in 2015 NBC contacted Carleton to use his images of the Bonwit Teller building in a documentary. He was a wonderful and dedicated teacher and friend.
As a studio art major, I had several classes led by this legend. Lauren Soth terrified me early on & I always, alway made it to his class on time. Everything for me changed when he described a chair designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as "constipating." His command of a classroom and descriptive Art History language has stayed with me all these years. RIP Lauren Soth.
Professor Soth had the best vocabulary of adjectives and he knew how to use them. It was a pleasure to attend his Intro to Art History lectures... a terrifying pleasure. He was one of my favorite professors at Carleton.
We started sort of together.
A gentleman of immense generosity.
A truly kind man.
A true scholar.
Lauren changed my life.
Thank you, LS
Prof. Soth was pointed out to me soon after I started at Carleton in 2005 as a living legend. From my office, I saw him almost daily walk back and forth between Boliou and the Libe – one stack of oversized books being returned, a new stack going home with him. Later, he and I realized that we were both inveterate bike commuters, and compared our rides: his vintage machine and my, uh, modern one. Later still, I worked with him a bit on some small art history projects he was wrapping up, which gave me the briefest glimpse into his incredible knowledge. He'll be missed.
My favorite memory of Lauren was when we taught an American Studies seminar on American Architecture in the 1970s. Every class we argued and disagreed. Lauren read the buildings through the lens of style while I set them in the context of political and social change. The students loved it. They had never heard an extended debate among two faculty members. I learned a lot in the process and look back fondly on our friendship.
My favorite class, hands down.
My favorite class as well. It was truly a great treat. And I loved the fact that everyone in the class got a B, because if you focused on the art, you got an A from Lauren and a C from Cliff, and if you focused on the context you got a C from Lauren and an A from Cliff
I don’t know how I was aware that you taught this class with Lauren, but I remember practically begging him to teach it with you again. I also remember getting a rather terse response with a sly smile.
I enjoyed him as a professor, and got to enjoy his wit and insights later at a Paul Gauguin exhibit in Boston. Through his wonderful remarks and patient question- answering, he helped me develop a greater appreciation for Gauguin, and I think so fondly of that experience. What a teacher!
Lauren presented a gruff exterior as a prof, but he was a staunch supporter of students. I appreciated his straightforward and clear-minded critiques of my writing and ideas. He was (sometimes brutally) honest, but always constructive, and often delivered with a sly wit. I once told him about an internship I had worked out for the upcoming summer and the next time I saw him he had secured some grant money to help me cover my costs. I used to play noonball (pickup basketball games at lunchtime) with him quite often (and with Fred too)--so much fun and a kind of bonding you don't get very often among faculty and students.
I was in one of Lauren Soth's first classes at Carleton (1964, Introduction--Renaissance to Present). While I was in the science, math (and eventually social science) area, I really liked his class which I took to fulfill distributional requirements (personal style and all). For my last class reunion I wrote in our reunion book that he opened my eyes to art and I was able to appreciate what I learned while traveling abroad and visiting museums throughout my life. I was surprised and appreciative when he came over to me at a reunion dinner to thank me for my remarks and say he was glad I got value from the course. A great scholar and influential faculty member.
My first faculty advisor. My major advisor. And most importantly, my friend. It's very hard for me to put into words the impact Lauren had my life. I treasure the memory of all the hours I spent at Nancy and Lauren's house. (Often overstaying my welcome at parties, I'm sure, but they were too gracious to throw me out.) I remember once getting a B+ on a term paper and feeling like I'd won the Nobel Peace Prize because his academic standards were so high. He is the only professor at Carleton that I ever heard get a round of applause after one of his lectures. Two of them, in fact. One of those lectures was his incredible take on what a gothic cathedral must've meant to "Pierre," the average medieval guy on the street. I'm proud to say my attention was so rapt that I was never struck by an eraser or a piece of chalk in four years. Nor was I surprised to see the man once called "The Bearded Bard of the Baroque" honored as the best professor of the 1980s. My love to Nancy, Andy, and Chris. Thank you for sharing him with all of us. P.S. When the comp examiner wrote on my test paper, "Mr. Armstrong's writing has a nice aura about it," Lauren added a note: "There's another word for this."
I particularly remember an art history class when some students complained about a test question not being fair because they’d never seen the sculpture before. Lauren Soth exploded and said something like “That is a Jacques Lipchitz sculpture, it sits on a pedestal in the Carleton library where you’ve passed it a hundred times, and if you can’t bother to notice the art in front of your face you certainly don’t deserve a point on my test.” He was an exceptional teacher and his lessons continue to resonate when I think about art and architecture.
I took all 3 of the intro to Art History classes, and they are classes that have stayed with me in large part thanks to Lauren Soth. Those were large lecture classes that once a week broke down into smaller discussion groups. In one such group, Prof Soth asked us to describe a painting of Christ being taken off the cross. I mustered up some courage and said that the figure appeared stiff to which Prof Soth, somewhat dismissively said, “Miss Gramentine, have you never heard of rigor mortis?” As I was slinking into my seat, I’m pretty sure I saw a hint of a smile on his face. That was Lauren Soth in a nutshell. You might initially be intimidated by him, but it didn’t take long to see that along with his demanding standards was a professor as dedicated to his students as he was to art history. Next time I’m on campus, I’m pretty sure that if I squint my eyes and look across the Bald Spot, I’ll see Lauren Soth biking across campus.
