Published June 22, 2005
Copyright by The Colorado Springs Gazette
SIDE STREETS: North End loses Theater of Mankind’s eccentric master
The Theater of Mankind is closed.
No longer will North End residents be amused, irritated or puzzled by the bizarre collection of art adorning a home on Espanola Street.
Its creator, 78-year-old William H. Hutton, died Wednesday of an aortic aneurysm. He was stricken as he stood at the top of a 20-foot ladder nailing a new picture to his display, which some neighbors had derisively dubbed the Theater of the Absurd.
Whether they were entertained or angered by the eccentric art, friends and neighbors agree it won’t be the same without the colorful Hutton.
He was a character who would plop himself down at the nearest yard sale to chat with everyone who came along, or tag along behind the mail carrier on daily rounds, stroll the neighborhood in his smoking jacket — “People think I’m a millionaire” he’d say — or strain, in a three-piece suit, atop a ladder to nail a velvet tapestry to his house.
“We’ve lost a wonderful guy who always wanted to be part of things,” said Roberta Coulter, his closest friend. “People didn’t appreciate what he had to offer. He was very smart. He would do anything for you. They missed a great guy.”
Coulter, 54, said Hutton didn’t have many friends because his personality was as unique as his house — a two-story almost completely obscured by his art.
It looks like a yard sale exploded and everything stuck to his house or landed in his yard.
“He called it the Theater of Mankind and even hung a sign calling it that,” neighbor Kathi Ogrodny said.
It was also the title of his signature poem.
The collection includes a duck decoy he bought for 25 cents at a yard sale four years ago to start the display, ceramic bunnies and ducks, stuffed animals, baskets and vases filled with silk flowers, relief art, metal sculptures, photos, paintings and prints — large and small.
“That display was his personality,” said Coulter, who befriended Hutton when he visited her family’s copy store as a customer nearly 15 years ago.
“It seems like a big jumble. But there was a rhyme and reason to everything. It tells a story. That house defines him.”
If you asked Hutton, he’d tell you what each piece signified, speaking in fables about things like “trepuscular darkness” and “sublunar reality” — with a wry smile and hearty laugh. Then he’d quote the philosopher Nietzsche or Egyptian mythology or conjure conversations with historic figures.
But he was serious about his collection. And a conversation with him felt like a pinball ricocheting inside an encyclopedia — his mind racing from one topic to the next.
Actually, it reflected who he was: an acclaimed writer in his youth; a lifelong poet and president, for 20 years, of the Colorado Springs Poetry Fellowship; a pianist; a philosopher and historian. He wrote daily, on a typewriter in a closet he converted to an office.
The son of Christian missionaries, Hutton was born in India, and his years growing up there greatly influenced him.
He was also a medic in the Korean War, serving as a neurosurgeon’s assistant in a MASH unit. It was an experience Coulter said scarred him deeply and led to what he called a debilitating mental breakdown in 1960.
Hutton never moved from his parents’ house and never married. After his father died in 1975, he cared for his mother and immersed himself in his poetry and writing. His mother, brother and sister have since died, leaving him alone.
Although neighbors were shocked to find him sprawled beneath his ladder, Coulter said it was probably an appropriate death.
“That display was him,” she said. “At least he was doing what he loved.”
I’ve always loved this story.
Well done, sir.
Thank you, Soozee.