Amherst Magazine

College Row


Arts building is slated for renaissance

A national architectural firm known for respecting historic buildings has drawn up plans to renovate Fayerweather Hall, the 105-year-old Renaissance Revival building many critics regard as the architectural jewel of the campus. The $8-million project, scheduled to begin this summer, will restore and improve the brick structure as a "new" home for the fine arts department with fully modern classrooms, studios, workshops and exhibition spaces. The improvements also will give the department more flexibility and allow closer integration of its history and studio activities. Fayerweather was designed in the 1890s by the famous American architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White as a physics and chemistry building. One of the partners, William Mead, graduated from Amherst in 1867. The grounds were planned by the nation's preeminent landscape architectural firm, that of Frederick Law Olmsted. College officials recently selected the Albany, N.Y., architectural and engineering firm of Einhorn Yaffee Prescott to plan the renovation, which is due to be completed next January. The company has long experience in historic building projectsincluding work on Widener Memorial Library at Harvard and the Old Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. The firm notes approvingly in its Fayerweather prospectus that "the building has never had a major renovation. Most of the spaces and finishes are original, and have been in service since 1894...The large lab spaces and generous natural lighting at Fayerweather provide a remarkably good fit for the Fine Arts Department program. Most studio and classroom space needs can be accommodated within the original plan without the need for major structural or architectural changes."

Although some fine arts faculty and studios have been in Fayerweather since the 1960s, ventilation and other systems in the structure are antiquated. These and other basic features will be upgraded to meet current building code requirements.

Samuel C. Morse, professor of fine arts, is one of two faculty members working closely with the planners and contractors. The other is DeWitt A. Godfrey, assistant professor of fine arts. The plans to make Fayerweather a first-class home for fine arts instruction at Amherst are especially a dream-come-true for the department's two senior professors, Robert T. Sweeney and Joel M. Upton, who have long urged such a project.

Morse said he and his colleagues are delighted that the department will occupy a rejuvenated Fayerweather instead of a brand new building.

"Creative re-use like this is very exciting," Morse says. "The nice thing is that the building was designed as a science lab, and its spaces are ideal for studios with high ceilings and lots of natural light. Right now, though, the whole building is jerry-rigged for things like air handling, and proper ventilation for art studios is as complicated," he says, "as it is for science labs. "
Fundraising to support these renovations at Fayerweather is part of a $68.1-million goal in The Amherst College Campaign for improving many campus facilities. During the construction, which will begin in May and continue through the first semester next fall, department and faculty offices will be temporarily relocated to Cooper House, a former faculty residence at 86 College St. across from Valentine Hall; and classes will be held in other buildings around campus. After the renovation, however, offices, an enlarged Eli Marsh Gallery, other exhibition spaces, and the two main parts of the fine arts programhistory and practicewill be under the sameroof, with art history classrooms at the south end, near Chapin Hall, and studios at the north end, near Valentine. New corridors connecting the two wings will reflect their interrelationship in the fine arts curriculum: majors who concentrate in art history are required to take at least three art studio courses, and vice versa. In any given year there are between 30 and 40 junior and senior fine arts majors, divided about half-and-half between students in art history and studio art. The first floor of Fayerweather will house a large lecture room and two smaller classrooms. (The large room will occupy the same space where generations of Amherst students struggled through the required freshman physics course.) A new seminar room will be on the second floor. These spaces will be designed "for both the old-fashioned technology of projecting slides and new computer projection technology," Morse says. The department's slide librarywill be moved to Fayerweather from the Mead Art Gallery.

Morse expects that improved studio spacesespecially those for sculpture and photographyshould enable the department "to teach more varied studio courses." And, for the first time in years, the department will have studio office space for an annual artist-in-residence. The department also is looking forward to improvements outside the building. These will include an "east court" near the parking entrance at the rear. The Einhorn plan says the east court will "provide an engaging new outdoor space in what is now a service yard. It provides a space for outdoor sculpture, a defined path of pedestrian entry as well as a drive for service vehicles. The sculpture court is a paved workspace that is separated from the entry walk and will engage pedestrians in the work of the department." Back to the Top

A link with a golden age

Fayerweather may be seen as a Renaissance Revival monument to an Amherst alumnus from the Class of 1867, William Rutherford Mead of McKim, Mead & White, the famous New York architectural firm that designed the building. Other buildings of theirs include Pennsylvania Station in New York, the Rhode Island State Capitol, and the Boston Public Library. Mead's work and certainly the design of Fayerweather were strongly influenced by a year he spent studying in Florence, Italy, four years after his graduation from the college. Many years later, King Victor Emmanuel conferred on Mead the decoration of Knight Commander of the Crown of Italy in recognition of his pioneer work in introducing the Roman and Italian Renaissance architectural style in America. At the time his death in June 1928, The New York Herald-Tribune carried the following tribute: A link with a golden period in American art is lost through the death of William Rutherford Mead. He was the partner of Charles F. McKim and Stanford White, which is to say that his memory is allied with the renaissance in our architecture begun back in the late '70s. The members of this firm were extraordinarily united. Each brought sharply individualized gifts to the common fund. McKim was the austerest in design, having in him the tendency toward classical and Roman ideas ultimately manifested in such structures as the Pennsylvania Station and the Morgan Library. White was the romanticist of the group. Mead was its anchor in practicality and judgment, its cool-headed moderator . . . .

