Lab 2: Examination Techniques and Accession Numbers

The second lab focused on the examination processes one walks through to get acquainted with an object.


Getting Acquainted with Objects

Marianne demonstrated several different ways to look at and manipulate an object to learn more about it. First the class examined a Laconian kylix (cup) and an Attic jug under ultraviolet light, as the repairs made the vessels can be made clearer under UV light.


Using an IR microscope

Marianne also demonstrated how different materials appear under different lighting conditions including infrared light and raking light. For example, the presence of carbon containing inks may become clearer under IR light, which can be used to see the under-drawing of a painting. On a fragment of pottery, when examined under raking light, one could see the outline of a different shape (a kylix or cup) underneath the final image of an amphora (storage vessel).


Examining a pottery sherd under raking light


Step 1: In regular lighting, one can see a red amphora (storage vessel), lying on its side.


Step 2: Under Raking light, a small kylix (cup) can be seen in outline inside the area of the red amphora (storage vessel)








Professor Lindenlauf and Marianne explained how magnification can elucidate the fabric of a vessel to understand how it was manufactured or the average number of warp and weft threads per centimeter in a Coptic textile.


Examining vessel fabric


Using the digital microscope to examine a Coptic textile

In addition to spending time really looking at an object to discover more about it, Marianne explained that if an object represents a known type, research can help point to features that one may not be able to see, but can be found if you look. For example, Marianne demonstrated how when air moves through a pair of Peruvian pots, the vessel whistles. The whistling would occur when the vessel was tipped to pour out liquids.


Whistling Pots


Munsell charts and Pantone color cards








Color cards for photographs, Munsell charts for pottery, and Pantone color cards for fine arts all increase one’s ability to accurately document color. Calipers, rulers, scales, and vessel diameter charts quantitatively describe an object’s size, shape, and weight.

All of the data gathered about the object would go into a condition report. Marianne and Professor Lindenlauf walked through some of the processes with a vessel by the Bryn Mawr Painter and recorded the data on a sample condition report form.


Examining the Bryn Mawr Painter Plate


Loan Condition Report Example


Sample Condition Report Form

In addition, the class learned how accession numbers are applied to objects. Each object has its own unique accession number that identifies it within the collection. In order to ensure that an object is always identifiable, this number is attached to the object in a variety of ways. Marianne demonstrated two different techniques. For metal, stone and ceramic objects, a small layer of acrylic resin (Acryloid B72 in Acetone) is applied to create a base layer upon which the accession number can be written in permanent ink or acrylic emulsion artist paints. The resin protects the object from the ink and can easily be removed with acetone. In addition, a top coat of a different resin (Acryloid B67 in Naptha) is applied to protect the number from smudging or wear. Another type of label that can be used is a small piece of cotton twill tape with the number written on it which can be applied with a few tacking stitches to a textile object (as long as the object is in good condition and sturdy enough for this type of numbering system).


Test Objects Ready to Receive Accession Numbers


Accession Numbers Added to Labels







Lab 1: Making a Storage Mount

For the next few weeks, this blog will gain exclusive access to the lab sessions for a new course taught by Professor Astrid Lindenlauf and conservator Marianne Weldon up in special collections called: Introduction into Principles of Preservation and Conservation for Archaeologists (ARCH B137).

The first lab focused on creating mounts for objects when in storage.

While one mostly thinks about objects on display in exhibitions behind glass on black velvet with dramatic lighting, it is easy to forget that they spend a large amount of time in storage or in transport to and from exhibitions and study spaces. When in storage or transport, many objects need additional padding, support, or cradling to protect them from rolling around, bumping into one another, being crushed, squished, or other possible damages.


Objects in Storage within their mounts

Objects in Different Types of Storage Mounts

Storage mounts are created specifically to protect these objects and thus are an important part of storing an object safely for future use and study.

Choosing the materials from which to make a mount is the first step. One wants to ensure that the mount will not inadvertently damage the object through contact with reactive materials.

