This exhibition explores the history of the built environment at Wheaton. It focuses on two forms of modernism, both of which had a physical impact on our campus. The first, a continuing phenomenon, is the public demonstration of new educational theories and the strength of the institution through construction and expansion. When the Wheaton family founded Wheaton Female Seminary in 1834, the higher education of women was a radical concept, and an institution devoted to that cause needed buildings that exuded a sense of permanence and consequence. In later years, whenever the seminary or college appeared to be faltering or faced competition from other institutions, the Wheaton family and administration often responded with new construction or the expansion of existing facilities.
A second influence is Modern – or International Style – architecture, which arrived at Wheaton as a result of a 1938 competition for the design of an art center, which was never built. Although difficult to imagine today, the Student Alumnae Building (SAB), designed by competition winners Caleb Hornbostel and Richard Bennett, was the first Modern building constructed on a college campus in the United States. It wowed students, faculty, and administrators at Wheaton and at other colleges and universities, leading to the construction of more Modern buildings here in Norton and on campuses across the nation.
Several individuals played key roles in the development of Wheaton’s campus. First and foremost, of course, is Eliza Baylies Chapin Wheaton, who suggested the founding of the seminary, and financially supported it until her death in 1905. In 1897, she recommended the appointment of Reverend Dr. Samuel Valentine Cole as the seminary’s first president, on the understanding that he would transform the institution into a college. That same year, Cole called on the young architect Ralph Adams Cram to help devise a campus plan. Their decades-long collaboration is exemplified in the Court of Honor that surrounds the Dimple. Finally, Esther I. Seaver, Professor of Art from 1930-1946, may be credited with almost single-handedly bringing Modern architecture to Wheaton.
Making It Modern… is the result of a yearlong collaboration between faculty, staff, and students. Throughout the Fall 2008 semester, four students participated in a unique Art History seminar taught by R. Tripp Evans, Associate Professor of Art History in collaboration with Zephorene L. Stickney, College Archivist & Special Collections Curator. The essays they wrote have been published in the exhibition catalogue, which was designed by another student in an independent study under the supervision of Professor of Art Claudia R. Fieo. This spring, students in a course led by Leah Niederstadt, Assistant Professor of Museum Studies & Curator of the Permanent Collection, and Zephorene Stickney had seven weeks to curate this exhibition. Its design, the choice of materials on display, and the accompanying catalogue are the result of long hours of research, writing, creativity, and hard work by these eighteen young women and men.
How have they been influenced by the campus on which they live and work?
-Leah Niederstadt and Zephorene L. Stickney