A Wall Street Journal article published March 23, 2021, “The Staying Inside Guide: Big-Deal Art in Plain-Spoken Venues” by Judith H. Dobrzynski, celebrates New Deal works of art across the country.
The reporter highlights Coit Tower in San Francisco as one renowned example.
“The New Deal murals inside Coit Tower in San Francisco are also well-known. Painted by some two-dozen artists in 1934, they are social realist panels about life in California during the Depression, with titles like “Banking and Law” and “Meat Industry.” Their story, with a detailed layout, is available in a San Francisco Recreation and Park Department brochure.”
Judith H. Dobrzynski for WSJ
The reverse ratio is evident here: Gloucester selected four artists who completed scores of masterworks* for specific public buildings. Monumental stunning mural cycles were commissioned under the auspices of Federal Arts PWAP and WPA-era programs from 1935-42 for Sawyer Free Library, City Hall, the High School on Dale Ave (now Central Grammar apartments), Hovey, Maplewood, and Forbes elementary schools. As schools were closed, disposed, or repurposed, murals were rescued and resited within City Hall and later O’Maley.
The City of Gloucester artists were significant muralists and painters. In truth, venerated. They captured stories of Gloucester and became a celebrated part of our history and artistry. When considered as a whole, the Gloucester murals rival WPA era collections completed in big cities. The density of murals are as concentrated as any found in larger cities, like Coit Tower in San Francisco, though spread out among buildings rather than one tower, or one structure, as with Harlem Hospital. Gloucester’s post office nearly landed a commission, but fate intervened. I’ll save that for the Part 2 post.
Gloucester and greater Cape Ann artists were commissioned for murals beyond Gloucester and Massachusetts and served key roles on selection panels and planning.
In recent years thanks to a CPA award, the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, established in 1978 to help museums with conservation, evaluated the condition of the city’s historic Depression era collection to help with important restoration. Gloucester’s impressive collection itself is the museum and the city a work of art that continues to inspire generations of artists.
*The quantity of murals is 68 if one includes the five O’Toole murals from the 1940s. Note: because the Gloucester murals are multi-piece or series, the sections tally up to a whopping 75-90 count.
Selection of some murals on view (when open).
Gloucester’s murals at Sawyer Free
Within Sawyer Free Library are the city’s only New Deal works painted directly on plaster walls. Frederick Stoddard’s designs throughout the Saunders house encompass the first floor entryway, two story stairwell, and 2nd story wrap around stairwell hall. He described this two-story “decoration” above wainscotting upstairs and down as “a conventionalized treatment of the Gloucester region”. Familiar scenes include Dogtown “Moors”.
Marine scenes wrap around the former children’s space on the top floor.
A Gloucester Daily Times article from 1934 mentions a trifecta opening honoring the architectural overhaul for the building, new murals, and Rachel Webber’s retirement:
“July 25, 1934- “The public reception at the Sawyer Free Library yesterday afternoon was for three purposes: to observe the 50th anniversary of the occupancy of the present building, to give a public showing to the mural decorations recently completed by Fredercik L. Stoddard and to the entirely restored and renovated building, and to recognize 44 years of service by Miss Rachel S. Webber, librarian who is to retire in the fall…The building has been completely repaired and largely restored. The three story tower which had been built on the front of the building has been removed*, as has the old porch which extended across the front of the house, leaving only an entrance porch. A bay window facing Dale avenue which the architects decided spoiled the character of the building has been sliced off. Everything has been painted and repaired and new lights have been installed.”
*all work near murals!
Howard Curtis assisted Stoddard with some repair work as a result (and was brought back again in 1953, 1974, and 1976-1980). In 1935, Curtis was busy completing his original “The Creation of Light” commission for the Methodist Episcopal Church on Prospect Street (now apartments).
Within O’Maley Innovation Middle School are a complete though out of order Frederick Mulhaupt series (originally at Maplewood); a partial and crucial section from a 2nd immersive series (originally at the High School); and “Our Daily Bread” by Frederick Stoddard, cropped. There are important works by Larry O’Toole commissioned by Ben Pine for the Gloucester Fishermen Institute and YMCA that were painted in the 1940s. Ron Gilson, Gloucester native, author and local historian, helped with the attribution and remembered the completed art being carried out the door. Gilson was great friends with Ben Pine, his first boss, and knew O’Toole.
above: sections from Mulhaupt’s fantastical “Landing of the Viking Thorwald in Vinland” 1935; and central panel “Gloucester harbor” 1936 | below: DPW inspecting the O’Toole 1940s murals (photo 2015)
Within City Hall, there are 10 monumental New Deal murals by four artists: Charles Allan Winter, Frederick Stoddard, Frederick Mulhaupt, and Oscar Anderson. Three are multi panels so the collection in this building seems much greater than 10 murals. The Winters in the lobby and Kyrouz were site-specific for City Hall.