Examples of Storage Mount-Making Materials

Examples of New Biodegradable Materials

Marianne Weldon presented several tables of mount-making materials and tools: foams, tissue papers, boxes, silica gel, cloth-ribbon, glue-guns, paper labels, pillows, etc. She emphasized the archival properties of the materials (e.g. acid-free) and the new trend toward biodegradable materials.

She also demonstrated the Beilstein test in which one can test plastics for the presence of chloride by burning the plastic. If the flame burns green, the plastic is not safe for use.


Testing plastics for the presence of chloride.

There are a couple of different ways in which mounts can be made, but just like how every object is unique, every mount is unique to the object.  Marianne pointed out that what is most important is that the object can sit safely and can be removed from the mount easily and safely.

Students chose from a selection of objects that needed storage mounts for their lab project. Ceramic vessels and terracotta figurines were up for grabs. Over the course of the next several weeks, students will come in and create a mount for their object.



College Receives Funding to Restore Major Japanese Artwork


With its golden pigments and delicately painted detail, the 19th-century Japanese screen in Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections illustrates the moment when the “shining prince” Genji first sees his future beloved, Murasaki.

Donated by Asian art historian Helen Burwell Chapin, Class of 1915, the screen is the work of Kanō Seisen’in Osanobu, the last great master of the Kanō School of painting, a four-century-long tradition central to the visual cultural and heritage of Japan.

A significant piece of Japan’s cultural heritage—scholars believe it was part of a Shogunal dowry—the screen is in need of restoration. And Bryn Mawr is on the job.

With support from a $20,000 grant from the Sumitomo Foundation of Japan, Collection Manager for Art and Artifacts Marianne Weldon will be overseeing conservation work to be undertaken by Nishio Conservation Studios in Washington, D.C., one of the leading conservators of Asian art in the United States. Over the past year, Weldon has been working with History of Art doctoral student Anna Moblard Meier M.A. ’14 to identify and evaluate the College’s Japanese art collections.

Moblard Meier played an especially critical role in identifying the potential importance of the screen, doing background research on the work and the artist, and determining that the previously unidentified screen depicts a key moment from The Tale of Genji, a classic work of Japanese literature.

An incredibly rare example of Osanobu’s adept homage and adaptation of classical conventions, the screen tempted curators from the Philadelphia Museum of Art when they reviewed it last summer as they prepared for the exhibition Ink and Gold: Art of the Kanō. But although the pigments and painting are intact, the work had been structurally damaged over time and too fragile to be displayed.

The restoration of the screen will take about two years, and when the work is completed, the screen will be displayed in Canaday Library.

Reconnecting with the Bryn Mawr Deanery

The Bryn Mawr College Deanery has been the focus of my research this summer as a graduate intern in Special Collections. The Deanery was demolished in 1968 for the construction of Canaday Library–more recent generations of students have never heard of it, let alone seen it. However, a small piece of the Deanery does remain on campus–its garden, The Blanca Noel Taft Memorial Garden (’39). Despite the fact that it is no longer standing, the Deanery was a beautiful example of late-nineteenth-century American design and an important landmark in the history of Bryn Mawr College.

arieal view of deanery

Aerial View of the Deanery, ca. 1960’s (PAB_Deanery_008)


The Deanery was the campus residence of the first Dean and second President of the College, Martha Carey Thomas. From 1885 to 1922, the Deanery became a focal point on campus for students, faculty, and visitors, who attended events, teas, and meetings within its walls. When Thomas retired, she gave the building to the College and it was used as the Alumnae House until its demolition in 1968. Over the 83 years that the Deanery stood on campus it came to be a symbol of Bryn Mawr College itself.

