Violet Oakley: Building the House of Wisdom
In 1911, Violet Oakley (1874 – 1961) created a mural cycle, The Building of the House of Wisdom, for the central hall of the mansion of Charlton Yarnall at 17th and Locust Streets in Philadelphia. The murals were painted on canvas shapes that were inserted into the architectural structure.
When the Yarnall House was remodeled in the early 1970s, the murals were rescued and brought to Woodmere by Edith Emerson, the Museum’s first director and Oakley’s partner. Unfortunately, the cut glass dome that Oakley designed to crown the hall was destroyed.
Three massive, semi-circular lunettes represent the ages of man from childhood through youth and maturity. Six octagonal panels were set into the arches over the lunettes, and they tell the stories of The Life of Hercules and American Invention. Pendentives, which connected the lunettes to the dome, show the advance of architecture through the ages.