One is a small Stoddard panel from a triptych spanning 65 feet for Eastern Avenue School!
I’ll follow up with posts detailing more biographical information about the artists.
Does a pair of Gloucester Forbes school murals jog your recall?
The City of Gloucester murals have the potential to be listed among the nation’s most concentrated holdings of New Deal art from the 1930s and 40s on public view anywhere today. However, they are not all on view. Historic murals not on display await further conservation treatment.
Frederick Stoddard set up a studio in an unused room of the Point Primary School in East Gloucester to paint a variety of panels for the Forbes school. African animals by a waterhole, “the only liberty was animals all close to each other and peaceful,” accompany scenes of wild animals & birds and domestic animals. An underwater scene of local fish and vegetation is missing. I imagine every child and adult found it impossible to settle on just one favorite animal.
The largest composition stretched almost 20 feet. Joseph Nunes helped Stoddard with the installation.
This pair from the series were set over the doorways leading to classrooms. Each measures 5′ x 5′, so tall ceilings. Do they look familiar?
Did you attend or are you related to someone who was enrolled at the Forbes elementary school in 1935? Perhaps you visited one of the special viewing days set aside for the public. Fun fact: There have been seven Forbes school locations if we include the two modulars from the 1920s.
Oscar Anderson painted seven soft hued and dreamy murals for Hovey School including three panoramas. Four smaller works from this school are missing since ca.1972 or later. Does seeing a few of them together help you picture the Hovey school interior?
WPA District Briefs – 1930s
Beyond art, Gloucester benefited from multiple New Deal projects big and small. The Jodrey State Fish Pier was a Public Works Administration (PWA) biggie. Emergency funds allocated through the Treasury department paid for new public buildings like Gloucester’s post office.
The WPA helped Gloucester finally cap off the new track and field on Centennial. For years Gloucester residents were asked to dump their trash to build up landfill. The recreation space (now New Balance Field at Newell Stadium) was recognized nationally and dubbed, “Gloucester WPA Centennial Avenue Athletic Field”.
“The benefits of men working has changed unsightly, unhealthy Gloucester dumping ground into a modern fully equipped athletic and recreation field.”
Super complimentary letter from Colorado in response to the Gloucester story:
GHS Football players- recognize anyone?
The field also gained coverage with other WPA football projects
Stage Fort Park
WPA salvage work helped to build a new seawall at Stage Fort Park for flood and erosion control – “More than 3500 tons of stone set in cement were required in the construction of this 1100 foot WPA sea wall at Stage Fort Park, Cressey Beach, Gloucester. The wall preserves the beach area by preventing water and driven sand from flooding the park property.”
“At City Home, Gloucester, WPA razed a dilapidated wooden structure and built an all-stone garage and storage shed. These buildings will be used jointly by the City Home and the Welfare Department.”
Contributions in support of murals needing treatment can be sent to the “City of Gloucester”, note for mural conservation, City Hall, 9 Dale Avenue, Gloucester, MA 01930
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Touring the Sawyer Free Library grounds with Linda Bosselman on the occasion of her last day at work*, we receive a garden pep talk peppered with small gestures and comforting words. We almost forget that it’s her last day. Isn’t that typical of time spent with Linda? Her professional and unassuming smarts earned the trust of her colleagues, and make it a joy to learn from her experiences. An avid local history buff, photographer and community volunteer, she’ll be busy as ever. Still, it’s a big change with her having worked at Sawyer Free for the past three decades.
*Like other milestones during the pandemic, retirement (early) celebrations are altered.
happy retirement MESSAGES FOR LINDA –
Christy Rosso, Sawyer Free Library Director of Children’s Services, writes:
We have so many happy memories together, laughing over a huge display we had to do in a hurry — you frantically ironing hundreds of yards of blue fabric, me looping and winding it around City Hall for what seemed like days. It emerged as a beautiful and thoughtful addition to the event. Mischief managed. We designed many more wonderful displays and programs together, gardened, crafted, photographed, and grew a wonderful library and book collection together for our city’s children and families. Thank you so much for all of that. You have been a wonderful part of this library for 29 years. We are warmly appreciative for everything. We wish you happiness and more adventures ahead as you retire. Always,
Through her 29 years of service to the library, Linda has provided support in so many different areas; managing and circulating the collections, organizing and photographing programs, creating beautiful displays and brochures and answering every possible question about all things Gloucester. The list is endless. We love her and will miss her dearly but she has promised to fill in at the library every once in a while and that’s a comfort to us.