In addition to its important role in the history of Bryn Mawr, the Deanery was an unusual example of late-nineteenth-century American décor. Thomas and her partner, Mary E. Garrett, greatly expanded the Deanery and lavishly decorated it with eclectic pieces of American, European, and Asian design. Several famous contemporary American artisans were involved in the project, including artists Lockwood de Forest and Louis Comfort Tiffany, and landscape designer John Charles Olmsted. Thomas and Garrett also traveled extensively and brought back objects they had purchased to the Deanery.

tiffany light

Stenciling and Light Fixture on Ceiling of M. Carey’s Study (the Blue Room) by Lockwood de Forest and Louis Comfort Tiffany


Japanese Fu-Dog Figurine, late 19th century, bronze with traces of gold leaf
Purchased by M. Carey Thomas for the Deanery (W.314)


Part of my work in Special Collections this summer has been to make more information about the importance and beauty of the Deanery accessible to a wider audience through two large projects: the completion of a Wikipedia article on the Deanery; and the creation of wall text and labels for objects from the Deanery now displayed in Wyndham.


If you have kept up with the Special Collections Blog, you know that Bryn Mawr College has been increasing its presence on Wikipedia, so my completion of the article begun by Rachel Starry and Joelle Collins about the Deanery was part of this larger project. Writing a Wikipedia article was a new experience for me. I have never written anything for such a broad audience so it was exciting to think that the interesting and important information I learned could be shared on such a large scale. {Wikipedia Article on the Deanery}


After the Deanery was demolished in 1968, Wyndham became the new alumnae house and the new home for a large number of pieces from the Deanery. Special Collections was interested in creating labels for many of these pieces, as well as several other objects of interest in Wyndham. It is my hope that students, alumnae, and visitors will have a greater appreciation for the amazing pieces that surround us every day on Bryn Mawr’s campus. It is a truly unusual atmosphere for any American college, whether large or small, single-sex or coed, private or public, to have such quality and quantity of wonderful pieces on display around campus.

temple vase

Chinese Cloisonné Vase, 19th century, metal and enamel
From the Deanery. Now on Display in Wyndham. (W.719)


Octagonal Tabouret (Side Table), 19th century, possibly fabricated by Ahmedebad Furniture Workshop (India), wood with inlaid bone/ivory
From the Deanery. Now on Display in Wyndham. (Deanery.405)












While the Deanery is long gone, the history surrounding it and the art that filled it remain. It is my hope that through endeavors such as the Wikipedia page, labels in Wyndham, and perhaps even a future exhibition on the Deanery, new generations of Bryn Mawr students will hold it as dear as their predecessors.


Emily Moore

Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology


The Raison d’être of Successful Design: Prints from The Associated American Artists in the Levine Collection


Shannon Steiner working with a color silkscreen print by Belgian surrealist artist Paul Delvaux. (2012.27.421)


This summer I undertook the pleasant challenge of conducting preliminary research on the donation of works on paper from Jacqueline Koldin Levine ’46 and Howard Levine. As I cracked open the first portfolio and began my research in earnest, I discovered an intriguing pattern of provenance among a number of the prints.  The Levine Collection contains quite a few lithographs that were commissioned for sale by The Associated American Artists, a New York gallery and print publishing house founded in 1934. The AAA grew into a large-scale organization that produced large quantities of affordable and attractive works on paper by well-known American artists. The Associated American Artists still exists today in the form of a corporation that manages designer-manufacturer collaboration in the making of household décor and paper goods.  I probed the history of the AAA further and learned that the company was essential in creating a market for modern art among the American middle class in the recovery period following the Great Depression. Although print collectors in earlier historical moments had the option of buying individual works and portfolios, the Associated American Artists pushed print collecting into the realm of industry. The AAA organization shaped American taste in art and design on a much larger scale.

This fact brought to my mind a post written earlier this year on a personal indulgence of mine, the popular contemporary design blog Apartment Therapy. The site invited readers (themselves mostly lower- to upper- middle class) to share the maximum amount they had spent on artwork for their home and what the piece meant to them as both consumers and armchair interior designers. The monetary amounts varied wildly, from $0 to $8,000, but the overwhelming consensus within the comments was that original art elevated one’s home above the status of a simple dwelling and transformed it into an exhibition space for the good taste and cultural literacy of its residents.  In fact, Apartment Therapy described original artwork as the “raison d’être of successful design,” and readers’ comments revealed that the medium most common to this phenomenon was precisely the same as that marketed by The Associated American Artists – prints and works on paper. A brief look at the history of The AAA can illuminate how art collecting became accessible to the American middle class to such a degree that original artwork at a modest price remains a hot commodity even today. Furthermore, the AAA business model indicates that the gallery consciously marketed the purchase of works on paper as a taste-making endeavor. The AAA prints in the Levine Collection, therefore, offer a unique glimpse into the construction of a middle-class collecting culture.


