Week 3: George Washington University Special Collections

This week, I went to Washington, D.C. to visit the George Washington University Special Collections to read and examine the League for Progress in Architecture Records. The description of the records implied that there would be insight into John J. Boylan’s stance and influence on the Jefferson Memorial, but the records were mostly letters from architects in the League to members of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission (TJMC).

The records from the League for Progress in Architecture helped explain the conflict between American architects and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission. The TJMC selected John Russell Pope, an accomplished architect, to design the Jefferson Memorial, but faced backlash. The American public, including many architects felt that it was important for the TJMC to hold a contest for the selection of the design of the memorial and did not approve of the original Pope design. One architect wrote, “the proposed design is expressive only of ideals of wasteful ostentation and cultural stagnation which we hope are long since outmoded. A memorial which could serve as a kinds mausoleum is no fit commemoration of the life and work of America’s premier democrat.” To me, this revealed a further divide between the public and the TJMC. There was clearly a rift between the two in how they interpreted Jefferson and what kind of memorial they believed he should have.

Part of the records was a scrapbook put together by Julian Berla, an important figure in the League for Progress in Architecture. Berla compiled a scrapbook of more than one hundred newspaper clippings about the Jefferson memorial. These included architectural sketches, letters to the editor, and political cartoons. The clippings in the scrapbook contained themes of unfairness, resent for commissioners, and a push for a competition for the architectural design of the memorial. This was a tangible way to see the uproar that the memorial plan caused among the people of Washington, D.C.

Next week, I will venture to Philadelphia to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives and look into the Fiske Kimball papers. Fiske Kimball was on the TJMC and was a scholar on Jefferson as well as an accomplished architect and architectural historian. He helped the commission choose the design as well as the inscriptions in the memorial. While looking at documents, I will ask “What does this reveal about this individual’s perception of Jefferson?” and “What impact did this document have on the outcome of the Jefferson Memorial?” I have found that going to archives with prepared research questions has given me more direction in my research.