September 3, 1991- how lucky were we that day to have Linda Bosselman start working at Sawyer Free Library? She’s worked upstairs and downstairs, with adult’s and children’s services, with different co-workers and directors, for three decades. Helping generations of patrons. I mean it when I’m saying congratulations and thanks. Also all I really want to say is, “No, don’t leave!”
Justine Vitale, Librarian, Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library
“These are beach tree saplings, not weeds. People can nurture descendants from this great gorgeous tree!”
“Volunteers could weed a little in between the landscaping crews; just toss under the hedge until they come through. And share their expertise helping point out weeds from the special native plants.”
“In the winter, I love to photograph the library from Middle Street with City Hall in the background. I climb up on the (YMCA) wall across the street, right there.”
“The tomatoes need to be picked soon or they’ll split.”
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Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Public Library weekly Story Time with Christy resumes despites Covid-19 closure. Christy Russo is the Director of Children’s services at the library. She effortlessly brings a Mister Rogers kind flair and expertise to programs. See the first week’s video below focused on friendship. The production quality is well done, and the emoji adds feel sweet and festive. This episode format includes a greeting and “visit” with garden friends, stories*, and activities.
*We Are Brothers We are Friends by Alexandra Penfold and Little Elliot Big City by Mike Curato (Macmillan publishing, both)
Manchester Public Library is offering story times as well via social media (including Facebook LIVE). Look for upcoming events here
Weekly Tuesdays at 6:30pm PJ Story Times with Carol Bender, another stellar children’s librarian on Cape Ann, began April 14th, 2020. “Remember to wear your PJ’s and bring your special animal friends for a Facebook live story time!” Upcoming April 21, 28 and May 5
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Author Karin Gertsch will be reading her new children’s book, Flora Has an Adventure– a story about a hen who goes on a visit to a library–at Sawyer Free children’s library on March 14th. She’s bringing a hen for kids to meet! Dads and Donuts storytimes are for everyone.
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Middle Street Walk Gloucester, Ma. – Friends of Sawyer Free and Gloucester High School National Honor Society students helped with bustling stations of Harry Potter themed crafts and treats from creative librarians.
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Sawyer Free Library Children’s Services presented a fun family program featuring Mary Rhinelander for a weekly storytime with Christy. Rhinelander read from her smart and funny new picture book, ‘Why does my dog…?” inspired by her lovable pet, Hazel, and fast facts about dogs. To everyone’s delight, her dog made an appearance and many new friends! 🙂🐾🐶
Hazel was so comfortable amidst all the bustle, she left us with a song when Rhinelander played a tune; a first time the dog shared her endearing talent in such a crowd. (And no treats were involved!) My battery died but there’s enough here to convey the joy:
“Ever wondered “Why Does My Dog…”? Well I have! This picture book answers questions even adult readers ask themselves. Indeed, why DOES my dog chase her own tail? Dig holes in the back yard? Lick me all the time? These questions and many more are simply answered through a combination of words and humorous illustration.” – Mary
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Summer reading, new books, ongoing weekly programs, and special summer events: Sawyer Free children’s department is impressive! Families time regular visits to check out and return books with an array of fun plans. Rick Roth and crew engendered smiles and gasps with snakes from New England and the world on July 27, 2019.
Captures from Assistant librarian and wonderful photographer Linda Bosselman
With the crowds at capacity year round, the children’s library is ideal on this level.
Imagine using stairs and the elevator to access the crush of ongoing and popular children’s programs on a proposed top floor of a proposed new building (review plans here). Sawyer Free has appropriated $935,000 from the endowment for a fundraising firm to assist with the capital campaign to raise 20 million of a 26 million plus project. Preliminary plans displayed at the annual meeting can be seen here
The childen’s department needs renovation and expansion, and access to its outdoor space again. The future planned terracing limits the public outdoor space and will impact the rich flexibility of so many outdoor options, running around and programs this department made use of since the Monell build.
