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"The High Tower" pendentive, from the mural series "The Building of the House of Wisdom," Charlton Yarnall House

Date
1910–11
Medium
Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Gift of 1635 Locust Associates, LLC, 2017. Conserved in honor of Mrs. Patricia S. Walsh, the artist’s friend and neighbor
Dimensions
38 ¼ x 46 in.

Description & Inscriptions

Oakley expands the theme of the Ages of Man in the lunettes to the Ages of Civilization in four pendentives. In this panel, a contemporary construction worker builds the modern skyscraper.

In 1962, the American Red Cross purchased the Charlton Yarnall House and transformed it into an office building. Concerned about the safety of Oakley’s murals, Edith Emerson, then director of Woodmere, contacted the organization and arranged to have them removed. Twelve of the thirteen elements were extracted successfully, but one of the pendentives, The High Tower, could not be separated from its architectural setting. It apparently had come loose at some point, and had been reglued with a very strong adhesive. Emerson had no choice but to leave The High Tower in place, where—alas—it was sanded, primed, and painted over with house paint.

In 2017, the building’s owner, the Honorable Allan Domb, gave Woodmere permission to “excavate” and extract whatever remained. Woodmere Deputy Director for Exhibitions Rick Ortwein literally cut into plaster walls, digging through layers of paint with a razor. Conservator Steven Erisoty removed layers of house paint and primer to find that The High Tower had lost its surface markings. The finished painting is gone, but the work nonetheless reveals Oakley’s first pass in building the image and demonstrates her process. The High Tower remains an object of interest and beauty, and Woodmere is thrilled to complete the mural cycle.

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Conservation

"The High Tower" pendentive panel as installed in Yarnall House, 1910-11 (Violet Oakley papers, 1841-1981. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/items/detail/stained-glass-dome-designed-violet-oakley-charlton-yarnalls-home-philadelphia-8885) Photographer unknown

"The High Tower" pendentive panel as installed in Yarnall House, 1910-11 (Violet Oakley papers, 1841-1981. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/items/detail/stained-glass-dome-designed-violet-oakley-charlton-yarnalls-home-philadelphia-8885) Photographer unknown

Removal of "The High Tower," Rick Ortwein of Woodmere on scaffolding and Sally Larson of Woodmere on balcony, 2017. Photograph by David Gramm.

Removal of "The High Tower," Rick Ortwein of Woodmere on scaffolding and Sally Larson of Woodmere on balcony, 2017. Photograph by David Gramm.

"The High Tower," stages of conservation, at left the panel is covered in house paint and at right the house paint is removed, 2017. Photograph by Steven Erisoty.

"The High Tower," stages of conservation, at left the panel is covered in house paint and at right the house paint is removed, 2017. Photograph by Steven Erisoty.

"The High Tower" undergoing treatment by conservator Steven Erisoty 2017. Photograph by Sally Larson.

"The High Tower" undergoing treatment by conservator Steven Erisoty, 2017. Photograph by Sally Larson.

 

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