Harvard Notes By Jeff Benitz

One person I worked with at Harvard was artist Dr. Crite.  He didn't teach
there but he worked in the library.  At the time he was in his 80s and lived at
home with his mother, having never been married.  We used to have good
conversations about the state of the world.  He was the only person I ever
met in my years at Harvard who had an honorary doctorate but used it as a
title.  Usually, someone has completed years of graduate level study and
written a dissertation before they insist on being called a PhD.

But this was Harvard where everyone has their quirks.  Dr. Crite was gentle
and generous and as eccentric as you would expect an artist to be.  He would
always sit in the same chair at the front desk at the library.  His job was to
assist patrons when they came in looking for a book.  He rarely did this and
spent most of his time drawing sketches of large busted, naked, African
women on a folio.  This led to some humor at times.  I remember many cute
female students in their teens talking to him and after he explained he was an
artist they would want to look at what he was drawing.  When they saw the
work, some would shrink away in horror and others would get excited and
begin to flirt with him.  Not bad for an unmarried man in his late 70s then early
80s.

The same chair he sat in at the front desk was next to the phone.  I always
thought it strange because he rarely would answer the phone.  Every time I
would have to get up and reach around him to attend to the caller.  It was the
same matter when a student would approach the front desk with an inquiry,
he would ignore them and someone else on the staff would have to address
the person.  Sometimes he would fall asleep.  On certain days you would
think he was not feeling well due to his lethargy, however, if anyone asked
about his art his slumber disappeared and he was right there, full of spunk.

He used to wear a beige raglan raincoat and shuffle in and out of the library
to and from the MBTA (Public Transportation).  He lived in South Boston.  I
remember one time he got mugged by hoodlums.  To them he looked like an
old man but to the Black community he was a hero.  When word got out that
his wallet had been stolen and he had been attacked, drug dealers who
operated in the neighborhood found out who had done it and his wallet was
returned.  As long as I worked with him he was never touched again.

It was amazing to watch him draw.  We spent countless hours beside each
other in that library.  The level of intricacy in his pencil drawings was almost
as complicated as a microchip.  I asked him one time how he decided to be
an artist.  He said he had gotten a job at the Boston or Quincy Shipyard as a
draftsman.  It was around the time of WWII and I don't remember if he was in
the Navy or a civilian who worked for the Navy.  He said he discovered he had
a skill for the technical drawing of ships and equipment, and enjoyed the
work.  Allan Crite continued in this profession for decades.

As I continued my career at Harvard there came a time when Dr. Crite retired
from his work at the library.  There were those who asked him for a piece of
his art work and he was generous with the request.  I was not one of those
who asked, thinking it was inappropriate.  It doesn't matter because his fine
work can be found in museums around the country including the Smithsonian
Institution.  After leaving Harvard, Allan Crite went on to get married for the
first time and I understand his house, in the South End, has been turned into
a museum on African-American Art.

I'm pleased to say, at age 96, Dr. Crite is still working on his art.  Perhaps we
can learn some lessons from him.  Don't answer the phone.