Reminder – Pop UP Planetarium at City Hall tomorrow July 29,2019 summer 2019 a Universe of Stories (separate reminder post coming)
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Sawyer Free Library (SFL) Children’s Services shares photographs from Curious Creatures program (July 25, 2019), one of many special summer 2019 events amidst regular weekly busy & fabulous children’s programs. Photo credit: Linda Bosselman. Christy Russo is the children’s services director.
Scroll below to see photographs from the teen program held later that day, Galaxy Tie Dye.
Snakes of New England with Rick Roth scheduled tomorrow! Mark your calendar for more summer fun.
Scenes from Sawyer Free Library teen program yesterday, Galaxy Tie-Dye, programming inspired by the 2019 summer reading theme “A Universe of Stories”.
Now that security help is squared away, let’s open that side door back up to its open space and make it easy on these outdoor programs (and patrons) to set up and go.
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This photo chronicle begins with scenes from the Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library 2019 Annual meeting, including views of the concept proposal for renovation and addition intended for the library as they appeared in the feature presentation that evening with some brief analysis. The second part of the piece provides background about the American architect, Donald F. Monell, and visual context regarding his designs for the library expansion built in 1973 and largely ignored through this current new build consideration. Links to several reference documents relevant to this process are collected and provided at the end. (This update is part of an ongoing series published on GMG.)
Annual meeting – Arriving/settling in
About 85 people including Trustees with guests, library personnel, and marketing and architectural representatives were present for the Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library’s Annual Meeting on May 20, 2019. (click individual photos to see full size)
Mayor Romeo Theken, Library Dir. Deborah Kelsey, and Trustee Chair John Brennan welcomed the public. Brennan thanked several Trustees for long service and welcomed new ones.
Deborah Kelsey presented the Mary Weissblum Smith Volunteer Award to Susan Oleksiw and Christy Park in recognition of their curation and management of the Matz Gallery rotating exhibitions over the past five years and their notable careers. Ironically, in the new concept plans, there is no Matz Gallery and limited art space. Read more about Matz’s philanthropy and work in Gloucester here. The major works from the art collection continue to be off view and similarly unaccounted for in future plans.
Financial Statement YR 2017-18
The library’s treasurer explained that the Annual Meeting financial reports always illustrate the prior year rather than the one just completed. So for this 2019 annual meeting, the report reflects May 2017- May 2018. He explained next year’s will represent the year 2018-19 and will show red and depletion of the 6 million endowment. Former board members asked about expenses to date, related to the new build, and itemization of the Trustee expenses line item, which was not in use when they served. A trustee explained that a title more accurately reflecting those expenses would be helpful. Reports will be shared.
Architect’s renderings / Oudens-Ello (with Dore & Whittier for library and MBLC)
The 25 million+ quoted for the concept plan does not include preservation of the original heart and soul of the library, the Saunders building, or any mention of the library’s fine art. A recent estimate for potential Saunders preservation begins at 3 million– which would be in addition to any work done elsewhere with the library.
Stairs and more stairs
Design inspiration did not come from Saunders or Monell. (I asked.) One of the stated goals was striving to continue to make the library accessible for all, although in my opinion since the first presentation years ago, this design undercuts that aim.
Because of gentle switchback steps, currently there is technically no “accessible for all” direct entry from Dale to the Main Floor, or from Middle Street. The accessibility option from Dale curves around to a side* and back entrance. If that level is not the destination, patrons continue to the elevator.
Increasing all of the buildings’ gateway capacities is a fantastic goal. I do not understand how a concept with such tremendous staircase emphasis will remedy that expression of accessibility for all, or ease patron flow. The monumental scale of the three-story glass central stairwell takes up the transition volume between the original Monell and concept addition, and looms larger than the current Monell atrium. In this concept, children’s and teen spaces will be on the top floor. Crowd flow of all ages will need to access the elevator from the ground floor near the back entrance. Once upon a time the children’s wing was on the top floor of the Saunders building and intentionally moved to a space on the ground level. Currently, children’s services is on the ground floor. Friends and librarians using Reading and Salem libraries are not fans of children’s spaces on the top floor.
*The side entrance was sealed off this year due to safety concerns which can be helped by architecture and staff. The new security officers received the biggest applause of the night.
Glass staircase design statements — stacked cantilevered and floating– are common features in malls, retail, and transportation (airports!) hubs, often with escalator options, and ample budgets for cleaning staff. They’re not super kid friendly or easy to clean. For this concept, the staircase massing can be greatly reduced and favorably impact the footprint, cost and siting. I’ve written about the odd flow of moving the library’s busy children’s services up to the top level in this proposal. Just one of Christy Russo’s daily programs may bring in 20 to 80 kids and their grown-ups!
