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The House

During the American Renaissance, the wealthy elite built mansions in historical styles that expressed their cultural heritage, social aspirations, and taste. Periodicals such as the British Country Life (1897), Country Life in America (1901), The Craftsman (1901) and House and Garden (1901) made Americans self-conscious about the aesthetic aspects of their domestic environment. The Arts and Crafts Movement, transplanted from England, was influential in promoting the collaboration of architects, artists, and craftsman in the design of these houses.

Although Violet Oakley was continually at work on the decoration of churches, schools, and the Pennsylvania State Capitol in the first decade of the twentieth century, she accepted a few commissions for private residences. Oakley attracted patrons who wanted to embellish their homes with works of art that reflected their intellectual pursuits as well as their aesthetic tastes. For Maybrook, a baronial mansion built by Henry C. Gibson on the Main Line, Oakley designed two stained glass windows representing Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies, Hamlet and The Tempest (1903).

For the Park Avenue townhouse of the New York publisher Robert J. Collier, she produced a tripartite stained-glass window on The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (1911–12). Her most elaborate commission was The Building of the House of Wisdom (1909-1910), an original allegory incorporating biblical themes in stained glass and mural painting for the Charlton Yarnall residence in Philadelphia. For Krisheim, the Woodward residence in the Chestnut Hill section of the city, Oakley designed Saints George and Gertrude (1906), a ceramic tile fireplace mosaic. The overmantel is the only one of Oakley’s domestic interior decorations that remains in its original location; the others were removed when properties were sold and houses were renovated or razed. Fortunately, they are preserved in private and public collections. 

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