Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Making It Modern


Watson Fine Arts

Watson Fine Arts Center. Unidentified Photographer. Photograph. ca. 1963.Watson Gallery. Unidentified Photographer. Photograph. 20.5 x 33 cm. ca 1962-1974.Mrs. Jeannette Kittredge Watson and Dean Elizabeth Stoffregen May on the Steps of Watson Fine Arts Center at its dedication. Unidentified Photographer. Photograph. 23.5 x 18.5 cm 1962.

Watson Fine Arts Center, built in 1962, was the final realization of the arts center originally envisioned by Esther Seaver. Made possible by a generous donation from alumna Jeannette Kittredge Watson (Class of 1902), the building housed the theater, music, studio art, and art history departments, which had previously been scattered throughout campus. Bringing these departments together under one roof created the potential for the exchange of ideas across disciplines, as envisioned by Seaver. Originally, the new building boasted an auditorium, theater, art gallery, art history and music libraries, storage for the Permanent Collection, classrooms, faculty offices, and music practice rooms. Built in the Brutalist variant of the International Style, the building incorporates heavy materials such as concrete and stone in combination with glass, emphasizing sharp contrast between light and shadow. The building was renovated in 2001-2002. In the same year, Meneely Hall was also renovated and the Mars studio building was built.

The image in the middle shows the original facade of the arts center. Prior to the 2001-2002 renovation of Watson Fine Arts Center, the gallery was approximately half the size it is today. The open floor plan was acoustically designed to accommodate small concerts, as well as exhibitions. The furniture in the center of the space, which was removed during the renovation, enabled small groups of people to sit and discuss the artworks on display. In the original building design, what we now know as the Weil Gallery and the back of Beard Gallery were art studios for faculty and students. When the Watson Fine Arts Center was renovated, these studios moved to the new Mars studio building.

Jeannette Kittredge Watson, to the top right, was an alumna of the Class of 1902. Her husband, Thomas J. Watson, founded International Business Machines (IBM) in 1924. Her generous donation enabled the construction of Watson Fine Arts Center, making Watson the first building on campus to be named for a donor. At the time, Mrs. Watson's gift was the largest donation received by the college, making her Wheaton’s first major donor since Eliza Baylies Chapin Wheaton. Mrs. Watson is one of several notable philanthropists whose gifts have greatly affected the built environment on campus. Others include Evelyn Danzig Haas, Class of 1939, whose donation helped build the Haas Athletic Center, and Adrienne Bevis Mars, Class of 1958, whose gift made possible construction of Mars Arts & Humanities.

-Kendra Lawrence, Class of 2009

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