Moving to elevator and stairs with or without strollers will increase flow inefficiency dramatically, and be a disservice to an evergreen and engaged population. Children’s could be flipped back to the ground floor, with or without a separate teen space on this level. Research and multi use rooms requested for “21st century programming needs” could be dispersed throughout the expanded upper levels. Safety issues and bathrooms can be addressed on any floor. The librarians have been patiently awaiting remodeling and interior update and upgrades on the ground floor since 2012. The build out goal of 2026 or later is too long! They need more space, a functioning and better test kitchen, and major bathroom renovations (yesterday!).
Oudens Concept plan Timeline
ETA library tentative opening 2026
SFL Library atrium, architect Donald F. Monell
Monell building, top floor, no artificial light, no filter: looking across atrium with presentation underway on Main Floor as this space was being described again as an uninviting dark hole.
Design inspiration and high bar – Saunders House and Monell
For nearly 190 years, the Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library has played a key role in the cultural life of the city of Gloucester and the Commonwealth. Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library features not one but three iconic buildings. Investment in building projects with such inspiring history, pedigree, assets, materials and form are indeed a rare and enviable opportunity. Any library build should feature both Saunders and Monell. We are so lucky to have them!
There was worry about the Saunders and Monell buildings, the Stacks, and the Rando Memorial garden when the proposed new building first dropped and as this process continued. Thankfully, a Saunders stewardship committee has been reestablished and the Rando Garden will remain. (There was pushback that the “21st century building” left the community with less green space, not more.) It’s only since last week that razing Monell was taken off the table. And it’s only since February 2019 that the architects began to emphasize green design as they had not realized how valued such criteria was in Gloucester. A workshop was held at the library.
Still, no one involved in the new process was discussing Monell, his inspiration, or influence. Regarding the library 2019 green visionaries—Monell may be more important to them than they realize. After all, he was ahead of his time incorporating wind and solar design into public buildings and homes. I’ve been thinking more and more about Monell, his studies and business ventures, his devotion to Gloucester.
Donald F. Monell earned multiple degrees at Bowdoin (BS, 1937) , Royal College of Edinburgh (1938), Tekniska Hogskolan in Stockholm (KTH Royal Institute of Technology), and M.I.T. (MS in city planning,1941 and MS in architecture, 1950). He was a research assistant in City Planning at M.I.T. (1940-41), and a Research Associate in solar energy at M.I.T. from 1949 to 1951. During World War II he served as a Captain with the 333 Engrs. S.S. Regiment in the US Army Corp of Engineers from 1942-46. Prior to setting up his own firm in 1952, he worked as a community planner in Tennessee and for various architectural establishments. His son Alex Monell said that his father declined positions with larger international firms. “He preferred working on a smaller one to one relationship with clients.” Monell’s tenure at M.I.T. coincided with I.M. Pei and Buckminster Fuller; Monell set up his eponymous business two years prior to I.M. Pei. I asked Alex if his father worked with architect Eleanor Raymond. She built her home in Gloucester and had similar interest in sustainable design. She is credited with designing one of the first solar heated houses in 1948 “I know he worked with Maria Telkes (who invented a means to store heat in melted crystals that stored more than water could) on one of their solar homes and now that I looked her up I see the home was designed by Eleanor Raymond! So they knew each other.”
Monell was licensed to practice in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York and was NCARB certified. He was a member of AiA and Boston Society of Architects. He served on Gloucester’s Civic Art Committee beginning in the 1960s. He was a trustee of the Cape Ann Symphony Orchestra, an incorporator of AGH and Cape Ann Savings Bank, and a Vice President of the Cape Ann Museum (then Cape Ann Historical Assoc.). Monell’s office was located in the Brown Building, 11 Pleasant Street. His son remembers visiting his dad on jobs and admiring the hand made scale models. Local residents may recognize the names of Monell hires: Kirk Noyes who preserved Central Grammar and other award winning developments, was a draftsman, and Craig Toftey helped Monell with the Sawyer Free library.
The new building planners describe the need for a 21st century library. What does that mean today? Back in 2012, technology was the big discussion point and the library a possible tandem option for schools. (Elementary school libraries were shuttered and/or volunteer run, and school librarian positions cut.) Since then, libraries in schools became “Learning Commons” with a tech focus. By 2019 Gloucester Public Schools have a 1 to 1 student computer initiative. There was a desire for grounds improvement, since completed and well received with the Rando Memorial. I was asked about helping with a public art comission and how it might work as a play structure, too. Mayor Romeo Theken reminded us of the homes and neighborhood playground where the Monell addition and parking lot were built. Community input suggested opportunities for more outdoor spaces would be welcome, not less. Library design trends recommend co-work and makerspace options so the library is a community center. (Sawyer Free has been a community center since its founding.)