Hilda Castellón, Seated Nude with Flowered Hat, lithograph, after 1964. Commissioned for The Associated American Artists. (2012.27.446)

In 1934, artist agent and publicist Reeves Lewenthal observed that the American art market was restricted to the country’s most wealthy buyers. Original art, primarily painting, was something only the elite could afford to collect. Lewenthal represented a number of art schools with artist faculty producing original works, and thus he kept an eye open for business opportunities that might maximize the resources of his clientele. At the same moment the Federal Art Project, the artistic initiative of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal that ran from 1935-1943, had encouraged artists to make prints en masse for free distribution to public schools and public sector workers. Lewenthal studied the Federal Art Project and its popularity, and he crafted a business model that shared the Federal Art Project’s focus on works on paper, yet aimed for a profit for both himself and his artists.

The Associated American Artists offered prints by reputable teaching artists and by less well-known artists with strong ties to fashionable art movements, in many cases the spouses of famous painters and printmakers. For example, Hilda Castellón, wife of Surrealist artist Federico Castellón, produced a lithograph of a seated nude woman for the AAA in 1964. Her husband’s reputation as a peer of Picasso and Miró made Hilda’s work desirable by association, but Lewenthal’s pricing structure made the work much more affordable.  In this case, the Associated American Artists catered to middle-class consumers who possessed an interest in Surrealism but lacked the funds to bankroll the purchase of an original by Dalí or Ernst. Surrealism could thus “go mainstream” and advertise the buyer’s familiarity with and taste for modern art.


Alexander Dobkin, Paternity, color lithograph, ca. 1950 or later. Commissioned for the Associated American Artists. (2012.27.424)

In other cases, Lewenthal took advantage of the institutions he represented as an agent and commissioned prints by respected faculty and chairs of visual arts departments at renowned schools. The Levine Collection contains two lithographs by Alexander Dobkin, an Italian-American artist and art instructor who earned a reputation for his vivacious figure drawings. Dobkin was a popular faculty member in New York City, teaching at both the Art Students League and the Educational Alliance. The AAA commissioned several lithographs from Dobkin in the wake of his success at group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, and capitalized on Dobkin’s penchant for warm, family-oriented subject matter. Dobkin was simultaneously modern and familiar, making his prints the perfect product for the AAA’s target customer.


Alexander Dobkin, Confidence, lithograph, 1959. Commissioned for The Associated American Artists. (2012.27.535)

From the end of the Great Depression up until the early 1970s, the Associated American Artists gallery specialized in works on paper. Beginning in the 1960s Lewenthal branched out, and invited artists to design paper and domestic goods, such as stationary, plates, and serving utensils. In this way, the AAA represents the first large-scale artist-as-designer business collaboration.  The phenomenon was not unlike today’s designer collaborations with department stores, such as Target’s numerous fashion and home goods lines produced in tandem with high-end design houses such as Missoni and Altuzarra, or clothing store H&M’s diffusion lines from Versace and Karl Lagerfeld.  The Associated American Artists could therefore be understood as a pioneer of artistic diffusion, pushing the world of fine art into the living rooms of the American middle class. These living rooms (as well as bedrooms, dining rooms, offices, you name it!) still function as venues for a middle-class interest in art, as the Apartment Therapy post makes clear.

The aim of the Associated American Artists was to make the high-class world of art accessible to middle-class America, and thus the gallery was instrumental in directing the tastes of 20th-century buyers.  I look forward to continuing my exploration of the Levine Collection prints and I hope that the AAA prints I’ve found are not my last. These works represent an often-overlooked demographic of the American art market that persists even today as bloggers and their readers carry on the AAA tradition, continuing to equate original printed artwork with good design and civilized gentility.


