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Take 10 with Jose Antonio Bowen, Goucher College president

For The Baltimore Sun

Take 10 is a series of occasional features on prominent local residents and the possessions they treasure.

What means the most when it comes to the memories and experiences of a modern day Renaissance man like Jose Antonio Bowen, the 52-year-old president of Goucher College?

Moving to Baltimore with his wife, Kimberly, last July to take the job as head of the liberal arts college was the latest stop in a journey that started in his hometown of Fresno, Calif., and led him to academic positions at Stanford University, University of Southampton, England, Georgetown University, University of Miami in Ohio, and Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Along the way, Bowen has written more than 100 articles and books on music and teaching. His website is teachingnaked.com, taken from the name of the book that won him the Frederic W. Ness Book Award from the American Association of Colleges & Universities in 2014. He's a renowned pianist, composer, award-winning conductor, and has performed around the world with Liberace, Elvis, and some of the jazz greats, and has a number of CD recordings to his credit.

Oh, and he builds really fantastic sand castles.

Clearly, this is a man who doesn't dabble. He dives right in.

"When I do latch onto something, I do follow it to the nth degree," Bowen admits.

He traces his "slightly obsessive" behavior to his grab-for-the-gusto philosophy of life.

"Life as a human is more than just the essentials. We want and crave stimulation, connection and – ultimately - meaning. That's what makes us human beings, not animals," Bowen says. "Humans are the only creatures on the planet who actually try to create meaning."

He adds: "There's something more to life than what's useful or utilitarian…My car provides transportation. But there are lots of cars that are brown or square. I like things that have design and make me smile in the morning."

Bowen resides in the President's House, a residence in the middle of the Goucher campus. "It's wonderful that we get to live here," he says, explaining that the home's downstairs is "mostly a public space," although he and his wife have the run of the entire home. Here's a look at Bowen's favorite things.

Yellow car

On the day The Sun stopped by, road salt stained his convertible but didn't diminish its brightness. "I like color and form and art. Hence the yellow car…I'd had a yellow [Volkswagen] bug, which our daughter inherited. It's the car she wanted. When I went to replace it, I wanted to try a convertible. So that [Mitsubishi Eclipse] filled the bill. This one had style."

Fountain Pens

"I've always loved fountain pens…Also different colors of ink, and the feel of the pen on paper. Writing a beautiful handwritten note still matters to me. I write about five or six handwritten notes a day to people…when I'm writing a note, I prefer to have a fountain pen."

Crazy socks

Bowen said he started wearing crazy socks when he moved to Dallas. "I was in an institution [where] everybody's in a suit every day. There's not a whole lot of variety, a whole lot you can do [to express yourself]. At some point, I noticed you could wear interesting socks that could match your tie and be complementary, not just be black or brown. It was the way to be the arts guy in the dean's meeting."

Cufflinks

"If you're going to wear cufflinks, then they should say something interesting….The double-decker buses we got at Marks & Spencer's in London when we were there a couple of years ago. And the ones that are gearboxes, Kimberly gave me. She's actually the best one at finding me stuff like that."

Harpsichord

Bowen built the instrument when he was in high school. After flunking a music aptitude test in third grade, Bowen says his mother arranged for him to learn the recorder. By middle school, he was passionately playing the piano. He was interested in composer J.S. Bach, but knew that Bach's original compositions weren't created for the piano.

"He never saw an instrument with 88 keys, or anything remotely like that. If you wanted to hear what that sounded like, you had to go find a harpsichord," Bowen says. "There weren't any where I was growing up. I don't know where I got the crazy idea [that] well, if there isn't one, you make one. I found a kit in a catalog. It didn't sound like that much work. It didn't sound like 4,000 pieces. But, it was. The living room in our house was [covered with] the little pieces you see in a harpsichord."

Art

"So, the idea was that we had to use the art that was in the house. We were lucky that we liked a lot of the art the college had. 'Portia' by Grace Hartigan — that piece in particular — we were a little nervous about because [the eyes] do kind of follow you around the room." ("And that's exactly why we loved it," adds his wife.)

Teapot and chicken tea cozy

Bowen says he learned the proper way to make tea while living in England. "We like pottery, and we discovered Jerry Beaumont, who lives and works up Delaney Valley Road from us [at Beaumont Pottery]. On the first day, somebody in the office gave me a mug in the Goucher colors that came from that shop. We asked him if he could make us that teapot."

And of course, a tea cozy is the perfect partner for the perfect cup. "Tea cozies should be something kind of quaint, kind of silly. My wife has a chicken problem. At some point, we had a rooster purge. [I said] we're not moving the chicken ornaments, the chicken [stuff]. We left a few in Texas. So, when we got here, she found it here. It appeared magically one day."

External hard drive

An early career as a CD reviewer and Bowen's passion for music added up to an extensive music collection – 7,718 CDs to be exact. The Bowens knew their new Goucher home didn't have the wall space for all of his CD racks. So, the discs are now digitized and stored on this hard drive that he uses to stream music to various devices. "When I threw away all the cases, they filled 40 garbage bags," he says.

Cast iron pan

"I like to cook…And a cast iron pan actually does last forever. My mother was not a great cook. But, the smell of onions in a cast iron pan is one of those memories of home. It's what you do when you're going to make beans, frijoles. That still reminds me of being home and my mother making dinner."

Pets

Latte, a 20-year-old cat; Molly, a 15-year-old bichon frisé; and Chloe, a 7-year-old collie. "Pets are sweet and lovable, and they don't yell at you. They're a family, in a sense, when there are more of them. When there's only one of them, they're lonely. They're happier when there's a herd of them…The kids don't have dogs on campus, of course, and they miss their pets. So, they can check out a dog. They can walk the dogs, which is kind of fun."

Sand tools

Bowen likes to spend several days of a yearly beach vacation — "Rehoboth has a great, great beach." — building elaborate sand castles, something he started doing 20 years ago with his daughter when she was young. "I like to build sand castles because it's very engaging. You can't think about anything else. You're all in. I don't like to build ordinary sand castles. It's a creative process. Can I make a castle that looks totally unlike anything you've ever seen? It's a test of imagination, and a test of patience."

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