Brattleboro - Joe Earle Crompton of Brattleboro, VT, beloved husband of Carole Moody Crompton, left this world Thursday, October 25, just four days before his 64th birthday, four months after a diagnosis of stage four lung cancer.
Joe was born October 29, 1954, the second child and first son of Willard Crompton and Patience Anne Eliot Crompton. He grew up on a small farm in Chesterfield, MA, with four siblings, in a family culture that was religiously devout (Roman Catholic) and that considered music, poetry, and art to be almost on a par with prayer, surrounded by the natural beauty of the Berkshire foothills. The Bend in the nearby Westfield River was one of Joe’s favorite places, and an inspiration for his art throughout his life. He attended the Davenport Elementary School, a four-room schoolhouse, until the eighth grade; then Williamsburg High School. He enrolled at the University of Massachusetts (1972), but left after one year to seek his true calling.
Joe had written poems since he was a child, and now considered writing novels. He started two, one of which had the title of “X,” but this was not to be his path. He needed to be more actively engaged in the real world. Inspired by the work of the nonprofit Bread and Puppet Theater, he moved to Brattleboro to work with a related group, the Beholders Puppet Theater, which was actively protesting the Vietnam War using larger-than-life puppets in street theater. He created masks and puppets as a member of this group, and staged many performances. While working in the studio he also created masks for dancers in the Brattleboro School of Dance’s production of Pulcinella, and created many woodcut prints.
He was more interested in making art and protesting injustice than in making a living, and these years were lean and hungry, but he was finding not only his artistic path but the community - Brattleboro - that would be his community for life.
Joe met Carole in the summer of 1981. They became friends, enjoying afternoon teas as he walked from work at Linden Lodge to the Beholder’s Puppet studio. In 1984 Joe started a business creating masks and paper-mache sculptures in one end of the studio while Carole made Ukrainian eggs (pysanky) in the other. He sold his work in many stores in New England and at art and craft shows at Haystack and the Stratton Arts Festival.
Joe and Carole (Moody) married on February 2, 1986 at the Brattleboro School of Dance. Their daughter, Phoebe was born in 1987 and son Jeremiah in 1990. Joe was a quirky and creative father who loved his children dearly. He read, invented stories, played, shared music, and cooked for them every day. In later days he loved arguing politics and discussing literature with both of them. And music! Joe knew so much about music and musicians, which he delighted in sharing with Jeremiah, especially.
In 2016 Joe and Carole lost their beloved son, Jeremiah. To avoid painful conversations with friends and strangers alike, Joe began creating and printing postcards which he kept in his shirt pocket. “Enjoy this postcard,” he would say, and hand them a card.
To support his art and his family, Joe worked at the Common Ground restaurant for many years. He began working in the Meat Department of the Brattleboro Food Co-op in November 1988. A tireless worker for the rights of employees, Joe helped begin a union drive at the coop in 2001 with fellow Co-op worker Laura Austan. It was, as Laura remembers it, “an ugly fight, but Joe (whom we dubbed ‘Captain,’) sailed above the fray. . . . He was like Sir Percival, untouchable because of his purity of heart. He would not allow despair. . . . Five years after our union drive, a second drive brought the union we wanted. Joe was happy and proud to be a UFCW Meat Cutter.” Many benefits Co-op workers now enjoy are the result of his work. His father, Willard Crompton (1926-1998), would have been proud: he had been an active union organizer and shop steward for his own union at a casket shop in Florence, MA.
Joe continued to work at the Co-op as the sausage maker until his illness incapacitated him in June.
Over the last 30 years, Joe worked on his art every day in various media, formats, and sizes, and finally settled on a format and size that suited him: postcards, which he sold at the Co-Op and generously shared with loved ones at family gatherings. While he enjoyed the challenge of creating images in “thrilling black and white,” at the urging of his Aunt Jane Winslow and Uncle Alex Eliot, he finally began using color in his work in 2017. He liked to make pictures of circus performers, ice skaters, jazz musicians, angels, beach scenes, wild geese, and people working and playing. He was a perfectionist who remade his pictures many times until they were right. His final images are filled with his amazing shining spirit.
Joe leaves his wife Carole Crompton; his daughter Phoebe Jane Crompton-Tidd; step-daughter Willow Broaddus, grandchildren Lila, Parker, and Roclin; son-in-law Jesse Tidd; four siblings - Carrie, Catherine, Nancy, and Samuel Crompton; nieces Frances Elliott, Rachel Lane Salvo, and Katy Lane; and nephews Justin Thompson, Alex Elliott, Adhi Palar, and Bryan Lane; many cousins; and many, many people in the Brattleboro community who loved him.
A memorial service will be held at the Guilford Community Church, Guilford, VT, Saturday, November 3, 11:00 a.m. Donations in lieu of flowers to the Barre Workers Center, www.workerscenter.org/donate.