The Creation of the Conservation Plan for the Jewett Arts Center

A black and white photograph of the Jewett Arts Center.

Wellesley College's Jewett Arts Center, completed in 1958, has been recognized as a major monument of Modern architectural design by architect Paul Rudolph. In June 2015, Wellesley was honored to receive a substantial grant from the Getty Foundation's “Keeping it Modern” initiative to study the history of the Jewett Arts Center and to create a comprehensive conservation plan for the building.

With a focus on the past, present, and future of the arts at Wellesley College, a working group of seven scholars and architects, including Wellesley professors Alice Friedman (project director and McNeil Professor of Art), Martha McNamara (Art and Architecture), Martin Brody (Music), and Professor Timothy Rohan (University of Massachusetts Amherst and the author of The Architecture of Paul Rudolph, Yale University Press, 2015) conducted research in the College's archives and at the Library of Congress, as well as convening on-campus focus groups with students and faculty.

An illustration of the sculpture court inside of the Jewett Art center. It features a spiral staircase and a statue of a male torso desplayed in the front of the room.

Architects on the project team included David Fixler, a founder of the Modern preservation group DOCOMOMO New England and principal at the Boston architecture firm EYP, and Priya Jain, a specialist in historic preservation of Modern buildings at EYP. Working closely with the College's Department of Operations and Maintenance, they conducted detailed studies of the building envelope, interior spaces, materials, and systems.

Team members also included Jon Alvarez, director of design and construction at Wellesley, and project manager Marie Sorensen, architect and principal of Sorensen Partners and coordinator of DOCOMOMO New England.

A black and white photograph of the staircase inside the Sculpture Court in the Jewett Arts Center.

Foregrounding the Jewett Arts Center's innovative programmatic and pedagogical goals, which emphasized the value of a comprehensive arts center for Wellesley that brought art history, studio art, the Wellesley College Museum, and the departments of Music and Theatre together under one roof, the Getty team focused on Rudolph's innovative design, its subsequent alterations, and on the future use of Jewett's spaces for interdisciplinary study and hands-on experience.

The project produced a planning document, Jewett Arts Center: A Conservation Plan, that explores both the history of the building and the many changes that have taken place since the Jewett Arts Center first opened. This conservation plan serves as a road map to guide the design of future additions and renovations to the building and enables Wellesley College to serve as a model for the stewardship of significant works of Modern architecture on its campus and beyond.

A black and white photograph of the Jewett Arts Center being built.

To disseminate their work, the team hosted a two-day symposium on October 21 and 22, 2016, funded by a grant from the Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos '79 Fund of Wellesley College, that explored the history and preservation of mid-century modern buildings. With a focus on the Jewett Arts Center, internationally known experts in architectural history, historic preservation, music, and landscape history examined the cultural contexts, design strategies, and future uses of historic modern buildings on American college and university campuses.

A black and white photograph of the Jewet Arts Center being built. The building's structure and foundation is visible and there is a tall crane in the background.

The conference began with a keynote presentation by Susan Macdonald, head of field projects and director of the conserving Modern Architecture Initiative at the Getty Conservation Institute. Macdonald spoke about the conservation issues and challenges presented by Modern architecture and the Getty's activities to develop best practices in the conservation of twentieth-century heritage.

An illustration of the front of the Jewett Arts Center.

Other sessions included a panel focused on the Jewett Arts Center in the context of national and international efforts to preserve mid-century Modern architecture. Architects T. Gunny Harboe of Chicago, Henry Moss of Boston, and Steve Kieran of Philadelphia spoke about their projects documenting, conserving, and adapting iconic buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van der Rohe, Jose Luis Sert, and Eero Saarinen. The panel closed with architect Priya Jain presenting Jewett Arts Center: A Conservation Plan.

Another panel broadened the discussion to explore the interest among artists, architects, musicians, and theorists at mid-century in a "synthesis of the arts," or the desire to break down the physical and intellectual barriers among diverse artistic practices. Architect Paul Rudolph's original program for the Jewett Arts Center, combining art history, studio art, music, theater, and an art museum in a single building, was an early architectural expression of this goal. Historians Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen of Yale and Valerie Fraser of the University of Essex, along with Professor of Music Brigid Cohen of New York University, discussed the pursuit of synthesis in the visual arts, architecture, and music.

A black and white photograph of the Sculpture Court. There is a mosaic on the floor, a statue to the front of the room and glass cases displaying statues and other artifacts to the back. There is also a staircase to the side of the room.

The symposium ended with architectural historians providing context for the Jewett Arts Center by looking at mid-century Modern planning and design on College and University campuses. Amanda Reeser Lawrence of Northeastern University spoke about the work of architect James Stirling on campuses in the United Kingdom, and Carla Yanni of Rutgers University explored mid-century Modern campus residence halls. The last presentations focused on two university arts centers designed by Kevin Roche/John Dinkeloo Associates in the early 1970s. Wesleyan University's Center for the Arts was the topic of a presentation by Joseph Siry of Wesleyan, and Margaret Vickery of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst discussed the University of Massachusetts' Fine Arts Center completed in 1974.

Eight film negatives of a female bust lined four to a row.

Finally, ongoing dissemination of the conservation plan and its underlying research has been established through the development of this website, designed by Julia Makivic '15.

Enjoy exploring the website and discovering (or re-discovering) this extraordinary building. If you have any feedback or questions about the project, please contact Martha McNamara at mmcnamar@wellesley.edu.