One thought regarding “21st Century” library tech goals: partnerships with M.I.T., Harvard, and Bowdoin could be fruitful and shored up by honoring Monell. Perhaps they’d help facilitate subscriptions to specialized libraries. Coordinating public access to resources like MatLab as one example would enhance “accessibility for all” in a 21st century sort of way.
Monell’s son, Alex, shared a section from M.I.T. President’s Report, 1951, with a reference to his father: “Mr. R. Buckminster Fuller, visiting lecturer, who contributed significantly to this conference, worked this year with the third-year students in architectural design and presented his concept of the “comprehensive designer” in a program emphasizing the relation of structure to design. In August, I950, occurred the five-day symposium on “Solar Energy for Space Heating,” under the auspices of the Godfrey L. Cabot Fund, attended by about 900 persons who were mostly visitors to the Institute. Mr. Donald F. Monell, research associate, was responsible for organization. Speakers included staff members and outside authorities in this field. Professor Lawrence B. Anderson was one of the contributors.”
Don and Lila Monell could be the “Charles and Ray Eames of Gloucester”
Don Monell and Lila Swift should rightly be included on any Massachusetts #MassModernism trail. Monell and Swift, co-founders and collaborators of their own wrought steel furniture design firm in 1950, Swift & Monell, husband and wife, architect and artist, were the Charles and Ray Eames* of Gloucester. Original examples of their woven leather, metal and enamel stools, tables, and bins are rare and placed in collections. The furniture was exhibited at Current Design (now ICA) and Furniture Forum. They operated the business in upstate New York when Monell worked for Sargent Webster Crenshaw & Folley. They built a studio for their business in their home when they moved back to Gloucester in 1952. Initial prototypes and editions were inspired by touring Lawrence Mills with Monell’s brother in law, who worked in the textile industry. Alex clarifies: “I do not know what mill my father’s brother in law was involved in or to what capacity, I just remember my parents toured it and found the source of leather. A Cambridge firm sold them for awhile. And later my parents gifted them as wedding presents to close friends and relatives. Ray Parsons a blacksmith from Rockport often made the frames and later I made some at Modern Heat.”
” Lila Monell print cormorants image used in tribute for Dorothy Adams Brown”
*footnote: Ray Eames was in Gloucester. Before Hans Hofmann settled into teaching in Provincetown, he was invited to teach summer classes at the Thurn School of Art in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1933 and 1934. Thurn was a former Hofmann student. Ray Eames studied painting with Hofmann in Gloucester and was a student of his for years. Decades later (during an interview with Ruth Bowman, who was wonderful, and owned a fabulous Gloucester Hopper) Eames mentioned 1940, a later date, for when she first learned about Hofmann. On an architecture timeline- Charles and Ray Eames were born in 1907 and 1912 respectively, and Monell in 1917. They were married about a decade before Monell & Swift and west coast rather than east. Yet they were contemporaries. Art & Architecture case study homes began in 1945 (Eames house, 1949) Eames lounge chairs were manufactured in 1956 (after years of prototypes). Gropius House in Lincoln , Mass., landmark Bauhaus residence now museum was built in 1938, same year as MoMa Bauhaus exhibition. The Graduate school at Harvard designed by Gropius was a TAC (The Architects Collaborative) build in 1950. TAC was founded in 1945 with the clout addition of Gropius who continued with the firm until his death in 1969. Original 7 founders were Norman Fletcher, Louis McMillen, Robert McMillan, Ben Thompson, Jean Fletcher, Sarah Harkness and John Harkness. Twenty years later, Monell’s Plum Cove elementary school design in 1967 was leveraged by partnering with The Architects Collaborative. Gloucester’s Plum Cove school is a TAC build. Wikipedia lists several commissions. The school could be added.
