Christopher Barnes

Christopher Barnes, former Resident Director of the MacDowell Colony, passed away peacefully at his home in Hancock on Oct. 6, 2020. He was 83.

Chris was born in New York City on Dec. 10, 1936, the son of Paul and Helene (Leszczynski) Barnes. His parents and five brothers and sisters lived a fairly nomadic life in his earliest years, relocating frequently as employment opportunities dictated, including time in Florida, New Jersey and New York. Both Chris and his father, Paul, were stricken with polio in 1949 and 12-year-old Chris spent a year in the hospital battling the disease. In high school, one of his most cherished memories was a summer tour of Europe singing with his Cleveland Heights, Ohio, choir in opera houses, museums and majestic cathedrals.

He met his wife, Katy, while they were attending Colorado College, and they were married shortly after graduation. After a year at the University of Michigan, where he earned his Master of Library Science, Chris became the assistant librarian at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where he worked for five years. With children Gregg and Lisa now in tow, Chris and Katy moved to Fitzwilliam in 1966 when Chris became the library director at Keene State College.

After 15 years at Keene State College and building their current home in Hancock, Chris became the resident director of MacDowell in 1981. MacDowell was founded in 1908 by Marion MacDowell, wife of composer Edward MacDowell, and is a working retreat for artists of all disciplines. Chris loved meeting, interacting with and supporting the artists in residence. He made lasting friendships with some while maintaining a safe, supportive, collegial and uninterrupted atmosphere for the residents to work. As Chris said of MacDowell when he resigned from his post in 1989, “This isn’t a place where you achieve things. The tone you set is what is important.” Chris and Katy then founded Arts Pro Tem, a consulting firm for artists, which they ran through the 1990s before retiring.

Chris enjoyed fishing, and the occasional game of pool or poker with Tony Brown and other local friends. Chris was a voracious reader and, along with his own collection, was fed a steady stream of books from the Hancock Library, typically reading with classical music or one of his favored folk singers playing in the background. He challenged himself with N.Y. Times crossword puzzles and loved creating and solving brain-teasers. He performed in plays, including “The Fantasticks” at Keene State College and “Godspell” at The Well School, where Katy taught and Gregg and Lisa attended. Despite physical limitations from polio, he loved participating in sports, including alpine skiing and tennis, was the pitcher on Ray’s Dogs co-ed softball team, and a goalie in Well School soccer and ice hockey games.

Proving that no one is perfect, he rooted for the N.Y. Yankees, but he kept the Bruins schedule on his calendar and never missed a game. Summer vacations to Illinois to visit his brother, Duane, ex-wife Barbra and their children, Jen, Bruce, Claudia and Hilary, were most-cherished times, along with fly fishing on a family ranch in West Yellowstone, Mont. He loved being a joker and a prankster and said his genealogy showed him to be a descendent of a Polish king (which may even have been true). Over 60 years, Chris passionately curated one of the most significant and complete private collections of Robert Frost material and occasionally gave lectures on the New England poet’s life and work.

Chris was self-effacing and content with a simple lifestyle. In an interview in 1974, Chris quoted Alexander Pope, saying, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he will not be disappointed.”

In addition to Katy, his loving wife of 61 years, Christopher is survived by his son, Gregg, and his wife, Hayley, of Sudbury, Mass., and their children, Tyler, Scott and Jenna; by his daughter, Lisa, and her husband, Andy Sugg, of Natick, Mass., and their children, Ben and Sam; and by his siblings: Duane, Candace, Stephanie, Eric and Geoff.

Services will be private for the family.

Memorial gifts may be made in Christopher’s name to Similar to getting polio at age 12, grandson Sam was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 12, forging their special bond.

To share a memory or to leave the family a message of condolence, please visit