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The Wheelock Library, Frank Benson, and John Singer Sargent?

Wheelock College Library: The Wheelock Library, Frank Benson, and John Singer Sargent?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Wheelock Library, Frank Benson, and John Singer Sargent?

As most of you are aware, the Wheelock College Library has seen a number of changes in 2010—from a newly designed 1st floor, to new computers, to additional group meeting space, to the relocation of the Archives.

But what do we know about the building’s history?

According to the our archival collections, the building we now call the Wheelock College Library was originally an art studio space. But it took some detective work to really uncover this building’s past.

In her study of American impressionist Frank Benson, Faith Andrews Bedford notes that, in 1915, Benson and a number of his friends and colleagues built a structure “located on the marshes of the Charles River” that they used for art studio space. A 1925 Boston City Directory lists the address for this building (under Benson’s name, among others) as 132 Riverway.

Benson, an American impressionist painter as well as a graduate of and professor at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, is known to have closed his Riverway studio in 1944. The following year, Wheelock College purchased a building on the Riverway for use as office space, art studios, and a library. Around this time, Wheelock publications and reports from the office of the president variously refer to this new building as the Art Building, the Riverway Studios, or the Riverway Studio Building.

This purchase is mentioned in the October 5, 1945 edition of The Fliterary, the Wheelock student newsletter at the time, but the building didn’t officially open as the Art and Library Building until autumn 1947. Because administrative offices were also located in the building at first, 132 Riverway served as the College’s administrative address for a number of years.

In the December 8, 1950 issue of The Fliterary, Fran Daly (class of 1952) penned an article about the “studio building” in which she writes:
The Studio Building, which serves as an art studio, a library and an administrative building, has a very distinguished past … Designed and built by Frank W. Benson and Joseph DeCamp, this building was formerly used as artists’ studios. In addition to its famous designers and builders, this building has housed artists of both local and international repute. For example, there were such artists as William James, Gertrude Fiske, Charles Woodbury, Fritz Kellogg and William M. Paxton. Even the famous John Singer Sargent is believed to have worked in the building at one time.
This list includes a couple of important figures from Boston’s art history – and perhaps no one more noteworthy than John Singer Sargent. But did Sargent ever use the Riverway studio?

Keep checking the Wheelock College Library’s blog for more information about (and images of) the Library building’s expansion over the years – and for further information about Sargent’s connection to the building. I have the answer, I promise.

-Andrew Elder, Archivist

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