Shannon Steiner, PhD Candidate, History of Art Department


Introducing RTI Photography to the Collections

The Special Collections of Bryn Mawr College holds an extensive collection of Greek pottery, both decorated and undecorated. This summer I, a PhD student at Bryn Mawr College, was granted one of the NEH internships to study vases with painted and incised inscriptions. As some of them are difficult to identify even when working closely with the objects, I , with the assistance of the Special Collections Intern, Katy Holladay, who is interested in archaeology and has a strong interest in technology, sought a way to properly document inscriptions that can be difficult to see in photographs, or even when handling/studying artifacts. Alex Brey, another graduate student at Bryn Mawr College, suggested the use of Reflectance Transformation Imaging, or RTI, which he had previously utilized on some of the coins and graciously agreed to show us the process. RTI is a technique that uses sequential photography of an object with variant locations for the light source, which are then combined using a program to produce a manipulative image. The manipulative image allows for the exploration of the surface of the image with gradient lighting, unlike traditional museum-quality images such as seen below.

P.961, Traditional photograph that does not show the partial inscription in the image (KA)

P.961, Traditional photograph that does not show the partial inscription in the image (KA)

P.961, RTI Viewer with Normal Unsharp Masking Rendering Mode

P.961, RTI Viewer with Normal Unsharp Masking Rendering Mode

The equipment was easy to access, since only a few other objects are needed to capture the images for RTI:

  1. a camera and tripod
  2. an external flash (with a very long cord)
  3. a remote for the camera
  4. a pair of black spheres; they need to be included in the image in order to show the position of the light source to the program in each photograph
  5. a color card needs to be included in the first image.

The software to find and view the RTI images is provided by Cultural Heritage Imaging, free of charge:

We began with flatter objects, small sherds that were more similar to the coins Alex had previously done and that did not have curved surfaces, which required more practice with the lighting. It turns out that the process was relatively easy: the camera and objects remain stationary with a sphere on either side. For standing objects, the spheres are raised up, such as on pencils in the photograph below; for flat objects laying down, the spheres can be resting. The spheres should be around 250 pixels in the final photos, so the sphere size will vary with the object and zoom. The flash is moved into different positions over and around the object in a dome while the object and the camera remain unmoved; others doing RTI have created actual dome structures as guides, but that was not necessary for our initial goals.

One person can do the process alone, but a second person is very helpful. We took between 50 and 120 pictures per object, depending on the size. Katy and I did run into some problems as we began the process, including the spheres originally being too small to accurately show the location of the light source in each image for the program. After becoming more familiar with the process, we captured images of complete vases; their size and the curving surfaces presented challenges as these objects reflect he light differently. At this point, we needed to be creative for mounting the spheres – eventually using the ball bearings, magnets, and foam to create mounts for the spheres with the assistance of Marianne Weldon, the Collections Manager of the Art and Artifact Collections, but originally using pencils as stands.

Danielle Smotherman and Katy Holladay taking RTI photography of L.P.8

Danielle Smotherman and Katy Holladay taking RTI photography of L.P.8

A composite image of all of the angles of light source locations on a sphere for L.P.8

A composite image of the light source for L.P.8

The RTI Builder program cannot handle spaces in any file names. It requires specific formats for the files, which initially caused us a few problems as well. We imported the raw files as .jpg and .dng into specifically-named folders from Adobe Bridge, although another similar type of program can be used, and then followed the process in the RTI software; this was rather user-friendly. The RTI Viewer has nine different rendering modes to examine the object, once the file is compiled. The viewer also allows the user to zoom in on the images, which is why we took the images at higher resolutions, and to take snapshots of the image on the screen, such as the examples seen below.


