Condon, Plaut retire

The art and biology departments are losing two longtime faculty members. We asked them about their Cornell experience and what’s next.

Marty Condon, biology, 1996–2022

Professors Tony Plaut ’78 and Marty Condon stand side-by-side with Allee Chapel behind them. They taught Cornell students for a combined 56 years.
Professors Tony Plaut ’78 and Marty Condon taught Cornell students for a combined 56 years.

Favorite course you taught: Plant Systematics was my favorite course for three reasons: 1) students and I would take daily walks around Mount Vernon and identify as many of the plants as we could; 2) it was fun—we were outside every day and the students learned the names of trees, shrubs, vines, and spring flowers; 3) graduates told me the class had a lasting impact on the quality of their lives.

How did you grow intellectually at Cornell? Cornell gave me the time to discover amazing patterns of diversity in nature. I had a chance to do science at a rate and rhythm impossible for colleagues at large research universities whose jobs depend on regular publication. The work I do takes time and patience. I study tropical plants and insects that are rare. To find them, we have to plan trips at times when flowering peaks. And that time varies enormously from place to place within Central and South America. The block plan allowed me to travel at any time of the year.

What did you enjoy about Cornell students? Most Cornell students are genuinely nice people. They are kind and generous. I love doing field work with students who work hard and carefully without complaining. I have especially enjoyed seeing students grow as scientists and as people.

What are your plans? I plan to continue to do the science I do and to include students who are interested in joining me. I live in Mount Vernon and will continue to be available to sponsor independent studies or research. Thanks to support from Cornell and the National Science Foundation, we have collected many thousands of specimens, sequenced thousands of base pairs of DNA (and RNA), and recorded thousands of hours of video of courtship dances of beautiful tropical flies. Most of the data, which come from work in at least 10 countries, remain to be analyzed. Then our research teams will make our results available to the world via publication. To support our efforts, I hope to seek additional funding. I expect that process will keep me busy for many years to come.

Anthony Plaut, art, 1992–2022

Favorite courses you taught: My early teaching assignment at Cornell was primarily photography classes. I liked the technical aspects of the cameras and darkroom processes in conjunction with the issues of representation that are raised by photographs. Also, photography is a very recent invention so one can really understand its full art historical development. Later, the majority of my teaching was the painting courses. All of these were great classes with a lot of room for student creativity. I also taught the Senior Seminar for art majors for over 20 years. I guess this was my favorite because all the students were devoted seriously to the topic as they prepared their thesis projects. A lot was at stake. 

How did you grow intellectually at Cornell? In the early days I saw myself as a youthful alternative to the senior faculty in the department, i.e., Doug Hanson and Hugh Lifson. At that time, my ideas of art were driven by my graduate school experience in the 1980s postmodernist world at the University of Chicago. As I aged and became the senior faculty person, I found myself sharing the well-established ideas of modernism that I felt needed to be retained and shared. Funny how that works, eh? 

What did you enjoy about Cornell students? I think that the block schedule was really perfect for teaching studio art. The students really threw themselves fully into every course. They were very earnest. We all took our work seriously, yet we had big fun along the way. The common purpose and ensuing friendships were such an important part of the experience. 

What are your plans? Because I have been on a phased retirement teaching only three blocks a year, I moved to northern California a few years ago. I’m building an art studio there. But I will be back to campus for my retrospective exhibition in the fall of 2022 in the Luce Gallery. See you there!

“An Array of Wonders: Past, Present, and Future (Tony Plaut Retrospective Exhibition)”

Sept. 9–Nov. 16, 2022, Peter Paul Luce Gallery, McWethy Hall

Opening reception: 3–5 p.m. Sept. 9

Homecoming reception:  3–5 p.m. Oct. 22