As soon as I arrived on campus to teach in the art dept in 2001, Nancy and Lauren invited my son and me to a Lutifisk dinner in the basement of a nearby church- it was a ritual of theirs. We had many lovely dinners at their home. I quite adored Lauren's sense of humor. He will be missed.
Sending my love to Nancy and family,
I took an architecture course from Lauren as my Freshman seminar, so he was my advisor until I declared a Biology major. I subsequently took several art history classes from him. These were my fun classes; a break from science where I sewed quilt squares while viewing slides. He gave me an appreciation of art and architecture that remains.
Lauren instilled a life-long love of art in this scientist. I am so grateful for his insights and humor and for the Carleton experience of the liberal arts, which enriched my life tremendously. Our children - both scientists themselves - have benefited from Lauren's teachings as well, as art museums, installations, galleries are all part of our times together.
Lauren taught me how to look at the details, whether the 'blasted tree' in a Thomas Cole painting or the ornamentation of a Louis Sullivan building. He opened my eyes to the world of American art and architecture. And every smack of his pointer against the screen brought home how this great teacher was also a performance artist. His classes are among my many fond memories of Carleton.
I learned of Lauren’s passing last night, literally just back from a walk with my partner during which we shared stories about professors who had sparked our love of art history. I had been talking about Lauren.
Like many, my first mind bending encounter was his Van Gogh lecture in the spring Introduction to Art History course. I was fortunate to grapple with him for the following three years over the tension between verbal and visual that infuses my life to this day. His love for art and words was palpable and transmissible. He strove for excellence and cultivated curiosity.
There are so many things I want to say about this man, but one stands out. His gruffness was equally matched with compassion. He cultivated a beautiful garden. He stayed patient with me when I was overwhelmed with a paper and fell apart in his office. He kept (and would bring out to show when I visited) the little chunk of the Robie House I scavenged from the construction site during renovation.
All of this was available to anyone who looked closely, as he would have wanted you to do. His commitment to the work mirrored it. And Nancy, his effervescent counterpoint.
He will be remembered fondly.
Lauren Soth made Art History come alive and become my favorite study subject at Carleton. I remember sitting on the floor down in the bowels of the Libe with art history books spread out all around me, trying to understand a particular aspect of an artist's work that Prof. Soth had shared in class. While I did not major in Art History, Prof. Soth's classes inspired me to pursue visual arts related positions throughout my career, and to this day the arts are integral to my being. I also remember getting beaned directly in the middle of my forehead by an eraser during my first (early morning!) survey class with Prof. Soth...he had a sure throwing arm and an excellent eye! He will be missed by many, but his legacy will continue for eons in the countless students he impacted.
It was Lauren Soth who launched my academic career when he offered me a visiting artist gig at Carleton College from 1984-86. It my first full-time teaching position. He had invited me in the spring of 1983 to give talks on my work. He had been following my art career in NYC and thought it would be good for students to hear from me. Students loved my talks, and when the art department suddenly had to replace Deborah Brown who had taken an emergency leave, I was the first person they called. I am indebted to him for this - he truly believed in my work.
Lauren had a persona that bristled; he was not shy to give acidic retorts or wickedly probing questions. He was also unexpectedly kind and curious. Given that I and a fierce cohort of baby feminist artists did a sit-down strike in his office when he was chair of the art department when we were juniors (in 1974), and that he conceded that we were right and gave us a budget to bring in visiting women artists, brought in female art historians, and more, it was to his credit that 10 years later, he was able to offer me a gig with all sorts of perks. He was on board with my retooling traditional art classes to make them socially engaged and interdisciplinary, and to my great delight, I saw that he had added a plentitude of women and artists of color to his art history lectures. We met up at the College Art Association for many years after my return to Carleton and he was never shy to tease me about my career, and I was always glad to hear his stories.
I am grateful for all Lauren offered me and so many other Carls. He will be deeply missed.
Thanks for this tribute Beverly. I think your presence in the department emboldened this “baby feminist” and I learned to all but recite “Why have there been no great women artists” - as you might imagine some of my peers and I did have occasion to argue such matters with him even in the mid-80s. 😉
Belated thanks for that feedback, Amy! I'm always glad to hear that a door was opened for more subversion of the status quo. Lauren was such a good hearted adversary, and thankfully willing to engage in the reframing of the discourse. Hope you're well!
Lauren Soth was a remarkable professor and an inspiring lecturer and I feel lucky to have been one of his students. I can still recall some of his lectures from my Freshman year in the survey courses. His opening lines about Rembrandt jolted me awake on a cold winter morning. He always encouraged my interest in working directly with art object and museums. HIs course on 20th entry architecture shaped my interest in public spaces and museums. My condolences to his wonderful wife Nancy.
I owe so much to the Art History professors at Carleton—I also became an art historian and college professor. I remember taking one of Lauren’s classes and he helped me with my writing so much. He was definitely part of the reason why I pursued art history even after graduation. Thank you so much for your passion in the field!
