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The Whispering Pines: The 'Bowdoin Green' and Other Tales of Resourcefulness

The Whispering Pines

Story posted May 24, 2010

Author: John Cross '76, Secretary of Development and College Relations

There is a particular shade of green that I always associate with the College—not the dark blue-green of white pine needles or the bright green of the grass at Whittier Field, but the hue of painted shutters, doors, and signs on campus buildings. Known as “Bowdoin Green,” it has its origins in the 1930s, when thrift and ingenuity made up for not having enough cans of green paint to complete a job. The addition of black paint (and perhaps of other colors) created sufficient quantities of a distinctive dark green paint and saved a little money for the College in the bargain.

For many years the “recipe” for the custom color was handed down within the paint shop at Building and Grounds/Facilities. Over the past 70 years there have been slight variations in the colors of the commercially-available paints used in the mix, resulting in subtle batch-to-batch differences. Time adds its own patina, but the Bowdoin Green is still immediately recognizable to members of the College community. After all, could any of us envision the doors to the Chapel or Massachusetts Hall painted any other color?

Samples of “old” and “new” Bowdoin Green have been subjected to detailed color analyses at the local Sherwin-Williams paint store, and the ratios of constituent pigments have been worked out to yield a consistent Bowdoin Green. The formula is not a guarded secret, although it was designed for the color system of a particular brand of paints. Because the College is the source of the greatest demand for this particular shade of green, the Brunswick store has the recipe, which it is willing to share. I must confess that in my limited experience I’ve only seen the Bowdoin Green used on exterior wood trim or poles, not on interior walls (and especially not on ceilings!).

The tradition of resourceful problem-solving and economy that underlies the story of this special paint is alive and well at Bowdoin. Several years ago the Department of Special Collections and Archives at Hawthorne-Longfellow Library contacted the carpenter shop on campus about constructing shelves to hold blueprints, maps, and other rolled documents. In order to meet the standards for archival storage the shelves or racks (1) could not be chemically reactive with papers of varying pH, (2) needed to allow for air circulation, and (3) could not attract moisture. Carpenter Mark Donovan considered a number of alternative materials and designs, but drew on his practical experience as a lobsterman to come up with an answer. He fashioned the storage racks out of polyvinyl-coated wire mesh, the same material used to build lobster traps. Richard Lindemann, director of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, had the mesh analyzed for its archival properties, and it proved to be chemically inert—an ideal and inexpensive solution to the problem.

The Facilities Department has even found creative ways to adapt hockey pucks to the tasks at hand. Vibrations in an air cooling unit at the Walker Art Building had caused a copper coil to rub against the back wall of the chamber in which the unit had been placed. Abrasion led to a water leak. Several hockey pucks affixed to the wall of the niche acted as bumpers to keep the coil from coming in contact with the wall. On the basis of Bowdoin’s inspired improvisation, the manufacturer of the cooling unit now offers rubber bumpers to its customers to protect the copper coils from damage. Recently the Facilities staff turned again to the humble hockey puck to fashion large rubber washers for pumps at Druckenmiller Hall. They cut a puck into two discs, drilled a hole in the center of each, and made other custom adjustments to match the configuration of the washers. The results could not have been better. Apparently there is a small supply of hockey pucks on hand at the Facilities Department to deal with problems as they arise—including a few pucks to place under the kickstands of motorcycles to keep the stands from sinking into the asphalt pavement on a hot summer day. Next winter I will watch with renewed appreciation as people scramble to retrieve a puck that sails into the seats during a hockey game; clearly it is an object with far more than sentimental value.

I want to make it clear that comparable ingenuity may be found at every hand at Bowdoin—in the management and execution of the College’s outstanding Dining Services; in a library that is second to none in the quality of services it offers; in classrooms, labs, and academic departments; in information technology that keeps pace with a rapidly—changing world; in Bowdoin’s athletic programs; and with all the people who work with Bowdoin students, parents, and alumni. In the examples of Bowdoin Green paint, lobster-trap-mesh shelves, and the off-season lives of hockey pucks, may we all find our own wellspring of resourcefulness.

With best wishes,

John R. Cross ’76
Secretary of Development and College Relations

Pictured above:
The Whispering Pines

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The Facilities Department has even found creative ways to adapt hockey pucks to the tasks at hand.