Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories


For more than two decades, both as a St. John’s tutor and after retirement, Charles offered a weekly presentation of his monumental 40-part series titled Symbolic History Through Sight and Sound, a complex, poetic synthesis of great art, music and literature of the Western world, from the ancient Greeks to modern times. Combining photographic slides (most taken by Charles himself), recorded music, quotations from great authors, dancing, literary passages, and visiting artists of every kind, his presentations were, in the words of one admirer, “a performance piece, a revery, a revelation.” Not merely lectures.

Charles also presided over small reading groups in his house, tackling the world’s great literature--Don Quixote in Spanish, Faust in German, the Divine Comedy in Italian. Along the way, he lured many of the foremost contemporary worldwide writers to speak in Santa Fe. Many of them stayed at the Bells’ home. Some moved here. Danny took them hiking, showed them birds, taught them gardening, and corresponded with them.

A Living Treasures nominating letter said: “It’s a rare month when the Bells don’t have house guests who are not in one way or another are not contributing to the cultural life of the city. They welcome a steady stream of ‘wandering scholars,’ professors of philosophy, literature, mathematics, who find themselves between assignments.”

In the words of another tribute: “If you asked them, ‘How do you contribute to the community?’ they’d probably have to rack their brains, because they take their good works for granted. They’re just doing what people do. Need a ride to the hospital in a hurry? Call the Bells, they’ll drop everything. A young man in need of a home, after his father’s sudden death? The Bells make room for him, until he can get back on his feet.”

When Danny died in 2004, a daughter said, “You wouldn’t believe how many heartbroken letters I’ve been getting from all over the world. She didn’t let friendships go. She took care of people.” Her obituary: “Her spirit was a guiding, stabilizing force.”

Charles lived on, and never stopped giving to the Santa Fe community. Reflecting upon his contribution, a supporter wrote: “You may have run into him in front of our upscale hotels, lobbying for a living wage for dishwashers and housekeepers. Charles Bell does not inhabit an ivory tower. In fact, in his house his study is at ground level--somehow emblematic of his involvement with the world at his doorstep.”

And in the words of one of his own poems: “Your old men shall dream dreams …”