Even though I was a studio art major I never experienced Lauren as a professor... perhaps because I was a bit scared off of his classes by his reputation! But I got to know him and Nancy as a staff member and over the years grew to really appreciate his kind, thoughtful, and fiercely engaged true nature... and to regret never taking one of his classes. I will certainly miss seeing him when I visit campus.
Like many I learned a lot from Lauren as an art history major in the early 70s. I have a particular memory of a pink knitted garment he often wore….sort of a knee-length sweater, but knitted like a fish net with many spaces. He was a master of stopping mid-sentence when someone came in late, and then starting precisely where he had left off. He introduced me to the mysteries of the slide collection, with those racks that pulled out. One very fond memory is his taking a group of students to the then-new Walker Art Center building. It was after graduation that I learned of Lauren’s kindness and continuing interest in his students. After completing an MA my plans for moving directly to a PhD fell through, and I ended up doing other things for a couple of years until I eventually found my way to the right program. In that interim, Lauren called me to see how I was doing, and to offer his help with future recommendations. At one point he hired me to grade papers for him. Once I established a career, he was always interested in what I was doing, and I enjoyed the occasional visit, usually when on campus for a class reunion. He modeled in so many ways what it is to be a teacher and mentor.
Floyd, thank you so much for the memory of the pink knit garment. Lauren Soth was always the character to watch as he covered countless aspects of a period of art or architecture. To this day, I give him credit as I correctly answer a question on Jeopardy. He left such vivid impressions that many have remained with me for 50+ years! My condolences to his family. We will all miss seeing him whenever we visit Northfield again.
My favorite Lauren Soth story is from my senior year as an art history major. Many art history students had taken, as I did, a couple of years of studio art. It was announced that Carleton had no money in the budget that year to pay for nude models in the classroom. Some of us offered to take on the job at the college rate of $1.05 per hour, but the Dean of Students forbade that. I was grumpy about it, since I had learned so much from figure drawing. A few weeks later, a couple of students in my dorm were chatting about a proposed new photography contest. I offered to model nude while doing modern dance, on condition that they keep the fact quiet and did not enter any photo that showed who I was (since the Dean had forbidden it). I approved the photo they entered in the contest, which was quite blurred in movement. When the exhibit of photos opened, I went along to view them. When I reached the photo of myself, Lauren Soth strolled to me, leaned over and whispered, "that IS you, isn't it?" To this day, I fondly hope it was just an excellent artistic eye that resulted in his recognition and that the rest of the viewers had no idea. He never said another word about it.
I didn’t know there was a subject called art history when a friend told me about a class that was kind of like the TV show Civilization. I’d liked the show so decided to take the class. Lauren taught it. I liked the class so much that, after I got over being afraid of Lauren (see Wizard of Oz), I became an art history major, focusing mostly on the areas in which Lauren specialized.
One of my proudest moments at Carleton was when I had to teach the introductory Renaissance class. I dressed as closely as I could to the way Lauren did, picked on students with questions, and, at the end, after making an emphatic point, broke the pointer over my knee and tossed it on the ground. I was worried about Lauren’s response. I watched him as the class ended. He showed nothing until he left the auditorium. When he was outside, I heard his laugh. I was greatly relieved.
I am saddened to hear of Lauren’s passing. I loved being an art history major, declaring late freshman year. Lauren’s deep knowledge and passion for the subject made his classes very interesting and he taught me a lot. Some years after graduation I attended a reception for past and present art and art history majors hosted by Lauren and Nancy, who were in Chicago for the College Art Association conference. They were so funny and charming. I enjoyed meeting the fun, unguarded Lauren he showed to colleagues and graduates. I could have talked to them both for hours and probably hogged their attention that evening. My condolences to his family and many friends.
I am so sad to learn of Lauren's passing. Not only did I learn everything I know about art, but I also learned how to work and prepare from Lauren. His faux-curmudgeon facade housed a great mind, a great wit and a great heart. His compassion during my challenging years will never be forgotten. I miss seeing him in town, and also miss dear Nancy.
Love to the family.
Lauren was one of my favorite professors. To this day I think about his beautifully crafted lectures, delivered in paragraphs punctuated with "and etcetera." His style was distinctive, too. Those oversized sweaters. Am I remembering correctly when I see him standing in front of us, the serious professor, wearing a sweater with a Looney Tunes character on it: Donald Duck or Tweety Bird? My condolences to Lauren's family.
Correction: Daffy Duck.
Very sad news indeed. Lauren was for me first an inspiring teacher, then mentor, then friend. I became an art historian because of him. His passion for art history and intellectual rigor was always evident in his famously demanding classes. This passion was reflected in his deep concern for his students. Although sometimes concealed behind a gruff exterior, he missed nothing in his observations of the abilities and struggles of his students, and he loved to follow the course of their lives and careers, always offering encouragement.
His wide-ranging scholarly research took him from the Italian Renaissance to Van Gogh and LeCorbusier, among other topics. Lauren was tireless in his travels to architectural sites and museums, seemingly never missing an exhibition, and his slides enriched the lectures and the college. He had a keen sense of humor, and never lost his taste for the art of cartoons. He once confessed that his childhood nickname was "Mickey," after the famous mouse -- something I never would have guessed as a student. There were many sides to this complex man.
