Donald Van Horn
By Mel Barton
Donald Howard Van Horn was born in Hinsdale, Illinois in 1928, and grew up in Western Springs, a suburb of Chicago. Van Horn became interested in biology early in college when he visited the Indiana Dunes, which were referred to as "the birthplace of American ecology" as a result of early work by Dr. Henry Cowles. He became interested in the plants and particularly the birds at the Dunes. He graduated from Kalamazoo College in 1950 with a Bachelor's degree in biology and from the University of Illinois, Urbana, in 1952 with an M.S. in Zoology, focusing on ornithology. During his time at Kalamazoo and Urbana, he studied watercolor painting on an informal basis with Charles Vickery, an emerging marine painter. When he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1953, Van Horn switched from watercolor to 35mm color photography.
Van Horn returned to graduate school at the University of Colorado-Boulder in 1956, to study with Dr. Gordon Alexander. He originally intended to study birds, but ended up participating in Alexander's NSF-funded grasshopper survey from 1958-1960. Van Horn's doctoral dissertation on differentiation of grasshopper populations by the morphology of the male sexual organs was based on data from specimens collected during the survey. In addition to participating in the survey's scientific work, Van Horn also photographed fieldwork, survey members, and specimens collected. These provide a snap shot into the 1958-1960 survey and are present throughout this web site. In 1961, Van Horn was awarded a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Colorado.
After receiving his Ph.D., Dr. Van Horn taught at Lake Forest College (1961-1962), Utica College of Syracuse University (1962-1965), and the University of Colorado-Boulder (1965-1966), as well as participated in the NSF Summer Science Institute for high school teachers and students at Colorado College. When the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (UCCS) was opened in 1966, Dr. Van Horn was invited to apply for a faculty position as one of the founding members of the UCCS biology department. During this time, Dr. Van Horn was able to use the expertise in grasshoppers he gained on the Alexander survey in the Grasslands Biome Project, another ecological study based at Colorado State University. He taught at UCCS until 1985, when he retired and focused his energy again upon art.
Dr. Van Horn had taken up watercolor painting again in 1976, and entered several competitive shows between 1977 and 2007. He won several prizes, including the silver medal in the 2003 American Watercolor Society Exhibition, and became a signature member of four national watercolor societies.
He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, and continues to be active in the art world.