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“Four Pillars—125 Years” Exhibition Examines Spence’s Dynamic History

This spring, The Spence School’s seventh-floor gallery features an exhibition dedicated to Spence’s history and guided by four pillars— Women in Leadership, Teaching and Learning, Service and Activism and Adventure—that serve as the central theme of the 125th anniversary.
Sarah Hermanson Meister ’90, P’21, a curator in the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, curated the exhibit with help from three students who served as curatorial fellows: Elizabeth A. ’17, Phoebe V. ’17 and Mary McKenzie G. ’18.
The exhibition offers a unique view of the School’s archives—a collection of nearly 9,000 meticulously organized and cataloged objects, photos and documents dating back to the founding of the School and which live at an archival off-site facility.
The Women in Leadership pillar celebrates Clara Spence, her vision for the School and her pioneering work on adoption. A scrapbook likely compiled by Charlotte Baker, gives an account of the founding days of the School. The exhibit highlights the “Honour Pins” Clara Spence used to reward students with good character and the desire to learn “not for school, but for life.” The founder also doled out leather medals for the most punctual students, and Upper School students with the best posture were named “Posture Captains” and led their grade into assemblies.
The Adventure pillar features a photo scrapbook by Alma Baldwin, Class of 1917, who took snapshots of student life and excursions from 1913-1914. In addition, the archives turned up a laundry list of adventures that the Class of 1905 took, including trips to The Zoological Gardens, Grant’s Tomb, West Point and the Sub-Treasury Building. Also featured are photos from Miss Spence’s expeditions to various locations in New York City.
The Teaching and Learning pillar offers a view into what classrooms were like in 1940. The School hired Wendell MacRae, a highly regarded commercial photographer, to capture daily life at the school. The pillar pairs these photographs with more recent photos of the school community.
The Service and Activism pillar shares Clara Spence’s reaction to the start of World War II: “When the war first broke out in August 1914, Miss Spence, who was always a warm partisan of the cause of the Allies, announced publicly that the school was not neutral, and if anyone preferred to maintain an attitude of neutrality, they were at liberty to leave. Only one student did.” In addition, the pillar celebrates Dorothy Warren, Class of 1925, and her service during World War II.
The Spence School held an opening reception for the exhibition on April 5, which coincided with a celebration for Head of School Bodie Brizendine and her 10-year tenure at the School. The exhibition will run through May 12, 2017.
The exhibition was made possible thanks to archivist Jon Gartenberg and Rafael Pinales, who helped install the exhibition, as well as contributions from Director of Advancement Carrie Hinrichs and Director of Communications Taraneh Rohani.
Congratulations to Meister, whose exhibition “Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction,” opened at MoMA on Saturday, April 15, 2017. The exhibition, which runs until Sunday, August 13, “shines a spotlight on the stunning achievements of women artists between the end of World War II and the start of the Feminist movement.”