The Monells were friends with many artists and Gloucester residents. They were best friends with Sarah Fraser Robbins which is another rich “green” connection for Sawyer library. The Monells were married at her house and living there when their first son came home! Eventually they built their dream home in Gloucester designed to maximize its stunning natural setting, all granite and ocean views. Their family and business grew. Lila’s art and home are inspired by wild nature, especially birds and insects, often the subject of her prints and photographs, and even wardrobe embellishments. (More than one person recalled a striking faux brooch or embroidery like adornment that was actually a coiled live centipede.) Domestic animals and wild birds were part of the family. There were always pet crows and birds. “Our mother raised geese and guinea fowl,” Alex continued, “Mainly the birds we had were ones she brought to rescue from oil slicks and other calamaties. She was well known as someone to bring an injured bird to.” Lila wrote an article in the Mass Audubon newsletter about two cormorants which she had a permit to raise. “Sarah (Fraser Robbins) had an old lobster boat, never used as one.” Alex recalled. “They used it for fishing. Our families were quite close. We’d head to Norman’s Woe and bring back seagulls. You know, rescue babies, and help teach them to fly.” He said he got them comfortable being tossed like a glider. “They’d come back again and again ready to launch!” It was easy to imagine some glimpse of his childhood in this idyllic setting. His delight brought to mind My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George and Driftwood Captain by Paul Kenyon. Sea and stone. What a playground!
Donald F. Monell Architecture
Monell completed many commissions in Gloucester and elsewhere on the North Shore, New Hampshire and New York. Any renovation and remodel at Sawyer Free is an incredible chance to celebrate his work and honor his legacy. After considering examples of Monell’s architecture it is easy to find his personal design in the work he did at Sawyer Free Library. He was trained as a landscape architect as well which helps to imbue his projects with great sensitivity and gentle passages. Many of his commissions are heavenly sites where buildings serve the surroundings, whether built or natural. His designs are better because of this reverence for context.
(Note on images- double click to enlarge)
Monell architecture – Residences
Monell designed numerous private residences and additions [e.g. Dotty & Lawrence Brown (1957), Laight (1958), Despard (1959), Boyce (1961), Foster, Nydegger, Marietta Lynch, Judy Winslow, Bob and Libby French (1967), Featherstones, John Hays Hammond Jr, and Phil Weld (many)] in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York. Several clients were repeat customers. The Brown home is one example. Alex writes that “the residence was altered by my father in the late 70s to accommodate a library when they moved there year round.” Much of the big collection of books were cookbooks. “Dotty was a great cook and good friends with Julia Child.”
Concord, NH, Early Monell commission had overhead electric radiant heat
windows altered from original design
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
round about drives & lily of the valley clustered at entrancesMonell designs
Within a few short years of moving to Gloucester, Robert and Elizabeth ‘Libby’ French expanded their art collection, he was elected Mayor, and they commissioned Monell to design their home and property in 1967. caption: video shows interior/exterior and was published in 2016. I don’t know when it was filmed. Small lovely moments – note the interior staircase railing, and exterior deck and bridge to glacial boulders. Clearly some modifications since it was designed in 1967 and perhaps since this video.
Monell architecture – Public Buildings
Besides the Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library commission, Monell government and public buildings include the Beverly Newspaper factory and offices, Eastern Point Retreat, Plum Cove School, and the Cape Ann Historical Society. Elements of his signature architecture resonate strongly with the work he did at the library.
Eastern Point Retreat House, Dorm & Dining Halls 1960
For the Gonzaga project, Monell joined two buildings and built a cafeteria and dormitories. Recently his original work at the entrance, connector and dormitories was razed. The historic photos BEFORE illustrate his artistry and display a strong connection with the design Monell established at the front of the library on the stacks building between Saunders and the expansion.
BEFORE / AFTER – dorm, far left (ocean side)
BEFORE / AFTER – dorm (parking side)
Microphone were set up to amplify sounds of the ocean (white noise) within the dormitory
BEFORE /AFTER – cafeteria low glass ceiling (ocean side) remains
Plum Cove Elementary School 1966
Monell subcontracted/collaborated with TAC for build
Beverly Newspaper Offices and Factory (now Salem News)
Gloucester Daily Times (1956)
Cape Ann Museum (formerly Cape Ann Historical Society) 1968
Circa 1967 plans for property by Grant Circle
Cape Ann Savings Bank
Monell’s work at Cape Ann Savings Bank has been altered at least 2x since his commission. Here are a couple of placeholder “before” snapshots until I obtain better examples. Before (courtesy photos)/After example – Note changes like the Monell staircase design vs replacement and office additions vs open floor plan. The arch window motif remains.
Signature elements – arches, contrast in materials, rectangles, winding paths
Monell was concerned with getting it right. You don’t have to know about Monell, his body of work or the history of architecture to be moved or respond. His slow designs are considerate of their surroundings, integrating connections with the natural and built environment. Thanks to his gentle, contemplative approach, it feels as though there’s more than enough space even when there isn’t much space to be had.
Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library
When reviewing Monell’s body of work, it’s clear to see that Gloucester’s landscape, history, art and architecture inform his designs. The library’s connector and entrance are signature Monell motifs and beautiful. It’s no accident that the symmetry of the windows at the back of the building echo the five bays of the firestation,
or that they were inspired and reference City Hall, 1867.
No matter which approach one takes to the library, Monell’s consideration of the building and its surroundings is intentional and graceful.
Special thanks to Alexander Monell for sharing his time, knowledge and inspiring family history. Photos are mine unless noted “courtesy”. Those are extra special as they were culled by Alexander Monell in loving tribute to his father and family that he kindly shared and even granted permission to publish here. More to come!
Read more about philanthropist Samuel Sawyer here. Prudence Fish has written about the Saunders house and her book Antique Houses of Gloucester,2007, is a must read. Also see exhaustive 2005 Fitch report (link below)
2017 – architectural renderings Oudens – see above, in this post, and architect’s website. Thus far is all that is available. For the past two years I have been told that the plans will be shared all in good time by architects, trustees, and library. I’ll link when they are. Some documents and updates used to be on the library website.
2017- A House in the Sun by Daniel A. Barber “about solar house heating in American architecural, engineering, political and economic and coporate contests between WWII and the late 1950’s” references M.I.T. and Monell’s work. “Many houses and heating systems were proposed or built by former students at MIT who had worked with Hottel and Anderson, including those designd by Lof in Colordo. One by Donald F. Monell in Gloucester, Massachusetts, for example, which remained unbuilt, proposed an “orange peel” collector that splayed the solar collection unit across an arc on the roof, and indicated some of the formal varieties of solar collection units that became available later in the decade. Monell also proposed to store the heated water in numerous smaller tanks according to the heating needs of different rooms.”- Barber
2017 – Several round up posts on GMG- search library new building or recent re-post with links
2005 – architectural plans Neshamkin, French Expansion Project – with preliminary suggestions to extend Monell’s architecture out back. There are several ways to approach the addition inspired by Monell* and Saunders. Monell’s handling of the two older structures, front entrance and addition are important examples of his ouevre, not solely the “facade”, a dismissive term negating his work. At this time another generation of the Matz family was interested in assisting with this work. The beloved Matz Gallery is a hallmark of the current design.
2005 – outstanding Finch & Rose Saunders House Preservation report here
2002 – links to Monell obituary, Gloucester Daily Time, Bowdoin, Boston Globe
2001 – architectural plans Finegold, Alexander Expansion Project (here)
1972 – architectural plans Monell (I posted on GMG here) scroll to end of post
1972 – architectural drawing Monell related to plans for Grant Circle Cape Ann Museum expansion, deferred till 2019 (see above)
Matz Gallery example- Mary Rhinelander McCarl solo exhibition
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ON Tuesday March 26, 2019 Library Trustees meeting from 5:30-7:30PM
ON Wednesday March 27, 2019 there is a Library (new) Building Committee meeting from 4pm – 6pm.The monthly meetings sometimes follow the traditional schedule of meeting on the last Wednesday of each month at 4:00 pm, and sometimes they have been/will be combined with Trustee meetings, etc. Do confirm ahead: 01/30/2019, 02/27/2019 02/26/2019, 03/27/2019, 04/24/2019 LOCATION: confirm SFL location if Friend Room or one of two rooms upstairs/downstairs in Saunders. There may be other informal ad hoc meetings.
Note schedule change – architect presentation with new building committee and library trustees is Tuesday February 26.
ON Monday February 25, 2019 Saunders House Stewardship Committee, 10:30AM-noon
ON Tuesday February 26, 2019 there is a Library (new) Building Committee meeting 5:30 PM sharp – 7:30 PM. Please note schedule change, again. The monthly meetings announced were said to follow the traditional schedule of meeting on the last Wednesday of each month at 4:00 pm, but that has not happened as meetings have been combined with Trustee meetings, etc. Do confirm ahead: 01/30/2019, 02/27/2019 02/26/2019, 03/27/2019, 04/24/2019 LOCATION: confirm SFL location if Friend Room or one of two rooms upstairs/downstairs in Saunders. There may be other informal ad hoc meetings.
ON Wednesday February 27, 2019 the fundraising committee for the new building may be meeting but I’m fairly certain it’s not at 4-5am– just a little typo on the events calendar. Maybe it’s 4-5pm