When Mead and his colleagues entered the field they were of an eclectic habit, as likely to recall in their country houses either the character of a French manor or the classical lines of Georgian Colonial. Then as they got into their stride, and especially as they tackled larger and more monumental problems, they made the style of the Italian Renaissance their own. They handled it with power and with a peculiarly happy flair for the needs and the spirit of their time. The historian philosophizing the subject will always recognize, we believe, the appropriateness of the renaissance ideas to the American environment. As McKim, Mead & White brought them upon the scene they were tinctured by scholarship, but there was nothing pedantic about them. They came from the past, from old Europe, but they did not seem exotic. Classical in origin, they yet escaped the heavy atmosphere of archaeology. Above all, they made for the maintenance of refinement and beauty.

In his safeguarding of these two prime virtues Mead was a tower of strength. What he and his firm did was to erect a standard, an ideal, and if they contributed a style to our great formative period they also did much to establish a habit of mind. One reason why architecture is today, in America, the most vitalized and progressive of all the arts, is that the members of the profession have an unquenchable ardor in the pursuit of a lofty goal. Mead never flagged in spurring on the younger generation to such an aim. Faculty sharpens role in admission process

Concerned that it has been lax in overseeing the admission process at Amherst, the faculty in December instructed its representatives on the Committee on Admission and Financial Aid to take a more direct role in selecting each class. The committee itself recommended the action after reviewing the recent history of admission to the college and reporting its belief that for a short period five and six years agothere had been "erratic and, at times, unacceptable weight given to athletics in the admission process."

At the same time, the committee affirmed college policy that gives admission officers "the latitude to consider extracurricular activities, including sports, as potentially significant assets in an applicant's folder." Meanwhile, Tom Parker, dean of admission and financial aid, has emphasized that the college can and does admit good athletes who are strong academically. In the Class of 2003, for instance, the average composite SAT scores for students identified as recruited athletes was 1335, which is in the top seven percent nationally of students going to college.

Parker welcomed the faculty's action. For 100 years or more, Amherst statutes have said that, "subject to the reserve power of control by the Trustees," the faculty "have the power and the duty to fix the requirements of admission."

After almost a year of discussion, the faculty voted with little dissent on December 7 to establish a new College Committee on Admission and Financial Aid that will meet before classes are admitted "to consider such information as it deems necessary to insure that the college's stated policies are being implemented," and then to "vote on the admission actions recommended by the Dean of Admission and Financial Aid." One proponent of the measure, John W. Servos, professor of history, said the new oversight group was "for the most part to be concerned with the aggregate, not the individual"that the new committee's votes were to be on the proposed admission groups "wholesale, not retail."

Servos said the main point is to see that the overall composition of each class reflects the college's policy on admission, which states:

"Amherst College looks, above all, for men and women of intellectual promise who have demonstrated qualities of mind and character that will enable them to take full advantage of our curriculum. We seek qualified applicants from different races, classes and ethnic groupsstudents whose several perspectives might contribute significantly to a process of mutual education within and beyond the curriculum.

"We aim to select from among the many qualified applicants those possessing the intellectual talent, mental discipline and imagination that will allow them most fully to benefit from the curriculum and contribute to the life of the college and society. Grades, standardized test scores, essays, recommendations, independent work, the quality of the secondary school program and achievements outside the classroom are among the factors used to evaluate this promise, but no one of these measures is considered determinative. How they intersect makes the difference." Back to the Top

Verbatim

A compilation of remarks from recent events at Amherst:

"My father truly believed that learning and education were the top priority. He taught my sister Betsy and me on a daily basis. He gave us two new words to learn each day. By the time I was six, words such as indefatigable, inflation and illuminate were part of my vocabulary. By eight, I knew the difference between stocks and bonds and the difference between hemlock and balsam."
    
Katharine Cole Esty
    Daughter of President Charles W. Cole '27
    At a ceremony renaming the Converse Assembly Room
    (Red Room) the Cole Assembly Room, October 29, 1999 "To be in the presence of people suffering is what impassions
our heartsto be in the presence of suffering. We can only
get so much taking courses in suffering or reading books about suffering."
    
Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., author of Dead Man Walking,
    In a talk in Johnson Chapel, October 15, 1999

"Problem number six: salad tongs misuse. There are three sets of tongs for a reason. Use them in the vicinity in which you found them, so that the person behind you can work on his or her salad at the same time instead of waiting for you to return the lettuce tongs that you are now using for the mushrooms. It sounds incredibly banal, but it makes a difference."
    