So sorry to hear this; I had been thinking a lot about Professor Soth recently. When I took a public speaking course at Carleton, I gave a talk on how he was my favorite professor, regaling the class with anecdotes about him. He gave me a lifelong love of American Art, as well as Architecture. He was my thesis advisor, and since my thesis was on comic book images in pop art, he wore the cartoon duck sweater to introduce me.
I got to know Lauren after graduating, thru my husband Jeff Howe '73, an art historian. I regret never taking one of his famous art history classes, but I so enjoyed seeing him and Nancy after we graduated. Lauren once rode his bike from New York City to our house near Boston. I was very impressed! I've always been grateful to Lauren for the huge influence he had on Jeff's career, and for his and Nancy's friendship to both of us. My condolences to Nancy and the whole family.
Lauren Soth was high on my list of favorite professors at Carleton. When I returned to campus after graduating I so looked forward to visiting with Lauren and Nancy. I must admit it took me a while to get past the facade to see the man underneath. As we all know he could be very intimidating. He was a committed and gifted teacher. I am so grateful to have been his student.
Lauren was as kind outside of the classroom as he was formidable in the classroom. He was always challenging and pushing us to think more critically about art and artists. I was many years into my career as a Museum educator when I realized that I often start gallery conversations about art in the same way that Lauren would begin so many of those lively dialogues that we had in his classes. And he continued to support and encourage his students long after they left Carleton. When I asked him to give a talk about the Ash Can School to Carleton alums at an event in Detroit and he and Nancy came without hesitation. That was just who he was. I will miss our conversations at reunion, his dry sense of humor, and his passion for art which has definitely inspired me throughout my career.
Lauren was one of my favorite professors. So eloquent when he lectured. He also had a wickedly fun sense of humor. And as an alum, he checked in and was always gracious at Carleton events. Very nice man. It's a sad loss for the college and the field of art history. My best to his family, his colleagues, and his many former students.
I was lucky to be Lauren's student in the 70s and luckier to be his colleague for a year about a decade later. He and Alison Kettering made a point of debriefing after each 101/02/03 lecture, guiding young professionals as appropriate but also letting us develop our own interpretation of the field. My most vivid memory of this was after a Cubism lecture which I developed very differently than he did. He pressed for an explanation but was open to my approach which gave me confidence to expand my ideas further. Teaching with him was a great gift.
Lauren ("Sothy" behind his back) inspired me to be an art history major, and my world was profoundly changed by that, through him. After graduation, he continued to inspire me with occasional, and quite brief, emails, and he and Nancy always received me graciously when I visited Northfield. Gosh.
Remembering his American flag sweater and flip-flops outfit...
I have worked in Alumni Relations since 1992. Lauren was our most-requested faculty speaker for regional Carleton programs, over many years, both U.S. and internationally. One year at his peak, we made a “road show” t-shirt for him with all the cities he’d visited. Alumni loved his lectures and his accessibility. As a student of Lauren’s I can attest to the respect he demanded (and received) and his incredible skill as a teacher. He was dedicated to keeping in touch with alumni. I will really miss him.
Arriving at Carleton as a freshman, I was convinced that I was going to major in foreign language and work for the United Nations after graduation. And then in the spring of that year, I took my first art history class, team taught by Lauren with Alison Kettering. I never looked back. Lauren was a man who did indeed terrify me just a little with his "gruff exterior," but who, as many have already noted, was also in possession of a great and very dry wit. He made me a passionate, life-long devotee of Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, and I can still hear his Modern Architecture lectures in my head 25 years later. I will never forget his description of Gaudi's Casa Mila - like a butterfly, flap, flap (just imagine that last bit in Lauren's best deadpan, it'll take you right back!). Over the course of my four years at Carleton, Lauren challenged me to be a better writer, a better analytical thinker, a better advocate for my ideas and observations, and it is undeniable that my students owe him a great debt as I would not be the art historian and educator I am today without him. The friend who convinced me to take that art history survey freshman year put it quite perfectly I think - Lauren! Oh, he was a formidable fellow! My deepest condolences to the entire Soth family. He will be missed.
One of my enduring Carleton memories is of signing up for Lauren's classes just to listen to him lecture. I was a terrible Art History student but kept coming back for more. A dozen years after I graduated, I was working on a book about night and wrote to Lauren about whether van Gogh had painted "Starry Night on the Rhone" on-site or in the studio. He responded, "He probably did both: painted on site and touched up in the studio. In Letter 543 in the 1958 edition of his letters he writes, "the starry sky actually painted at night under a gas jet."" I had a feeling Lauren would have such specific and fascinating information to share. I'm sad to hear of his passing. I'll never forget him.
I remember three specific lectures from my Carleton education. One was by geo prof Duncan Stewart. The other two were given by Lauren -- one on Chartres Cathedral, featuring a gothic arch and one of the rose windows and Gregorian chants, and one on Van Gogh, focusing on his correspondence with his brother. They were ... masterful.
