Farewell to a fan: Grafton Trout was a true connoisseur of art, cinema and the humanities

Grafton Trout 2014

Grafton Trout watches intently as Josephine Decker and Russell Sheaffer create an experimental film live in front of the audience Oct. 3, 2014 at IU Cinema. Photo by Eric Rudd.

Post courtesy of Karen Land, IU Communications arts specialist:

Even if you didn’t know Grafton Trout, you might know his face.

He was one of Indiana University’s greatest fans.

Instead of Assembly Hall or Memorial Stadium, you might have found him at a lecture hall, the Lilly Library, IU Cinema or what is now the Eskenazi Museum of Art. He was everywhere.

Grafton kept a particularly vigorous schedule attending arts and cultural events on the IU campus, together with his wife, Laura, and often alone.

IU Cinema director Jon Vickers described him as “the most intellectually curious man that I have ever met.”

Grafton Trout passed away July 30, 2016, at the age of 87.

A former sociology professor and later director of the IU Bloomington honors program in foreign languages, he earned master’s degrees in sociology then economics at IU in the 1960s before earning his sociology Ph.D. in 1971.

In recent years, Grafton was an art museum docent (“He was our patriarch”) and a staunch supporter of fine film. He had been scheduled to speak at the Eskenazi Museum earlier this month. Instead, Tom Rhea led his “Must Art Be Beautiful?” tour, dedicating it to his good friend.

At many cultural events this fall, one seat looks particularly empty. When I glance around IU Cinema, I still expect to see Grafton there, taking it all in.

* * *


Grafton was, without a doubt, IU Cinema’s most dedicated patron and the most intellectually curious man that I have ever met. He was a model for anyone who has an appetite for culture. He will be greatly missed by everyone at the cinema — staff, students, other guests and visiting filmmakers.

There are few people in Bloomington, if any, who have seen as many international films as Grafton. As a programmer, he kept you on your toes.

We were able to bring some of his cinematic idols to him, which he loved, and he almost always asked our guest filmmakers questions during the audience Q&As.

— Jon Vickers, Indiana University Cinema director

* * *

I spent more time talking to Grafton before and after the films, than I did my girlfriend. He was (IU Cinema’s) fifth Beatle.

— Matt Starr, IU Bloomington graduate, class of 2013

* * *

Grafton was such a loyal and committed museum and arts supporter. It was very rare indeed if he missed an event and he always asked such engaging questions. Over the years my admiration for his continual quest to learn just grew. He will be greatly missed.

— Heidi Gealt, Eskenazi Museum of Art director emerita

* * *

While I was the executive director of the Friends of Art, an organization that supports IU fine arts students, Grafton Trout was in my office every week, sometimes every day.

Grafton Trout 1980

Grafton Trout, 1980. Photo courtesy of IU Archives.

He loved to haunt the bookstore across the hall from my office. He knew my name from my years of writing art reviews for the Bloomington Independent. He was supportive of all our initiatives, with a near-perfect attendance record for lectures, auctions, openings, studio visits and trips.

Nearly every trip I organized had some counsel and input from Grafton. In addition, we roomed together on every trip he took since we were often the only men traveling alone. He “packed” light for these trips, (with) everything in one narrow briefcase. On the train from the airport to the hotel in Washington D. C., he pushed the case into my arms as we came to the stop for the (National) Mall and told me to stow it in our room. He jumped out at an earlier stop because he couldn’t bear to waste time on checking in that could be spent at the museum! On the return, his limited luggage required him to parcel out to other travelers the dozen or so art books he had purchased.

Even after he slowed down with the years, and gave the impression of being more frail, he could amaze you with his acuity. He lectured without notes in the gallery that featured some of the marvelous Japanese woodblock prints from his collection, with a precision for places, names and 50-year-old publications that was astonishing.

Grafton’s widow Laura told me that when he retired from teaching, he regarded his pursuit of art to be his new profession.

He was a great mind, a great man, and a great friend.

— Tom Rhea, artist, illustrator and Eskenazi Museum docent

* * *

Grafton impressed me as being such a knowledgeable person and graciously shared his expertise with all of us.

— Linda Heath, Eskenazi Museum of Art docent

* * *

Grafton Trout was a loyal supporter and an enthusiastic cheerleader for The Ryder Film Series from day one. In the early ’80s, he helped pave the way for us to host screenings on campus. I can say unequivocally that Grafton holds the record for “Most Ryder Films Attended.” And it’s a record, I’m certain, that will never be broken. Grafton was the Cal Ripken of moviegoers. I’m sure that other arts and campus organizations would say something similar, although they might avoid the baseball analogy.

He always had something of interest to say — a quip or an observation or a story to tell — not only to me but to our ticket takers and projectionists, some of whom were aspiring filmmakers. Grafton always took a sincere interest in their film projects and, more significantly, in their lives, and offered words of encouragement about the work they were doing.

Grafton usually attended Ryder films on campus but occasionally he came to Bear’s Place. I recall one such visit in the 1990s. At that time, we screened our movies on 16mm film, with two projectors side by side, each loaded with a film reel. Our projectionist that night had failed to lock the second reel into place, and so when we made the switch from Reel 1 to 2, it soon slipped off of the projector and landed on the head of one of our patrons — Grafton.

Grafton Trout with group at reception

Grafton Trout, right, speaks with IU Cinema’s Barbara Ann O’Leary at the “From Cinematic Past to Fast Forward Present” symposium in November 2015.

Those reels were heavy, and I was concerned that Grafton might be seriously hurt. Someone went to get a glass of water. Meanwhile, I could see a prominent bright red welt emerging through his scalp – his hair was thin, even then. I asked if he was OK and he didn’t answer – he just stared straight ahead and downward with a look of distress in his eyes. I followed his gaze and there, several feet away, on the floor, under a table, was the reel of film. After landing on Grafton’s head it had rolled between several chairs, under a table, and was now beginning to unravel at an alarming rate. We both just stared for several seconds as foot upon foot of film spun away the reel and formed a spaghetti-like pile on the floor. Suddenly Grafton leaped from his seat and was on his hands and knees, reaching under the table to rescue the reel of film – I hadn’t realized he could move that fast. And rescue it he did. We reassembled the reel and resumed the screening; one of the servers bought Grafton a drink on the house. (This was probably not proper concussion protocol.)

This is what made Grafton special: He had little concern for his own well-being that night; his only concern was in the value and integrity of the performance. The show must go on. He was much more than someone who bought a ticket and attended an event – he was an active participant, he was invested, emotionally and intellectually…. Grafton had all of the wit and enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity and optimism of a much younger man. He had a kind word for everyone. He will be missed.

— Peter LoPilato, The Ryder magazine and film series founder, publisher and curator

IU Communications has collected these remembrances and personal stories about Grafton Trout — and many others — in an unabridged tribute PDF

Grafton Trout at Beth B lecture 2015

Grafton Trout attended Beth B’s excellent anti-violence talk “Psychotic to Erotic,” which was presented as part of the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture Series Feb. 6, 2015.

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