Campus News

Stained Glass Treasure Restored, Replaced on Memorial Hall

Story posted January 10, 2000

A historic work of art could have been lost amid the renovation of Memorial Hall and Pickard Theater and construction of the new Wish Theater, were it not for the effort of a local art historian.

The arched stained glass window where the Wish Theater joins Memorial Hall was reinstalled this fall, back in its original configuration after almost 50 years.

The window originally was commissioned by Maine author Sarah Orne Jewett, the first woman granted an honorary degree by Bowdoin. She gave the window to Bowdoin in memory of her father, Dr. Theodore H. Jewett, class of 1834. It was one of the last pieces designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman, a noted painter, craftswoman and designer of book covers.

At 26, Whitman entered the Boston studio of William Morris Hunt to study painting and pursue a professional career in art, which was unprecedented for married women of wealth and social position in the late 1800s. In addition to working as a painter, Whitman was the premier designer of book covers for Houghton Mifflin and Company, designing many covers for Jewett, her long-time friend.

Most significantly, Whitman successfully competed with men for commissions.

Working in the arts and crafts style, Whitman designed and constructed hundreds of stained glass windows, including more than 100 windows in the William Hayes Fogg Memorial Library at Berwick Academy, and several pieces in the Schlesinger Library and Memorial Hall at Harvard University.

The window at Bowdoin was installed in 1903, one year before Whitman’s death.

In 1955, when Bowdoin’s Memorial Hall was renovated to construct Pickard Theater, the window was dismantled. The two center panels were removed, and colored glass borders were added to make the arched panels rectangular. Those were hung in the entranceway of the building. The rest of the original window remained in place on the side of the building.

For years, the windows puzzled Betty Smith, an art historian who has been researching Whitman on and off for about 10 years. When it occurred to her that the windows in the lobby actually had been taken from the larger window, she contacted the College, which funded their restoration and reconstruction.

According to Smith, the windows are perfect examples of Whitman’s style.

"She felt stained glass should look nice from the outside," Smith said. "She was very interested in architecture."

What appears from the outside to be black glass is actually deep red, evident only from the inside when bright sunlight passes through the window. But because the inside of the theater must be free of ambient light, the window is walled off and now visible only from the outside.

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