Glencairn Museum News | Number 10, 2016
During medieval times in Europe, cloisters, churches, and even private homes featured sculptures carved according to a rich symbolic language. Meditating on the meaning of these images was believed to have spiritual benefit for the viewer. In planning the decorative program for Glencairn, the medieval-style home for his family and art collections, Raymond Pitcairn was continuing this artistic tradition. Pitcairn, a member of the New Church congregation in Bryn Athyn, drew much of the visual language for his home from the Bible and the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). (See “Glencairn’s Cloister,” Glencairn Museum News, No. 8, 2016.)
A recent count of depictions of sheep in the works of art created to decorate Glencairn—including sculpture, metalwork, and mosaic—discovered that there are nearly 200 of them, usually occurring together in family groups of a ram, ewe, and lambs. It is clear that Raymond Pitcairn meant these groups of sheep to represent the importance of family, but he may also have intended an additional level of meaning. Sheep and lambs are often used in art and poetry to represent qualities of gentleness. In New Church tradition, when sheep are mentioned in the Bible they are sometimes intended as spiritual symbols of people who love their neighbors as themselves, and act charitably toward them. Lambs, on the other hand, which rely on ewes and rams for sustenance and instruction, represent the qualities of innocence and willingness to be led.
Raymond and Mildred Pitcairn are remembered as having been loving and involved parents. Letters in the Glencairn Museum Archives testify to a concern for their childrens’ health, schoolwork, interests and behavior. The Pitcairns believed that one of the greatest joys for a married couple is the raising of children. In a speech Raymond gave at the dedication ceremony for their Catskill mountain home, he said that “material possessions . . . do not bring happiness. . . . Happiness comes from within and is given in a life of love to God and love to one another. We know that these loves must fill a house to make it a home” (Jennie Gaskell, Biography of Raymond Pitcairn, 171). Although most of the Pitcairns' children were beginning to move into adult life by the time Glencairn was completed in 1939, it continued to be a home bustling with family activity. Grandchildren soon began to arrive for regular weekly visits.
Once a visitor begins looking for sheep and lambs at Glencairn, he or she will begin to see them everywhere—on both the interior and exterior of the building. Below is a small sampling of the nearly 200 examples of sheep and lambs depicted in the original artwork created for Glencairn in the Bryn Athyn workshops.
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