P.95, Bryn Mawr Painter, RTI Viewer with Default Rendering showing the full inscription

Using the RTI Viewer, various rendering modes can be used to explore the surface of the object, including raking light at various angles. Details can be highlighted, for instance the full inscription on P.95 can be read in the snapshot from the RTI Viewer seen above. The same snapshot also shows the contour lines evident around the reclining figure, his cup, and the hanging pipes case. The RTI provided much more than just a clearer look at the inscriptions on these vases: it indicated better evidence of the preparation work of the paintings, including highlighting sketch marks and contour lines, as well as demonstrating the presence of other techniques, such as added clay along the head. Katy noted the presence of finger prints on the name-piece of the Bryn Mawr painter, seen in the still photograph captured from the RTI viewer, seen below. In the right image below, the faded details of a wreath that had been painted on top of the hair of the youth are clearly shown with the RTI, although they can be difficult to see in traditional photos. RTI also allowed us to capture the sketching of a kylix on P.985, which is very difficult to make out in traditional photographs.


P.95, Bryn Mawr Painter, RTI Viewer with Specular Enhancement Rendering Mode

P.212, Ancona Painter, RTI Viewer with Diffuse Gain Rendering Mode

P.212, Ancona Painter, RTI Viewer with Diffuse Gain Rendering Mode

P.985, unattributed, RTI Viewer with Diffuse Gain Rendering Vie w

P.985, unattributed, RTI Viewer with Diffuse Gain Rendering View

The files we created can provide better access to the objects for scholars unable to physically visit the collections and can be used as educational materials. Katy will be working with Rachel Appel, the Digital Collections Librarian, in hopes of finding a way of making the RTI images available via our online database, Triarte at Also, Katy has made a short video that shows the actual RTI viewer, which can be seen at In addition to web access, finding other platforms to present the RTI images with could be a fantastic addition to future exhibitions, inviting guests to interact with the objects as if moving them around in different lighting. Katy has produced a guide of our process for future use that goes into much more detail in the hopes that RTI will continue to be used in collections and possibly expanded to other forms of lighting, such as IR and UV, which only require the different light sources.  Overall, our experiences suggest that this is a viable and valuable process for other objects and classes of materials in the collections. I would very much like to encourage others working with objects in the collections at Bryn Mawr to make use of RTI and perhaps other collections as well. RTI is relatively easy and inexpensive process that does not require highly specialized equipment and that can greatly enhance access to the objects.

Danielle Smotherman, Doctoral Candidate in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology

Recent Donation of Prints

This semester, John and Joanne Payson rounded off a year of exceptional generosity by donating a collection of twentieth-century prints and print portfolios to Bryn Mawr College’s Special Collections.


Teddo, Paul Cadmus, 1985, Lithograph, 9 7/8” x 10 ½” (2014.11.6)

The donation followed a substantial loan of American art used to form the student-curated exhibition, “A Century of Self-Expression: Modern American Art in the Collection of John and Joanne Payson,” which will hang in the Class of 1912 Rare Book Room of Canaday Library until June 1, 2014. The students, members of the 360° course cluster “Exhibiting Modern Art,” had the opportunity to work closely with the Paysons on the exhibition and accompanying publications, programs, and special events. The course cluster blog at tells the story of this amazing year in the voices — and with the images — of the students.


Lion of Prague, Jack Levine, 1982, Etching and Aquatint, 11 1/8” x 9” (2014.11.10)

The recent donation includes work by Jack Levine, Isabel Bishop and Paul Cadmus, who are all featured prominently in “A Century of Self-Expression,” as well as by Doris Rosenthal, Ben Shahn, and Bernarda Bryson Shahn. Like many of the works in the exhibition, the prints appeal largely to a realistic style of representation that persisted alongside more radical and experimental visual trends that are often thought to characterize twentieth-century art. The prints cover a wide range of subjects, including portraits, political, mythological, and biblical stories, and scenes of modern city life.

It’s been a pleasure to collaborate with  Paysons and especially to catch up with Joanne, who received both her AB and MA from Bryn Mawr College. The new prints will serve as a source of interest and inspiration for students involved in the recent exhibition and for future generations of Bryn Mawr scholars.