He was, yes, intimidating. And more. As I discovered when I became publications director and alumni magazine editor at Carleton four years after graduating. I was thrilled / scared to death when he asked me to be on his quiz bowl team in a face-off with another faculty-staff team. I was not sure what I brought to the table. Trivia, as it turns out. After we won, he congratulated himself for having picked me since nobody else on the team, he swore, would have come up with answers like "Evel Knievel" and "choir/quire" (a homonym meaning a vocal group and a quantity of paper). I felt like I just earned an A+ from him, something I did not manage to do in those art survey courses. He will be missed.
Nancy Ashmore '72
I remember that magical Chartres Cathedral lecture too! As other have mentioned, I was a little frightened of him, but when I needed a break on a deadline because of a personal issue, he was more than gracious. I still remember his comment—-I can’t read all the papers right away anyway, your’s will just magically appear at the bottom of the pile. Pam ‘72
When I was in charge of Loan Services at the Carleton Library, I could count on almost daily visits from Lauren, since the library was his second home on campus. He loved to needle me about library hours, nasty overdue notices, and anything he deemed needing attention in the library. Our bantering was great fun as we verbally volleyed back and forth! I also saw the great compassion Lauren showed library staff members when going through difficult times. Lauren never failed to inquire about their well-being. He cared deeply for the staff of his beloved library.
Art history major
Class of '77
To me, Lauren Soth was really THE person who defined what good teaching was. I can clearly remember specific lectures that he gave. For example, on the first day of our American Art class, Lauren had, for each student registered in the class, researched their hometown and identified a specific piece of American art located there. (Pre-Internet, what a a ton of work that required!) In my case he had found a painting hanging in a museum in little Setauket, where I went to high school, yet one I had never seen. Lauren's point, to us majors but also to all his students, was not to neglect the art in our backyard; more generally, he urged us to keep our eyes wide open as we regarded the world around us.
I went on to work in art museums professionally (primarily in museum education) and stayed connected to Lauren for many years. Eventually, I left the field and switched to teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). To this day, Lauren's repeated demonstrations of how to be a demanding but caring, learner-centered teacher influenced my approach to education. He even played a leading role in an art museum dream I had only a few months ago; I was grateful to be able to relay that story to him via his son.
I owe Lauren a debt of gratitude and send my heartfelt condolences to Nancy, Chris, Andy, and the entire Soth family.
In my earliest memory of Lauren, he is walking, with an exceptionally measured and slow pace, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, across Boliou’s auditorium stage. The sound of his Dr.Scholl-clad footsteps punctuates the rhythm of his voice as he lectures, to a packed house. Behind him, two large projected images: One, Andrew Wyeth’s fastidiously rendered, hyper-realistic Christina’s World. The other, Jackson Pollock’s No. 1 (1948), with its choreographed chaos of drips, splashes, and other purely painterly marks. That two such different looking paintings were created in the same year, 1948, immediately piqued my interest. Clearly the study of art history was going to be a very interesting, messy, affair! However, Lauren – Professor Soth to me at that point, and for many years after – had a larger point to make. He aimed to put to rest any assumption that being able to paint realistically was the only artistic skill worth admiring. And he did so, in dramatic, compelling, and utterly unforgettable terms. Or at least that is how I remember it, over four decades ago now. Little would I have dreamed, back in my first year at Carleton, that I would come to work at the museum that owned those two paintings (the Wyeth and the Pollock). Nor, and much more importantly, that the awe-inspiring and seemingly remote Lauren Soth would be someone who kept in touch with me, as he did with his many other students, for the rest of his extraordinary life. Before the pandemic, not a year went by when emails weren’t exchanged, or that he and Nancy came to New York to visit; he always knew what my latest projects were, asked great questions about them, and to this day I can remember what it felt like when he raised an eyebrow, and in his inimitable deadpan style would say “Really?” Keeping us all on our toes and humble to the end. Brilliant art historians are rare. Those who are great teachers and compassionate human beings are even rarer. Lauren was all and more. I trust each of us fortunate enough to have known him carry a bit of him with us, so that although he will be missed, tremendously, he will never gone. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude and send my heartfelt condolences to Nancy, Chris, Andy, and the entire Soth Family.
Lauren was my first advisor and one of the reasons that I became an art historian. Once, when I was giving a graduate school paper at a conference in New York, I looked up to see Lauren in the audience. He demanded, but also gave a lot, and I am so grateful he was assigned as my advisor my freshman year at Carleton.
I loved Professor Soth's class - without a doubt, one of my most memorable Carleton experiences. I still have my H.W. Janson History of Art book right here next to my desk and I have referred to it many times over the years - always remembering where my interest in art history started. Professor Soth's legacy is the wide spread and lasting inspiration he gave to so many.
Although at the time I was terrified of Lauren Soth as he was continually trying to pound into me a form of Art Historical analysis, I grew to like him (and his sarcastic honesty) years later when we would meet up for Alumni gatherings. He cared deeply for his subject, his students, his family. I always knew he was a cool guy as I liked his wife tremendously. In later years, as I have poured out book after book, Lauren Soth was always quick to say how proud he was of me...And I of him and his legacy at Carleton. He will always be present in our hearts.
