In addition to major collections in galleries located throughout the building, Glencairn Museum holds a number of special collections.
glencairn museum ARCHIVES
The Glencairn Museum Archives contain written materials, photographs and memorabilia from the lives of John and Gertrude Pitcairn and Raymond and Mildred Pitcairn. Raymond and Mildred built Glencairn from 1928 to 1939, and lived in it as their home for the remainder of their lives. A gallery on the fifth floor, beside the chapel, is devoted to the Pitcairn family. This gallery includes family memorabilia and a collection of sources about the craftsmen who worked on Bryn Athyn Cathedral and Glencairn.
The main collections of the Archives are housed in a separate storage area in Glencairn. One highlight of the Archives is the material relating to the building of Bryn Athyn Cathedral and Glencairn, including a large collection of photographs and architectural drawings. There are also many business papers, employee records, correspondence and other written documentation.
Another large collection consists of United States political material from the 1920s through the 1960s. Raymond Pitcairn was very involved with political causes and candidates. The Pitcairns came to know Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower through their political activities, and there is a collection of correspondence between the two couples.
The Archives also houses a collection of family memorabilia including letters, school papers, and housekeeping notes. A large photographic archive includes a collection of over 4000 glass plate negatives from the early twentieth century.
Raymond Pitcairn collected antique furniture. The collection is mostly European, consisting primarily of Windsor chairs, tables and storage chests. Glencairn Museum has also received several pieces of ecclesiastical furniture through donors, including a three-seat choir stall from 15th or early 16th century Spain.
NEW CHURCH ART
The theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) have influenced the thinking of a number of great writers and artists, particularly in the 19th century. Glencairn Museum's growing collection of New Church (Swedenborgian) art clearly demonstrates this influence. A plaster relief sculpture titled "Deliver Us From Evil" was made in about 1805 by the well-known British artist, John Flaxman (1755-1826). This depiction of two good and two evil spirits struggling for control of the human soul illustrates the New Church concept of spiritual freedom. Flaxman was the first artist to depict the deceased human soul as a full-bodied adult, an idea derived directly from Swedenborg. Together with "Thine is the Kingdom," a companion piece also in Glencairn's collection, this preliminary model was later executed in marble for a family tomb monument in England.
William Blake (1757-1827) was a friend of John Flaxman and another important artist whose ideas were influenced by Swedenborg. Blake was especially interested in the Swedenborgian concept of "correspondences," which sees material things as having their origin in a spiritual world. Blake's work, such as his illustrations to the Book of Job, are filled with symbolic imagery, much of it related to ideas drawn from Swedenborg.
Hiram Powers (1805-1873) has been hailed as one of the foremost American sculptors of the nineteenth century. He was also a convinced Swedenborgian ("I am a 'New Churchman,' a 'Swedenborgian' - a 'New Jerusalemite,' without any reservation whatever; and I wish it to be known"). In a letter to the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, also a reader of Swedenborg, Powers states that "the legitimate aim of art should be spiritual and not animal. A nude statue should be an unveiled soul." Swedenborg wrote that the natural body is merely a veil that covers the soul, or the spiritual body. In his sculpture of Proserpine (the Roman name for the Greek goddess Persephone), as in his other ideal sculptures, Powers was trying to reproduce a tangible image of the human soul; each "unveiled soul" attempts to convey the image of heaven as seen through the human form.
Glencairn's collection of oriental rugs numbers over 200 pieces, and includes village and tribal rugs, as well as a number of prayer rugs. The decoration of prayer rugs is rich in Islamic symbolism, including symbols from religions that existed in the ancient Near East before Islam. The "mihrab" is an arch that points toward the Holy City of Mecca. Both the rug and the worshiper praying on it are required to point toward Mecca. In Islamic tradition this arch represents the "gateway to paradise." The symbol of an arch as a gateway to paradise has its origin in ancient Mesopotamian symbolism, which predates Islam by several millennia.