Karl Morris Nickel
Born: March 26, 1939
Died: January 14, 2007
Karl Morris Nickel was born in Frostburg in Western Maryland, son of the former Mary Margaret Morris and Karl Joseph Nickel. He prepared for Yale at St. Charles College, Baltimore, For the academic year 1957-1958, he attended St. Peter's College.
Karl then enrolled at Yale with our class. He was a resident of Berkeley College and a member of the Berkeley Players for 3 years. He was also a member of the Yale Political Union. Karl majored in History of Art and was on Dean's List. He was a four year scholarship recipient.
After graduation, Karl obtained his Masters in Fine Arts at Harvard and then commenced a notable career in art gallery management. He served as Director of the Hartford University Art Gallery and Dean of the University's School of Art, Director of the Ball State University Art Gallery, Muncie, Indiana, and Curator of the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida. During the 1970's, he was the Curator of the Long Beach, California Museum of Art.
Karl published numerous books and guides for his art exhibitions, including "The Arts in Society" in 1964 for the University of Hartford, the catalogue for the Thirteenth Annual Drawing and Small Sculpture Show at Ball State in 1967, "Florida 17" for the 1968 exhibition of contemporary art at the Pan American Union in Washington, D.C., and "Chapel Hill, The Final Build-Out."
Subsequently, Karl changed his career path, leaving museum curatorships for mental health work. He relocated to North Carolina, where he lived for about 18 years. He worked with the Orange-Person-Chatham Mental Health Center near Chapel Hill, retiring as Assistant to the Director in 2002.
After his retirement, Karl settled on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, which he described as the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean." He lived in Port Louis, the capital, and in Grand Baie on the beach, before moving into the mountains.
Karl said he initially learned of this island in 1975 when he was in Long Beach and a local artist whose work he had exhibited gave him a British seaman's map of Mauritius published in London in 1850. The map sparked his interest and after retirement, he decided to settle on the island, which has a population of about one million people of European, African, Indian and Chinese origin. He expected his retirement pension and social security would enable him to live more comfortably than in Chapel Hill. Karl, who was an unabashed gay, had also lost many friends to AIDs and saw Mauritius as offering an opportunity for a new life.
Karl joined the small American expatriate community, attending the July 4th ceremonies at the home of the U.S. ambassador. He enjoyed dancing in the local clubs, studying Cicero and swimming at Mon Choisy, a public beach about 2 miles long beside a lagoon, with views of distant mountains. He described the scene as "sublime."
Although the official language of Mauritius is English, the predominant languages are French, Creole, Hindi and Bhujpuri. Karl spoke French so immediately upon arrival he plunged into studying Creole, a patois of French. At the time of his death he was working on a project to collect writings in Creole with a view to publishing an anthology of songs, poems, stories and the like. In a related project, he lobbied the Roman Catholic Bishop of Port Louis in 2004 to assist in the publication of the New Testament in the Creole language and to promote the language in the local Catholic schools.
Karl also collected vignettes for eventual publication in a gay travel guide and wrote stories for the local English language weekly paper. He contributed a long feature about his life for our Class website entitled "Island Paradise." Past Corresponding Secretary Al Chambers recalls that "working by email across the world on his submission was fascinating. His original text was about 8,000 words, eight times the length of most articles. Eventfully, we got it down to about 2,500. It was quite a yarn. He had a real zest for the highly unusual life he had chosen." Karl's article is posted on our Class website at this link.
Despite the beautiful setting and weather, Karl experienced a run of bad luck with robberies and break-ins. This prompted him to move into the quieter hillside community of Rose Hill at Reduit. In his last communication, Karl said he had found a home by a roaring waterfall adjacent to the former colonial palaces of French and English governors and "a little park with stone benches under huge old shade trees, that could also be described as sweet. I am in heaven," he concluded.
Karl died suddenly on January 14, 2007. Although some friends in America feared he may have been the victim of violence, the cause of death officially announced by local authorities was death due to asthma. Karl, who was an only child, was predeceased by his parents and left no direct descendants. However, the extended Nickel family was a large one and he attended family reunions regularly, prior to moving to Mauritius. He was survived by 7 cousins: Yvonne Carnes of New Orleans; Amy Carnes of North Potomac, Virginia; Susan Casey of Annapolis; Phyllis Casey of Pittsburgh; Betty Kemper of Fort Walton Beach, Florida; Walter Gruger of Youngstown, Ohio; and Barbara Bradt of Houston.