J.P.Wilson’s 1944 Observations of New Haven

Photo taken by James Perry Wilson 9th of October 1944

James Perry Wilson had come to New Haven in September of 1944 to begin working on the Shoreline diorama.  The diorama background had been painted with the final coat of Permalba white oil paint that would take several weeks to dry.  He had just spent a week working on the miniature model and wanted to start on the full scale work as soon as the paint dried.  Because this group was comprised of three landscapes, the composition of the miniature model would take two more weeks of meetings and changes with Peabody Museum curators.  In his spare time, Wilson walked the Yale campus looking at the architecture and taking roll after roll of slide film.  It was during this time that I think he developed his final mature photographic grid ideas that would appear for the first time in the 1947 Beaver group at the American Museum of Natural History.    The following are his notes about architecture in New Haven and Yale campus (Letter to Thanos A Johnson Oct. 18, 1944)

“Now for a few observations on New Haven,  If you look at a map of the city, you notice the fact that in the center of town the streets form an exact square, from which the rest of the city radiates.  This square is apparently the oldest part of the city.  It is like this:

The two shaded blocks in the middle of the square form the Green.  What gives this Green its unique character is the fact that in one block, as indicated, are three churches in a row.  The center and right-hand ones are Colonial buildings, of red brick with white trim and spires.  The left-hand one, built later, is Gothic.  Since they have an open block in front of them, they can be seen from some distance all around, and form a striking feature.  The University centers around the area to the West of the Green, but spreads out a considerable distance in various directions.  Peabody, itself is a part of the university, and there are other halls around it.  Yale was founded in 1701 and one of the original buildings survives, Connecticut Hall, a red brick Georgian structure of pleasing character.  Practically all the other buildings are much newer, and there was apparently tremendous building activity and an unlimited supply of money, after 1900.  The result is a large number of Collegiate Gothic buildings, very consistent and harmonious in character, and truly magnificent in lavishness with which they were carried out.  Almost all of these are built of a stone of rich yellowish tone, sometimes almost rust color….In some of the recent buildings they have departed from the Gothic theme to revert to Georgian brick, with very pleasing results.

Peabody was also built in the Gothic vein (unusual for a museum)…In contrast to the vast sums lavished on the other buildings, Peabody was a sort of stepchild.  It happened to come along just at a time when sharp economies became necessary.  After the plans had been approved, orders were issued demanding that costs be reduced 20%.  This necessitated cheapening materials, etc. and has since caused endless trouble.  For example, $10,000 was saved by using a poorer quality brick than originally specified.  To date, they have spent $50,000 trying to repair the damages caused by leakage!”

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