M. Carey Thomas's desire to have "beautiful surroundings" at Bryn Mawr extended to ornamental details, both interior and exterior, and building furnishings. Lockwood de Forest, Henry Chapman Mercer, C.R. Ashbee, Alec Miller, and Tiffany Studios became major resources for the decorative elements that would complete her vision.
Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932) was an architect, painter, designer, and importer of furnishings. His love of detail, and his talent for attractive and reasonably priced solutions to design problems, endeared him to both Thomas and Mary Garrett. During his relationship with the College, which lasted from 1894 to at least 1919, he helped Thomas decorate her office in Taylor Hall, designed faculty housing, and collaborated with his son-in-law, Winsor Soule, on plans for a new gymnasium (1908) and an infirmary (1912). However, his two biggest projects at Bryn Mawr were the two phases of the Deanery expansion and remodeling, and the interior decoration of the library.
Thomas expressed her enthusiasm and respect to De Forest in a 1907 letter:
It is wonderful to know so much as you do. If it were possible by any system of training for you to create a school of architects and decorators like yourself, I should be only too glad to drop everything else and devote myself to getting money to endow such a school; but it is not possible. Such people are, I believe, born and not made.
The Deanery was Thomas's primary residence during her Bryn Mawr years. She used it for private and public entertaining and lavished on it the same attention to detail and quality that she did to other campus buildings. Mary Garrett provided generous financial resources as well as a number of the furnishings needed to make the Deanery suitable for a college president.
Lockwood de Forest worked with Thomas during two Deanery expansion projects. The first renovation, in 1894-1896, took place under the direction of Walter Cope. The second occurred in 1908 with De Forest serving as consulting architect to the firm of Archer and Allen. The Deanery gradually evolved from a simple wood frame house to a forty-six-room mansion. Thomas retired in 1922 and in 1933 the Alumnae Association began using the Deanery until it became unsafe for occupancy. It was razed in 1968 and Canaday Library was built on the same grounds.
Significant examples of De Forest's decorative work were lost when the Deanery was destroyed. However, archival photos illustrate many of the details, and a version of one of the rooms still exists. The Dorothy Vernon Room, so named because of Thomas's love for Haddon Hall in England and its romantic heroine, Dorothy Vernon, was partially recreated in Haffner Hall in 1971. A number of the furnishings from the Deanery were preserved, and some are still displayed in this room and in other reception areas of the College.
De Forest had a great appreciation of traditional crafts and artisans, particularly those of the Middle East and India, which he had seen on his travels. During his early partnership in Associated Artists (a New York firm that included Louis Comfort Tiffany) he established a workshop in India. There he designed his own furniture and purchased Indian pieces that were resold through the Association. His furnishings business continued after the group dissolved in 1883. He sold his Indian operation to Tiffany Studios in 1907, but maintained his showroom until 1922.
It is difficult to tell what Indian or Damascene furnishings in the Deanery were actually designed by De Forest or selected by him from his showroom inventory. A number of them belonged to Mary Garrett and were brought from her Baltimore residence. However, it is clear that Thomas, Garrett and De Forest were comfortable combining his exotic designs with European and American architectural elements and furnishings.
De Forest's Indian workshop began producing stencils in 1881, ultimately reproducing over 200 patterns, as well as reproductions of tracery panels, teakwood paneling and mantels, metalwork (including jewelry) and textiles. The one exhibited here was among those De Forest used to embellish the areas, painted blue, between the ceiling beams of The Dorothy Vernon Room.
According to De Forest scholar Roberta A. Mayer, the chair below right was
crafted in Ahmedabad, India and assembled in New York. It
was purchased by Mary Garrett ca. 1885-1887 and, according to photographic evidence,
was in the Deanery by 1908.
Both during and after his partnership with Louis Comfort Tiffany De Forest provided designs that were executed by Tiffany Studios. Bond Thomas, Carey's brother and an employee of the firm, oversaw her orders for these pieces, including escutcheons and pulls for the library doors and ceiling lights for the Deanery. The widely recognized lamps and decorative glass objects that were hallmarks of the Tiffany style, such as the rosewater sprinkler at the top of this page, were part of the Deanery furnishings.
Campus Interiors and Details - The Library
Bryn Mawr College
Campus Plan - Hutton, Vaux & Olmsted
Collegiate Gothic - Cope and Stewardson
Details & Interior - De Forest
Paving Tiles - Mercer
Decorative Sculpture - Ashbee & Miller
Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections. September 21 - December 20, 2001