I came to Carleton just after Lauren retired but was glad to meet him at receptions and department events. Lauren and Nancy were both always kind to me when we would run into each other at the Rec Center, around town, and in Boliou. Lauren's unwavering commitment to Carleton Art History alums was inspiring and helped to shape how I gather students, alums, and friends at the ceramics conference each year. I miss the newspaper articles Lauren would slip into my mailbox-- never with much of a note except to say "I thought this might interest you". It seems he kept everyone in mind while moving through his daily activities. My last encounter with Lauren was shortly after my mother-in-law passed away and her electric lift chair needed a new home. It was an honor to deliver the chair to Lauren and Nancy in hopes of easing their days a bit. My condolences to the Soth family and all those touched by Lauren's presence.
I was afraid and in awe of Professor Soth. I remember he was a fabulous lecturer pacing back and forth in the Scholl's sandals and sweeping sweater vest and the pointer! Yes! His vocabulary and insights were really thrilling. I never felt I could afford to return to campus for a reunion, and never developed a continuing relationship, but I remember like it was captured in amber my days taking classes from him and Prof. Haworth. And I feel privileged to have learned enough from him to still enjoy the art and architecture I get to see when traveling or adventuring near home. Please share my sympathy with his family.
My deepest condolences to dear Nancy and the family. I knew Lauren best through Nancy, and from being on the faculty Quiz Bowl team in our annual duels with the student tournament champs. He was quick on the buzzer and not only killed all the art and literature questions, but know a whole lot about everything else. I had heard that he was a legendary teacher, and appreciated his gruff exterior and sly sense of humor. I always felt well rewarded when I got him to laugh!
First, I took the year-long intro sequence but for less credit so as not to write the final paper. I concentrated in classical languages, not art history.
My memories of Lauren Soth are still so very vivid, it's a little scary. I can easily recollect some of his gruffer comments or motions, e.g., in that Boliou auditorium with no center aisle, only by pointing with the huge long staff, he made some latecomer sit in the very middle which meant climbing over everyone to get to the specific seat, and he'd wait until that was accomplished. But his lectures were riveting, e.g., who paid and how the great cathedrals were built, and incorporated great drama. Who doesn't remember his stalking back and forth in silhouette with the long pointer to show something we all would have missed? He was very influential, knowledgeable, entertaining, and he deserved to live to a ripe old age.
I was heartbroken to learn about Lauren's passing. When I started college (in 1988) I don’t think I even knew what art history was. But spring of freshman year I took Lauren’s Intro to Modern Art class, and it literally changed my life. I ended up majoring in art history (and also in psychology) and eventually going on to get a master’s degree in it as well. Lauren helped me to see the world differently, to think more critically, to be more appreciative of art and craft and beauty, and even to be a better writer. Lauren was tough, but I liked that. And I found it ironic my senior year when, as a major, I helped grade papers, and Lauren told me not to be so harsh! I kept in touch with Lauren over the years. If we happened to be visiting campus, I usually bumped into him and we’d chat and catch up, and my husband, Tomkin ('91), and I always attended the party that he and Nancy hosted the opening night of reunion weekend. Lauren sparked my love of Mondrian and De Stijl, so I loved getting to tell him about the trip Tomkin and I took to the Netherlands in 2017 (where I’d also been lucky enough to spend one college term on an off-campus art history program my junior year). Knowing that I train dogs, Lauren sent me a newspaper clipping about a museum's "canine pest-control system" and suggested maybe we could train our dogs to protect De Stijl works. The last time I saw Lauren was at the Carleton reunion in 2018, and I’m glad I told him (repeatedly) how much he meant to me and had impacted my life. I will always be incredibly grateful to have known and learned from Lauren. Of the many valuable experiences I had at Carleton, that stands out as one of the most profound.
Unfortunately, I discovered him late in my Carleton career. Yet he taught me two important skills. The first was how to write. The second, and more dear, was how to depict the visual world with written words. These gifts were bestowed gratis.
Lauren was an amazing colleague, challenging and insightful. I vividly remember each of his class visits during my third year review. His presence remains in Boliou, especially in the old slide library. Indeed the slide projectors he used are still waiting in 104... I don't think any of us are fully ready to say goodbye. He taught me so much about how to teach at Carleton – his compassion for the students and the department inspire me still. Thanks too to Nancy for all the love and support (and delicious food) you gave to the staff, faculty, and students over so many years.
Professor Soth was a memorable professor, partly because of his intimidating demeanor. Winter trimester of my sophomore year I foolishly signed up for 7 AM classes 6 days a week. However, I was seldom late to the 3 days a week I went to his Art History survey class, even when I had to walk across campus on those chilly Saturday mornings at 7 am. If you walked in late to that darkened room he would stop his lecture and say “Students (pause) please be to class on time” in front of the entire, large, very silent class. Late students would scurry to their seats in humiliation. Years later, in my career as a high school Art teacher, I would occasionally try the same line (thinking of Professor Soth), but it lacked the dramatic impact when I tried it.