Laura Marshall '01
    Writing about "Valentine: Rules of the Road," in The Amherst Student, November 10, 1999

"Our New York fans were really disappointed when they heard that they couldn't come to the [Amherst College] concert tonight because it's a closed event. They thought that was really elitist and selective, but Amherst students wouldn't know anything about thatwould they?"
    
Moxy Fruvous band member Jian Ghomeshi
    At a sold-out concert in The Frontroom, December 3, 1999

"Mr. Emerson's mind is severely intellectual, subtle, penetrative and comprehensive. Many of his sentences could be amplified to a volume. He was too comprehensive and metaphysical to be at all times easily understood. But there was one visible defect in his performanceit had neither beginning, middle, or end. The end might as well have been the beginning or middle, and so of every other part. It was a series of subtle-minded, comprehensive, epigrammatic, detached thoughts."
The Hampshire Franklin Express, reporting on an Amherst
College commencement address by Ralph Waldo Emerson, August 10, 1855. (All right, this item isn't as recent as the others.)
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Mead receives museum grant

A $50,000 grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) will help protect the collection of works on paper at the college's Mead Art Museum.

Like all works on paper, the Mead's collection9,000 prints, drawings, watercolors and photographsis at risk of deterioration. The new grant will enable the museum to buy compact archival storage systems that will provide safe housing, greater accessibility and room for future growth.

The Mead has strong and substantial holdings in American art, European old masters and early modern art, Japanese wood block prints and photography. Recent exhibitions
such as "Picasso's Women," "C'est La Guerre: Prints and Photographs on the Subject of War," "The Hanged Man: Cezanne and the Art of the Print," "Creative Transformations: Japanese Prints from the Collection of William Green," and "Aaron Siskind's Harlem Document" have featured the Mead's collection of works on paper.

Jill Meredith, the museum's director, says, "This highly competitive grant is a very great compliment, honor and professional recognition of the significance of our institution and our collections. It will enable us to fulfill our educational mission more effectively through greater access as well as our professional responsibility for long-term preservation of the collection for future generations. With the advent of our website and searchable database, the works on paper will be in even greater demand for exhibitions, research requests and public use."

The new archival storage systems are part of this renovation, which will provide new climate control, fire suppression and security systems, and handicapped accessibility to the 50-year-old museum. The Mead closed for extensive renovations in June and will reopen in February of 2001 with improved exhibition galleries and a new teaching gallery for public lectures and class use. Back to the Top


Senior wins a Rhodes

Vaughn Thomas Gray, 22, of College Park, Md., a senior at Amherst, is one of 32 Americans named to receive a Rhodes Scholarship this year. Four students from Amherst have won the prestigious award in the past 20 years. The most recent American Rhodes Scholar was Stephanie Reents in 1992; Divya Rajaraman '98 won an International Rhodes Scholarship last year.
Gray, who is known as Tom, will graduate from Amherst in May with a double major in philosophy and biology. At Oxford University he hopes to earn a bachelor's degree in philosophy, the equivalent of an American master's, and perhaps a doctorate, although now he says he's "just little bit overwhelmed to think about that."

Gray did not immediately know what college he would apply to at Oxford, but he hopes to continue to play rugby "to be in England and not play rugby is unthinkable"as he has for four years at Amherst. Singing will also be a part of his stay at Oxford: Gray is a soloist with the Amherst Men's Chorus. He has also been active in student government at Amherst, serving for two years as president of the student body.

A career in politics is possible, says Gray, who began studying biology at Amherst planning to become a research scientist. While conducting biomedical research at Amherst and during summers at the National Institutes of Health, he became interested in the political and philosophical questions raised by modern biology.

Rhodes Scholarships, which pay for three years of graduate study at Oxford, were established in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, the British philanthropist and African colonialist. President Clinton and Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Bradley are among those who have received Rhodes Scholarships. Back to the Top

Chicken ancestors

In September The Chicago Sunday Sun-Times cited Amherst's Biology Prof. Paul W. Ewald in its "Strange but True" column written by Bill and Rich Sones. They asked him the poultry perennial:  Q.  Cracking an old riddle: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  A.  Here you must be precise with your terms, says Amherst College biologist Paul W.    Ewald. If the question is, "Which came first, the chicken or the generic egg?" then it's the egg. The ances- tors of chickens were laying eggs long before there were chickens.If you're asking, "Which came first, the chicken or the chicken egg?" then the answer depends on exactly when the genetic mix that you call a "chicken" first arose: If the last necessary mutation occurred just after egg formation (say during early embryo development), then the chicken came first. But if the mutation occurred in the process of egg formation, then the chicken egg preceded the chicken. However, any dividing line here between chicken and pre-chicken ancestors would have to be arbitrary. "Most evolutionary biologists prefer to say that both the chicken and the chicken egg evolved gradually together over many generations, in concert, from the ancestral chicken and the ancestral chicken egg."

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