Pygmalion, Jack Levine, 1977, Lithograph, 19 1/2” x 12 1/2” (2014.11.1)


Portfolio of Eight Etching 1927-1934, Isabel Bishop, 1989, Etching 14 ½” x 11 ½” (2014.11.11.a-j)



Hilda Worthington Smith

Hilda Worthington Smith

We are excited to announce that we will be hosting our first public Wikipedia edit-a-thon for WikiWomen’s History Month on Tuesday, March 25th, at Bryn Mawr College. Rather than having a narrowly defined theme like the Art + Feminism edit-a-thon that took place last month, this event will be geared towards the user who is interested in learning the basics of editing on any topic and using the holdings of Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections to do so. Our iteration on the 25th will be one of several such events organized between the Seven Sisters Colleges:

How to host an edit-a-thon: always provide snacks!

How to host an edit-a-thon: always provide snacks!

  •  Barnard, Mount Holyoke, and Smith kick it off on Tuesday, March 4th (that’s today!). Join them in New York, South Hadley, or Northampton.
  • Radcliffe follows on March 12th in Cambridge.
  • Bryn Mawr wraps it up on the 25th: Our event page is a work-in-progress, but check it out now if you’re interesting in seeing a list of some of the articles that we will be working on improving.

Use hashtags #7sisterswiki and #WikiWomen to discuss the events and support those who are participating!

– See more at:

Our Hearts Were Young and Gay – Emily Kimbrough and Cornelia Otis Skinner


Program for Philadelphia premiere of Our Hearts Were Young and Gay

For the past several months, I have been privileged enough to work with the Bryn Mawr oral histories as part of my work for The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education. The oral histories are comprised of hundreds of old cassette tapes, containing interviews, speeches, and lectures with Bryn Mawr alumnae, professors, staff, and other members of the college community. Although they are not available to the public at the moment, my job includes listening to the tapes and digitizing them. The long-term goal is that they will one day be a part of a public digital archive. In the meantime, I want to share some of the fun, surprising, and enlightening facts I have learned about Bryn Mawr through my work.

Today, I listened to a speech by Emily Kimbrough, Class of 1921, which she delivered at the Senior Dinner for the Class of 1973. Her speech was riotously funny, and after I finished listening, I decided to look up her alumna file. It turns out that Emily Kimbrough was a very accomplished writer, known for her humorous memoirs and short stories. As if that weren’t fun enough, her breakthrough novel, entitled Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, was co-written with Cornelia Otis Skinner, Class of 1922, a famous writer and actress. The book, published in 1942, is an account of their wild and hilarious trip to Europe when they were fresh out of Bryn Mawr. The book was made into a movie of the same name in 1944, a play dramatized by Jean Kerr, and a short-lived TV show as well. Throughout this process, the book and movie stayed close to their Bryn Mawr roots, with Paramount holding a special Philadelphia premiere of the movie for the Bryn Mawr College Special Scholarship Fund. Special Collections has the program for this premiere, which provides a great glimpse of Bryn Mawr in the 1940’s, as well as the strong associations between Our Hearts Were Young and Gay and the college.

Having discovered this treasure trove of forgotten Bryn Mawr hilarity, I immediately chased down the book and movie for myself. The movie appears to be available in full on Youtube. The book was in Canaday, and I can’t wait to start reading it. Even glancing through it, I can see that it is full of the kinds of Bryn Mawr stories that every Mawrter should adopt into their personal collection of college trivia. I hope that this post can revive the popularity of the book and movie at Bryn Mawr, and perhaps Our Hearts Were Young and Gay will become the new craze to sweep the campus. Such works are invaluable to every Mawrter, since they provide fun glimpses into the lives of our predecessors outside of the classroom. While I get to hear such stories frequently through the oral histories, other students can pick up Our Hearts Were Young and Gay and learn a bit more of the Mawrters of days past, and the mischief they got up to over 90 years ago.

Zoe Fox, 2014