Later I took an American (20th century?) art history class from Professor Soth. During one class I actually interrupted him & questioned something he said in his lecture (something about the reason that a style of skyscrapers had staggered heights instead of ending at one level). I recall some students gasping when I dared contradict him, but he said in his measured tone “Yes, I know the textbook says..., but ...” and he repeated his point. (I forget the adjective he used, but remember the general meaning.). I definitely learned a lot from him. The background in art history that I received was invaluable in my teaching later.
I guess it must have been Lauren Soth's first year at Carleton then...my sophomore year...a class in art history. He gave me a positive comment on my observation about some kind of transition in architecture, or art. in Greek or Roman (does it really matter these 50 some years later if I even remember the detail?). What I recall most was the very kind and supportive way he gave me the comment....still makes my heart feel good.
Lauren was a presence!
My gratitude and love for him and for Nancy started when I came to Art History late in Junior year. As it happens we got closer as the years passed. We visited one another in Northfield and in Mew York City. On our most recent visit, right before Lauren and Nancy left their lovely home, they were able to welcome my son to campus -- he started as a freshman the following fall.
My memories run deep -- from being enthralled at Lauren's command of adjectives, to loving to get a laugh from him when he was "pretend-grumping", to sharing a passion for Van Gogh.
My heart is tight with sorrow for the Soth Family's and all of our loss. But it is also filled with gratitude for having had the priveledge to explore both Art and Life with Nancy and Lauren.
And sorry for the typos -- *New York City
I took art history from Lauren, like hundreds or thousands of other lucky Carls, and experienced first hand his gruff (and in the moment occasionally scary) way of teaching. But I treasure everything I learned -- it has enhanced every visit to an art museum ever since. I also found a loophole in my Russian major which allowed me to do comps half in the studio art department (with Fred Hagstrom, an amazing experience on so many levels). I graduated in 1988. A few years ago Lauren came to Seattle and gave a lecture to local alums in advance of a guided tour of an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. I of course jumped at the chance to learn from him again. I introduced myself and explained our Carleton connection, and he told me, "of course I remember you." I was one person in an art history survey class thirty years prior, and besides my admittedly somewhat unusual participation in the art department, no different from the hundreds (or thousands) of students he'd taught, but he remembered me. AND, he was cheerful and welcoming, not gruff at all in this setting. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to learn from him, and then later meet him in less intimidating circumstances and adjust my views of him. What a force of nature.
Lauren was appointed as my advisor when I declared Art History as my major and, having not taken a class with him at that time, was a bit nervous. (He wasn’t really one to smile for no reason.) But he became a favorite - both as a mentor and a professor. His pithy critiques made my writing stronger. And his dry, subtle humor always made me laugh. He will be greatly missed.
I took 101/102/103 from Lauren and Alison Kettering, and it was an incredibly enriching experience. I remember one particular conversation we had about studio art, and I said I hadn’t registered for any studio classes because I didn’t feel confident in my abilities. He immediately stood up for me and encouraged me to keep drawing and painting. That meant a lot to me. I will be thinking of his family and friends.
I took Professor Soth's intro to modern art class more than 30 years ago, and I'm still grateful for it. I love and understand modern art because of his class, and I still think about all I learned from him every time I go to a museum or see a great piece of architecture. He was formidable! But I also remember running into him in town once after finishing his class. He recognized me (which was itself a feat as it was a big class and the room was usually darkened for slides) and was so friendly and full of smiles it was quite a contrast with his classroom persona.
As an art history major in ‘68, Lauren taught us much more than art history. He inspired us to look, think, and write in a disciplined way. Beyond classes, Lauren and Nancy became personal friends with my family members. We will miss Lauren and Nancy and send condolances to the family
I have a vivid mental image of Lauren's over-the-top description of a painting by Fragonard; it combined a truly Rococo string of adjectives with an extra punch of body language. Genius.
I treasure his Architecture at Carleton: A Brief History and Guide, which I received during a tour he led on campus during a recent reunion. His keen analysis and explanation of the historical context enriches my memory of campus and inspires me each time I read it.
Also, I have a very blurry photo of Lauren celebrating with me after graduation. How thoughtful of him to find me and my family in that milling mass--icing on the cake.
All of these comments are so true and perceptive about Lauren. He was a legendary teacher, a mentor, loyal friend, perceptive critic, brilliant observer, renaissance man. Lauren and Nancy visited us often in Washington to see museum exhibitions that weren't going beyond the beltway, and to lecture to Carleton alums. Lauren was always erudite and entertaining about art and art history, and so much more. I can see him now wearing thick socks with his Birkenstock sandals (no matter the weather) and walking up Capitol Hill (when a taxi would have made more sense). Then in our living room he would quiz me about museum life and talk to Steve about baseball with equal enthusiasm -- always with quizzical lifted eyebrows - terrifying in class and endearing in life!! And Nancy making everything joyful and funny - Lauren's perfect partner in every way!!
We're so sad to realize that this extraordinary man is gone. We miss Lauren and send love to Nancy and all the Soth family.
Maygene Frost Daniels '70
Steve Daniels (not a Carleton grad but a committed Soth fan!!)
Lauren Soth was my art history professor back in the late seventies/early eighties. I remember both his toughness and his kindness and insight. As I went on to become an English prof myself, I often thought of how he would handle a lecture to keep it interesting, creating a story around the trajectory of each class. My husband and I met up with him again at the first reunion I went to a few years ago, and he was so gracious in welcoming us back to Northfield. So sorry for the family's and the community's losses.
Oh, this hard news. Mr. Soth was one of my three favorite teachers at Carleton and also a friend, as he was to so many other students. A couple of years ago I sent him an email thanking him for introducing me to art, a chief joy in my life. I'm glad I didn't put that off.
I am slow to be writing this, but didn't want to miss the opportunity to communicate with the Soth family and to share in the recording of these Carleton memories. Although not a major, I took several Art History classes, including a few taught by Lauren. He sent us on a road trip for an architecture class, the only Carleton class that my now-husband and I took together: off Paul (Shadle '86) and I went to Owatonna to see a bank designed by Louis Sullivan, National Farmer's Bank. I spelled Owatonna incorrectly in every single reference to the place in my paper about the structure, which Lauren noted, ruefully, in his comments, and which I remember 36 years later (confession, and the lesson: I checked Google three times to make sure that I'd spelled it correctly here). I was delighted to have been sent out into the field to encounter art, such a liberating experience. This I have done on countless other occasions, with appreciation for all that Professor Soth taught me about looking at, and thinking about, art. I love the story about his efforts to locate American art works from the home towns of students in Catherine Green's class. I remember with fondness my family's visits to the Soth home on Union Street around reunions (not a major, invited nonetheless), my interactions with Lauren in other cities when he was addressing an alumni group, and my later-in-life correspondence with Nancy. This kind of attachment and commitment to others is remarkable and inspiring. I offer my most sincere condolences to the Soth family.
I had the treat of taking an introduction to art history class with Lauren during my spring term, senior year. The class was amazing and kept me moving forward as I was busy barely surviving Baby Stats with Prof Wolf (with thanks to Russ Petrika for his help in math) the same term to meet my graduation requirements. Ten years later, I was in Washington, DC, for the oral exam portion of the Foreign Service Exam and the interviewer told me to imagine that I was the cultural attache at the French Embassy in Paris and my French counterpart joked that Americans have no cultural achievements to compare with France. I mentally thanked Lauren (and told him the story later, when I came back to work at Carleton). While I did not end up in the Foreign Service, the interviewer was amazed that I had some knowledge and appreciation for both French and American art history (a good diplomat has to mix carrots and sticks so I said nice things about French art as well). For an introductory class, the expectations were high and the lecturers were engaging and challenging. Another ten years later I was back in Northfield and had to face Lauren on the basketball court in countless noon ball games. Lauren was able to score baskets from everywhere and each basket was a unique creation since he was throwing up hook shots and underhand rolls and set shots from the baseline. Between Lauren and Neil Lutsky, I am confident that noon ball will still have some more glory days for me as I move into my mid-sixties (if they ever let us back into the West Gym). Getting to know Nancy during our twenty-plus years in Northfield has been a bonus and doing alumni interviews with her during reunions was a great experience. It was good to be able to read some of the other reflections above and see that my experiences were just a part of a larger tapestry of meaningful interactions over the past forty-plus years.
I am coming to this very late, but I wanted to add my tribute to Lauren. It is not an understatement to say that he changed my life. I took my first art history class with him during the spring term of my freshman year, and immediately fell in love with the subject and with his way of teaching it (I remember being so engrossed in my Gardner's "Art Through the Ages," that I kept reading it while a pre-Spring Concert party raged in the very same room). I was a History major, but I took enough art history courses to be a double major. Despite Lauren's encouragement to declare the second major, I just couldn't face doing two sets of comps. But I worked in the slide room, I helped grade art history exams during my senior year, and during my time in Europe on the Pau program I went and looked at lots and lots of art. Just before my graduation, I noticed a piece of paper on Lauren's office door listing the top ten graduate programs in art history. I copied down the list and tucked it away. Two weeks after graduation I moved to Japan and spent several years working there. Five years later, I took out Lauren's list of programs and applied to most of them. I was not an obvious candidate for graduate school in art history, and I think Lauren was probably surprised when I asked him for a recommendation. But he wrote for me, and as it turned out (after deferring admission for a year so I could pursue another opportunity in Japan), I ended up at his alma mater -- the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. At some point during my first year I walked down the hallway of the IFA and saw Lauren sitting near the card catalogue (visiting alumni sometimes stopped in to do research when they were in town). I said, "Mr. Soth, what you are you doing here?" He said, "What are YOU doing here?" Apparently I had forgotten to tell him that I had been accepted. We kept in touch over the years, and he was always interested to know what I was working on; I even sent him drafts of an article or two. There have been some twists and turns in my career, but I am very happy to be an associate professor of art history, hopefully instilling in at least some of my students the same love of art and art history that Lauren inspired in me. I will miss seeing him at reunions at the lovely parties that he and Nancy hosted at their home. It doesn't seem possible that such a force of nature could be gone from this earth. Thank you, Lauren, for everything.
Correction -- it was H.W. Janson's "History of Art" that kept me spellbound. I still have the book (and would never use that edition now -- fortunately the discipline of art history has changed since the 1980s and is at least a bit more inclusive!)